Choosing a Guitar Rig and Micing


Gear Gods presents Studio Pass: Kurt Ballou


Lesson Info

Choosing a Guitar Rig and Micing

I want to talk about choosing a guitar rig, so now we have our guitar dialed in and like I mentioned earlier, the first thing I'd like to do is really just see with vans working with before I try to stick my nose middle of their business, you know, I wantto hopefully I've listened tio either I'm familiar with the band because I've recorded them before, which which fortunately happens a lot for me or I've listened to their previous recordings and I've or have checked out videos of theirs on youtube or whatever and I have a good idea where they're coming from, but I still want to physically here if possible physically here what that stuff is in my studio, so have them set up their rig and you know and check it out, see what I think and then I'll talk to them about what it is they like about it and if there's anything they don't like about her, I think that they can improve upon and then we start the long process of auditioning other gear I'll pull out, sometimes I'll pull out of their gu...

itars I have a bunch of guitars around in my studio that they used sometimes and a bunch of bunch of amps and cabinets as well, and sometimes I just actually more often than I make a big line of guitar amps and quickly run down a bunch of different guitar amps and trust see like or any of these things resonating with with you as a guitarist mohr than the ring that you're currently playing or maybe soon maybe I can find something that sort of captures the vibe that they have but does it in a little better way or a more refined way than what their their current rig is doing so you know, once I find that then maybe there's like a it's usually a lot of discussion about dialing in you know what I want and I'm going to use them and then what cabinet were using what speakers we used to we want to have something that has a ton of headroom and a lot of you know, like like I've got some emperor six by twelve in my studio pretty cool, impressive looking but having six twelve inch speakers means there's a ton of they have a ton of power handling and so they're very, very responsive which is can be a good thing or can be a bad thing if I wanna have like a really like chunky kind of guitar sound that really has a tight bottom in that the super responsive to the guitar playing then those khun be great if I want the head room, but a lot of times I want amore sort of compressed, focused mid rangy guitar signal and I try to think about how the guitar fits around the other instruments being played, you know, like, is the base kind of atari base, or is the base more of a a basic base? And if that's the case, then even though a ton of bottom end on the guitar sounds awesome in the room and it's, fun to play this guitar with a ton of bottom, does that bottom in work well, in the context of a mix? And, you know, and, um, I goingto end up sucking all the bottom and out of it when I mix it anyway, or can I should I just try to get it right at the tracking stage, and same thing with the top? You know, a lot of, like, modern guitar ian's tend tohave funny, an excessive amount of sizzle that sort of conflicts with the cymbals, so I really feel like more often than not guitar lives in the mid range, so sometimes one by twelve or two by twelves. Actually, while they might not feel it's flattering in the room as a big, giant cabinet that pushes a lot of air in the context of a mix, it could be actually a lot maur focused and require a lot less work after the fact. There's also the benefit in recording with smaller cabinets that you know each each you know it's each speaker within a larger cabinet has a phase relationship to the adjacent speaker so like if you're recording if you have a mic on this speaker and mike beside it electrically thie speaker should be moving together you know, if you got a mic right here than you know sound from this my right hand's speaker is getting to that mic and one inch sound from the left speaker is getting to that mike and ten inches or twelve inches or whatever it is so it will be granted that sound is quieter than this sound but there is actually like a phase discrepancy and when you do that with a four by twelve or six by twelve you have that phase discrepancy coming from all over the place that's why sometimes you'll see people especially with bayer cabs miking them from a distance so rather than like picking up the sound of one individual speaker there really picking up the sound of the full cabinet and that you know that works great for some things and not so great for other things and I'll pick different mikes to use depending on whether miking the cabinet up close or or from a distance we're getting to that in the next little topic so just to finish up on selecting a guitar and um uh what what frequently happens after auditioning a bunch of guitar amps is that the guys in the band will say you know hey you know I really like the this element of that amp and this other element of the other ramp and then this sam and you know that that kind of stuff and I do that myself a lot like I'm always especially it comes time to make a converge record I usually have this huge line of amps because I like something about this one it's something about that one and you know it's like we love swedish death metal and I love the hot snakes and you know and I wantto find the