Capturing the Guitar

I have written about my guitar sound before. Here is a post from 2010 and here is a post from 2019. This will be a more comprehensive post with more photos.

The microphone’s position has not changed in over twenty years. Tape marks where the chair needs to be, should it be accidentally moved.

The microphone is a Neumann M-149, which I have used since 1999 – following the loss of the previous Neumann. As you can see I tend to stick with something I like. I don’t feel the need to experiment and am rather loyal to things that work. I own only two Flamenco guitars, which is very unusual, and have only used one of those two for the last five years. I generally prefer depth over variety. I would rather be very intimately familiar with one guitar than be vaguely familiar with a hundred.

One photo shows the back of the M-149 which shows that the bass roll-off is set to 40Hz. There is also a photo that shows the mic pattern setting on the front of the microphone. 

From the microphone the analog signal travels to a Martech MSS-10 microphone pre-amp. Sadly Martinsound no longer makes the MSS-10, but luckily I have two in case something happens to one of them. In 1999 we rated a number of mic pre-amps and I wrote about that test here. The MSS-10 is by far the nicest mic pre-amp for the flamenco guitar that I have ever heard. When we listened to it the three of us – Jon, engineer Gary, and I – immediately preferred it over all others tested. From the MSS-10 the analog signal travels to the Digidesign 192 HD Interface that converts the analog signal to a digital one. I use the DigiDesign Reverb One plugin on the guitar, preferring a dark, but longer reverb. I put an EQ on the reverb, removing much of the lower frequencies of the reverb as they muddy the waters in my opinion. The guitar EQ is a GML (George Massenburg Labs) software plugin. I use it to dip out a frequency of my guitar that sounds boxy and to add a very small amount of presence. 

That’s it. The analog equipment – microphone and mic pre-amp – is expensive, but the digital side is not. I just looked up the Reverb One plugin and it retails for $300. The GML software EQ is no longer available. 

When considering a guitar sound one should not forget the guitar itself, the type of strings, the player’s way of holding the guitar – some players choke their guitar by holding it too tight – and, of course, the nail treatment and how the strings are struck. There are so many variables that it is good to go step by step.


Today, Saturday, I added four screenshots to the viewer. The first screenshot shows the EQ setting for my Blanca guitar when playing a melody. The second shows the EQ setting for my Negra when playing rhythm. I start with two EQ settings for each guitar:
There is a setting for playing rhythm – anything that’s not the main melody. This setting only removes a low frequency that every guitar has when one places the microphone relatively close. This becomes a problem when playing multiple rhythm guitars because that low-end builds up. A second setting, for the melody, removes a little less of the lower frequencey and adds a little bit of a high frequency. I look for a sweet spot where I can add a little bit of treble that sounds smooth and silky. Over time I collect more EQ settings for each guitar because the guitar can subtly change according to string wear or humidity.

The next screenshot shows one of the EQs for reverb that filters out much of the sound below 150 hertz. The last screenshot shows the One Reverb setting I prefer for all of my guitars. It is called “Dark Concert Hall” and I have used it for two decades.

The Sea Between

Here is the last minute of the version of “The Sea Between” I recorded for “Bare Wood 2”.

The guitar melody that starts after the chorus ends came from an improvisation. I liked the vibe of the improv but the strings had been on the guitar for too long and one of them was clearly out of tune. I tried to get used to it, hoping that the mood of the playing might outweigh the handful of notes that were out of tune, telling myself that most listeners might not hear what I was hearing, but I could not. This week I learned the phrases and re-played the melody. It was interesting to learn the notes and spaces of an improv and turning them into a prescribed melody. I rarely if ever do that, often preferring a slightly strange sound, as from a piece of nail-glue that is coming loose for example, to trying to recreate the vibe.

It turned out alright though and I am happy with the feeling of it. I added an octave below for the start of the melody and like how that grabs the attention.

This is the first version of the piece, from my post on 24. December

I always find it fascinating how a song changes when I can use several guitars rather than a solo guitar performance. Of course, adding Jon’s upright made a huge diff as well. :-)

Turning the Page

Yesterday I recorded turning the page of a ring-bound notebook and occasionally writing something with a nib and no ink.

 

I love listening to this. I wonder wether it would be more interesting to use this file as a background to some guitar music as is, meaning not in any rhythm, or whether I should try to fashion a rhythm from this raw material. Turning the page could become a “hi-hat”, the scribbling nib might turn into a shaker. Back to the lab for more experiments.


PS: experimenting with the sounds this morning I am thinking that I might not want to use them to create a rhythm. That’s been done by lots of people before. Matthew Herbert did an album called “Around the House” in 1998 and one called “Bodily Functions” in 2001. The former utilized lots of house hold samples and the latter used sounds like brushing teeth and cracking knuckles. Matmos released an album in 2001 that is called “A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure”. It uses sounds from surgery and has titles like “Lipostudio… and So On” and “California Rhinoplasty”. Yikes.

