Question : Answer – plugins

Ian had a followup question:
I have one more music production question – what plug-ins (if anything) do you use on your master fader in Pro Tools?

I don’t have any plugins on the master track, but the preceding mix has the following three plugins inserted. I normalize the stereo mix to -1.5db to allow enough headroom and then use the Massenburg EQ plugin, and two plugins from Sony Oxford, Sonnox, the Inflator and the Limiter. That’s also the order in which the plugins are inserted: EQ, Inflator, Limiter.

I have used the MDW EQ for a long long time, perhaps for 15 years. It is my guitar EQ as well as my mastering EQ. I think they didn’t make the plugin for a while and I was bummed to have to do without it after upgrading my equipment last year. But then they came out with a new version of the plugin and I was able to move the presets, which I had created over the years, from the old G4 Macintosh to the new MacBook Pro without a problem. And they worked!! That was a relief.

Jon turned me onto the Inflator and Limiter and they have been part of my mastering for at least five years.

Question : Answer – DAW, microphone choice

Ian left a question in the comments:
Have you settled on a DAW – I know you were a Pro Tools user for many years. Also is your M149 still your mic of choice?

Yes, having tried Logic and UA Luna I decided that I much prefer to work with Pro Tools. It may just be the sense of familiarity but I like the way it works and the amount of control I feel I have when I work with it. I don’t use MIDI for anything and understand that people who use MIDI a lot like Logic.

Regarding microphones, I love my M149 but it picks up everything and requires a very quiet room. The Earthworks mic I use live is really great at focusing on the guitar and rejecting other noise. So I have been working with the Earthworks mic and it really sounds good. I have also been using the microphone preamp in the MixPre instead setting up the Martech MSS-10. It also sounds remarkably good. So for now I am using Pro Tools and the MixPre (A/D converter and mic preamp) with the Earthworks mic. But at some point I will use the M149 and Martech again.

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.

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…

Classic Mac Sound


That’s my studio computer, on the left, a 2002 Macintosh. Every album released on SSRI was recorded on that machine, a total of fourteen albums I think. At this point my phone probably has a faster processor…

That computer keeps humming though and I am currently recording album number fifteen on it. Since 2002 technology has changed so much, and updating everything became such a daunting task, that it was much easier to keep working with this old beast. And perhaps I even love working with an ancient computer. It reminds me that ideas are more important than gear.

Jon suggested that I write “Classic Macintosh Sound” on the inside cover of the new album. It was a joke because computers don’t actually have a sound. The sound is determined by the file type and the digital to analog converter, which is usually not handled by the computer itself. It’s funny and I might do it. :-)

My Manga Life

I am still totally obsessed with the iPhone’s Manga filter and have made lots of images with it. These were taken two days ago in my studio: