No videos or audio examples today — I’m in the midst of “reconfiguring” my studio. (That’s the technical term for pulling stuff out of racks, tangling all your cables, making an ungodly mess, and dissolving into a puddle of bitter, frustrated tears.)
But the good news is, I got some cool new stuff. I’m switching over a pair of large Pro Tools and Apogee systems to a minimalist Universal Audio Apollo setup, an audio interface that doubles as a plug-in host. UA makes killer plug-ins, but I’ve never owned any, since they’ve always run off of proprietary PCI cards, and the card slots in my computers have always been filled to capacity. Now that I have the UA stuff in my grubby mitts, I’m obsessing on the idea of exploring non-amped guitar tones, especially distorted ones. And I’m not talking amp simulators, but the distortion you get from overdriving a recording console’s preamps.
If you’re a tone geek, chances are you already know that some iconic guitar riffs were tracked straight into the recording console without amps. Examples include Roger McGuinn’s 12-string on early Byrds tracks (straight to the desk via two LA-2A compressors), Nile Rogers’ “Le Freak” hook (also heavily compressed on its way to a Neve console), and Jimmy Page’s devastating “Black Dog” lines (triple-tracked Les Pauls overdriving the inputs on a Neve console). And these are some of the first techniques I’m going to explore once I untangle the cables and mop up the tears.
Why now? Software emulations of these ’60s and ’70s hardware units have been available for over a decade, and there have been a number of very good and very inexpensive ones. But by and large, these emulations have only been partly accurate. They’ve done a good job of replicating the dynamics processing and EQ curves of the original devices, but have been less successful at cloning the coloration and chaos they provide when pushed to extremes. I can’t tell you how many of my producer and engineer friends have expressed sentiments along the lines of, “Those plug-in clones sound great at ‘normal’ settings, but they don’t sound like the real things when you push them to their limits.”
But that’s changing. The latest generation of simulations have become freakishly accurate, including all the weird/interesting stuff that happens when you wallop them. The first time I tried pounding the input of Universal Audio’s virtual Neve channel, the complexity and musicality of the distortion floored me.
Anyway, I’ll be posting some cool examples and tone recipes soon, including ones using really inexpensive, bedroom-studio-grade preamps. Sometimes these super-cheap preamps sound killer. (Back in the late ’80s and ’90s, more than a few guitarists obtained awesome overdrive by overdriving the inputs on those lo-fi four- and eight-track cassette recorders.)
Anyone here have any experience in this area? Any cool tricks and techniques?