No, I feel that the a-rhythmic quality is actually what makes sounds soothing, like the bubbling pumpkin sound, or the paper turning. Bare feet on wooden stairs might be nice too, and could be a little more rhythmic.

G4 Startup

Yesterday I went to my studio to work on a new piece. At 86 beats per minute it is the slowest piece, so far, and quite romantic, I find. It took me about fifteen or twenty minutes to get the old G4 Mac to start up. I hate that startup button on the old Mac towers, always have. There is no positive feedback as to what’s happening… I pushed the button and nothing happened, then I had to move around the dust-free box the computer is housed in, open the back door, and remove the power cable from the back. That resets the power button. Replug the cable, close the door, open the front, push the power button… repeat…

After a while the computer finally started up. I am coaxing life, and indeed music album after music album, out of a classic old piece of computing hardware. 2004!! That’s ancient! Then again I am becoming a classic, or vintage, myself…

Perhaps the failure to start up is related to the internal battery, which is there to keep time while the computer is turned off, having no power left. Each time the computer does start up I have to enter the current time and date, as the computer defaults to some date in the last century… I ordered a new battery, which is supposed to arrive tomorrow, so I’ll wait to panic until after I install the new battery. Perhaps the start up issue will be resolved with a new battery. I don’t know what I can do if it doesn’t…

I worked on the piece and hummed a few melodies to myself. I find humming is often a great way to find a melody, as opposed to playing the guitar right away. This way I can usually discover melodies that are simpler and more memorable.

In the recording room I played the melody on my guitar, then played a second, different, melody that seemed to materialize. Back in the control room I listened to the first melody, then the second. I wasn’t in love with either option, though. After a while an idea came to me, the possibility of using both melodies. I set up a separate track for the second melody and panned the two guitar melodies, one slightly to the left and the other slightly to the right. Now it might become a dialog. I removed sections from each melody so that the melody switched back and forth between the guitars. Now there was something. I listened to it for a long time, enjoying the new melody.

This afternoon I will go back to the studio to hear whether the melody/melodies hold up. To be continued…

Fete

The new album has gone through a whole bunch of different titles, from the first working title Rumba Pa Ti, which was a reminder to myself that I wanted to create an upbeat album, to Hu, which I’ll write about separately, to Indigo, and now Fete. This last one seems to stick for several reasons. When Jon heard the first track of the album he sent me a message that said “this song is a party”.

In Köln, in the mid-seventies, we always used the word Fete for party, pronounced with two syllables instead of one… Fete or Fête, comes from the French language. A lot of French words are used in Köln. Portemonnaie means wallet, or Pottmonné in Kölsch, the local dialect. The dialect word Trottewar comes from the French Trottoir, or sidewalk.

Although Indigo was my favorite album title for a while, because the song of that name started a new development for me, it became clear that Fete was the right name for the album.

Because the music is upbeat – joyful is the word several people who listened to new songs used – I wanted a strong color for the cover. I really haven’t used color in ages and for a long time my albums tended to use neutral or earthy tones. I opened Lightroom and searched the 16,000 images I have collected there for the word red. I played around with a few of the images – this is a photo I took when we performed at a theater in Ecuador a few years back – and this one stood out for me. I imported the image to an iPad and played with it. I like the hand lettering which gives the cover the feel of a personal postcard.
Fete
Fete is in the final stages and I hope to have the album finished by the end of July. The ListeningLounge is very old and rickety and I have been convinced to replace it by joining Bandcamp. That means that the LL will go away within the next few months, to be replaced by a Bandcamp page on this website. The album will first be released on Bandcamp in multiple downloadable formats – this should happen sometime in August. Next we will have CDs for sale at our concerts, although I don’t have a target window for that yet. I imagine I will also start selling the CD via mail order. The rest of the usual digital distribution, including streaming services, will have to wait a while.

Fete will be the first album, catalog number 001, for my new label HuHeartDrive.

Recording a Flamenco Guitar

Today I was asked about the gear I use to record my guitar and I wondered whether it would be of interest to leave that information here as well…

I have already recently mentioned that I use a 2002 Macintosh G4 computer. That 2002 computer runs at the awesome speed of 1,25 Ghz!! For comparison, my 2018 phone runs at 2,5 GHz! Ha! The latest version of the Pro Tools recording software that can run on this Mac is PT 6.9.1. I believe PT is up to version 12 by now. My computer is very stable and PT 6.9.1 is very stable, and I have no desire to upgrade.

In the studio I use a Neumann M149 microphone, which I have had since sometime around 1997. Around that time I also acquired a Martech MSS-10 microphone preamp, after testing and comparing a dozen different preamps. All in the room immediately knew that the MSS-10 was the best of the bunch, certainly for my guitar.

I think microphone and preamp are far more important than the recording device. One has to start out with the best possible signal.

For concerts I have the Earthworks SR40. I have used this microphone for a few years now and absolutely love it. Great sound, great feedback rejection, and plenty of gain.