Studio, production and guitar recording tips from a legendary producer


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It’s always great to get guitar-based advice from more experienced musicians, because learning from those who have been there and done that can only make us better at what we do. When we interviewed Alan Parsons recently, we got to learn some of the wisdom from a man who’s been at the top of the music industry for about half a century. Here, then, are just a few of his tips for the recording guitarist…

We’ve written a lot about recording at night, playing at home and rocking on stage here on the Blog Of Tone.

Between us, our writers have done plenty of all these things, and we’re hopeful that this is a place where you can learn from our experiences (good and bad!) in the world of guitar tone.

But Alan Parsons is something completely different.

This is a man who has engineered records for The Beatles (Abbey Road) and Pink Floyd (The Dark Side Of The Moon), among many others, as well as having a hugely successful career off his own bat as a musician, songwriter and performer.

So, when he talks, we listen. You can watch the entire, uncut interview we did with Alan below, but here are just a few of his juiciest soundbites from the interview:

Choose tubes if you can

This is how Alan responded when we asked him whether he prefers to record guitars with tube amps or via digital modeling:

“There’s a place for modelling. It’s usually because of budget or convenience. But I’ve always maintained that guitars invariably sound better with a couple of those glass tubes behind them.”

Sounds about right to us. In fact, we did a previous blog on precisely this debate, and our conclusions agreed with Alan’s judgment 100%. Read it here to decide whether you really need tubes iny our amp in order to record the best guitar sounds.

The Alan Parsons Live Project in concert in Koblenz, Germany, September 2015.

The Alan Parsons Live Project in concert in Koblenz, Germany, September 2015.

The best way to record a guitar cabinet

This is a slightly more unusual one – one of Alan’s quirks, if you will. The general perceived wisdom is that you get a mic in nice and close to the cab in order to record the best tones. Not Alan:

“I’m perhaps unusual in that I might mic it from up to two feet [that’s about 60cm] away. I mean, if you stand two feet away from an amp, it’s still pretty loud! I’m one of these people who doesn’t really believe that the mic should be touching the cab. All live sound engineers – including our own – they do, they have it touching the cabinet. But, if that’s how they want it…”

This is something we’ve not really tried ourselves too much. Like many other recording guitarists, we’ve spent many hours testing out the various positions you can place a mic in relation to the speaker cone – but we’ve never thought too long and hard about the distance thing.

Considering some of the mammoth guitar sounds Alan’s had a hand in over the years, though, it’s most definitely something to try out!

To mic or to DI?

And on a related note, Alan also told us that although he’s taken the direct feed out of amps in the past, for him the mic/cab combination is the way to go.

Getting Alan Parsons set up for his interview before the band's gig at the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz, Germany. The stage area is the black tent in the bottom left of the photo. And yes, we carried the Hughes & Kettner couch up about 100 steps to get this location!

Getting Alan Parsons set up for his interview before the band’s gig at the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz, Germany. The stage area is the black tent in the bottom left of the photo. And yes, we carried the Hughes & Kettner couch up about 100 steps to get this location!

This is a subject we’ve also blogged on in the past – read our take on mics versus DIs here.

Alan’s favorite mics for recording

When it comes to the type of microphones he prefers for recording, Alan says:

“Usually it’s one of the small diaphragm condensers from Neumann. My favorite’s a KM84. I’ve always favored condenser mics rather than dynamics for cabinets – I just think the fuller frequency response is better for electric guitar. Dynamics tend to sound a little hard, for my ears anyway.”

Forty years in the spotlight

We didn’t just talk about recording with Alan, though. In fact, we spent a good deal of time discussing his career as the focal point of the Alan Parsons Project (these days they’re the Alan Parsons Live Project).

The band have sold shedloads of records in their own right, and continue to tour the world each year. Alongside a number of studio LPs, the group have also recorded a number of hugely successful live albums, and Alan speaks to us at length about how much he loves playing live. In fact, when comparing studio work to live shows, he says:

“I enjoy both, but there’s the immediacy in the feedback of an audience which is so much fun. Nobody applauds you in the studio, unfortunately!”

Here’s the interview in full:

 

The DVD series we refer to in the interview is Alan Parsons’ Art & Science Of Sound Recording, and you can find more information on that right here.

During the interview, Alan also talks about the various members of his band, including lead guitarist Alastair Greene. We interviewed Alastair in Koblenz too, and you can see what he had to say here (as well as reading the full story here):

 

Finally, if you’re still hungry for more, here’s an interview we did with Alan in 2014 about his use of TubeMeisters onstage and in his studio:

 

We hope these tips can help get you on the road to better recorded guitar tone, and we’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried – or if you go on to try – some of the more experimental techniques Alan mentioned in the interview!

Have you tried setting up your mic half a meter away from your cab? Or have you tried and tested the differences between recording tones in tube amps and their modeling cousins? Let us know…

 

Check out the Alan Parsons Live Project website here: alanparsonsmusic.com

First published: October 02 2015. Most recent update: October 02 2015.

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