perfect blend between those two things are you know, in a lot of cases they just really don't work well together and that's what that could be a case of of a compromise being bad it's not the two things were so different from one another that rather than complement each other they just sort of negate each other so I'd be very careful about blending amps so it's something that you can do but I tend to do it on separate tracks so that I can decide that blend later and more often than not when I do set up a bunch of vamps in my mix I usually impairing it down tto one or maybe maybe to where one is heavily favored so be a little bit careful about blending amps especially blending amps on the way into your system try to keep him separate from each other but that being said I do, I do plan dance all the time and sometimes you really can find a unique sound by blending a bunch of different stuff, but I would urge you before you resort to that to really audition not on ly h ap and trying to find the favorite but each amp and cabinet pairing that you have at your disposal you know, some some ants just rule out of certain cabinets and sound terrible lot of others and then also if you dial in and and for a certain cabinet when you move that over to another cabinet, you're gonna have to read, I'll it and it's not it's instantly gonna feel probably wrong to you re dial that so that's my thoughts on selecting a guitar iam and then once I've selected a guitar and then it's time to start my king and it comes time to mike any of the first thing you want to do is sort of see what you have in your your mic locker what's available to you and then what will best work and capture the sounds that you have sort of take sometimes I take two philosophies in recording guitars when choosing microphones like if I have an exceedingly mid rangy guitar tone, I may want to use more of a scoop sounding like toe counteract the midrange iness of that guitar. However, if I have an exceedingly mid rangy amp that I'm combining with an exceedingly scoop damp I might actually want to use ah very mid rangy mike on the mid range in half and that kind of scooped like on the scoop damped toe actually further the distinction between the two tones I find that I can blend to amplifiers together better when they're mohr different from one another than than closer to each other so I well you know some of my favorite microphones for guitar are the how pier thirty one great dynamic microphone or the pr thirty is essentially the same mike you know and that's got that's got that classic sort of fifty seven sound but done with a little bit more transparency then a fifty seven and bob kyle's a really great guy I think it makes a great great mike and I've been using that stuff for years um another favorite of mine of course is theis and fifty seven is just classic can't go wrong from working really quickly just jamie fifty seven in front of it good um the um there's thie royer one twenty one of course is ah very often used guitar guitar mike and super smooth sounding ribbon mic on guitar I prefer the passive version of that but in most cases with her mom likes I do prefer the past the version I feel like the actor versions are typically too hot and also cost too much um and my recent speaking of action room mike's my recent acquisition we actually this is maybe the first or second record I used it on is the the a twenty two which is their new active ribbon micah's a cardio microphone and it's quite a thinner sounding than the royal mike but it is it's uh sort of the closest mike that I've ever used to a finished guitar sound actually and you know I can play some audio examples of this stuff so um uh for dialling protocols here for second um so when I was tracking us as you saw me I think actually may have a photo somewhere in here. Yeah, here we go. So these are the mikes that I chose to use on this cabinet. This is a black star two by twelve cabin especially black stars in thirty and there's one celestine v thirty in there as well as one weber speaker I forget which model number the weber is but it's one of their ceramic magnet british style speakers and whoever actually has something on a call that being blocker which is this little sort of like dome type thing that you, when you're installing a speaker you install the beam blocker first and then install the speaker in front of the hunters google being blocker, you'll find it but it's this basically it it sort of sort of looks it makes the speaker baffled almost look like a stencil of the letter o so there's like a thing that sort of floats in the middle of the speaker that's dome shaped that deflects sound coming off the middle of the speaker and disperses it. So when you're standing in the room with this cabinet it's not as directional as the average two by twelve a lot of two by twelve they're very like straight ahead and this one's actually open back too so it really between the open back and the bean blocker thing it really throws the sound all over the room, which is great if you're a guitarist you're standing beside your aunt for a little bit above the amber something like that you can still hear it and it's also great if if you're at a show and you're in the front there in the front row the you don't get that like laser beam trouble thing right in your face it's more of a natural dispersed sound so I think that what you see here is this's on arcia forty four b x b river mike beside a unit diane sure hasn't fifty seven nose around the weber speaker about a foot back or so and then the mike beside it is thie eh in twenty two on the thirty and I ended up this is not my final my position ended up jamming the twenty two right up on the grill and because I felt like it's it's kind of thin on the bottom so it really wants to be jammed right up on the guitar have to sound great if I wanted to combine the end twenty two with the other mike's I would have to do a little ah little sample alignment to get them the phase two agree between off all the mikes since they're in different positions but I lined up the capsule of the fifty seven and the capsule of the forty four along the same plane so those don't seem to need any phase adjustment so let's take a listen tio just uh second here to set up um some solo um buses going to x or which let me uh cancel each soul so let's take a look at a pro tools on the big screen and so since the fifty seven in the forty four are um on the same plane I'm gonna make a group out of those just a temporary group and so now I can toggle those on and off and sold out together and see um at a gang and those things are way down I'm gonna pan those both to the same side as the end twenty two so I'm gonna listen to guitar too which is air and he's playing more like the meat potatoes type stuff so probably of the judge judge the sound a little better with him and this much of feedback crap beginnings to skip over that so um, you know, my first impulse when I first started hearing the end twenty two was like coffin sounding and little too crunchy, but, um and then the forty four fifty seven blend field mohr like the classic guitarist on the air expect to hear coming out of the speakers. Um but what I found in mixing is that you know, things tend to just get brighter and brighter over the course of a record. You know, you start, you start tracking your listening pretty loud when you listen loud, you tend to prefer deeper sounds and then as you get closer to your finished product, you you you know you're not listening is loud and you had a kind of wanting to brighten things up. And by the time you get to the finish master and blush, we see this tomorrow's ago from this and examples of raw track through finnish master um, that things just keep getting brighter and brighter and brighter. And I found that when I was mixing the end twenty two actually brought me closer to a finish guitar sam without you and forty four fifty seven combo, but yeah, definitely like in sola mode, the that fifty seven forty four combo has that extra sub base and extra low mid fullness that he is a little more year pleasing to begin with so let's just take a quick listen one more time you can hear me toggle between him cool and for those of you listening at home you're supposed to be hearing this panto one side, by the way. Um all right, so that's the difference between between those two mikes and let's go back, tio, go back to the slides. Um, yeah. So, um, mic placement I touched on this a little bit before, but sometimes you want to have the mic jammed right up on the grill. Other times you want to have the mic set back a little bit and that has a lot to do with what type of microphone you're using, how much proximity effect it has for those you don't know, proximity effect is sort of an exaggeration of bottom, and that happens primarily in cardio mode of microphone if you're using an army microphone usually have less s proximity effect and the same is true for figure of eight microphone and as you move that microphone closer or farther from the source, that proximity effect will change. So if, um, you know if if you're making a tar cab and you wanna have you want to either mike, you know, get the sound of the full cabinet and not just a single speaker or if you have an excessive amount of bottom and coming off the cabinet you might pull your microphones back a little bit and I found that those that particularly that forty four be exes is exceedingly bass heavy microphone so all pull that I use that microphone I'll pull that back from the cabot leased a foot and a knit right dead center in the speaker and that's how they get the best sound out of that microphone and yeah so also then in relation to where you placed the microphone on the speed here you can change your sound a lot and you know a fun fun thing you can do if you ever get the chance is to, um take a day and actually I do this I do this still every every once in a while and take a day to do audio experiments in my studio refresh my memory about what are the differences between the's different mike techniques and mike positions and, you know, like the overhead thing I did when I was comparing on these and figure eights and cardio it's like I need to do that kind of stuff periodically just to keep those those variations freshman head so what I'd like to do on guitar when I'm trying out new microphones or new mike positions are you know like preempts even is teo either recorded d I guitar and make a loop out of that that you then reem through an amp or use like a looping guitar pedal and play like develop a little guitar loop that might have some low stuff and some high stuff. So you have this like repeated performance that you can record the exact same performance over and over again and then do that perform it's with take a mic and then you know whatever mike you choose mike it close mike it far mike it at an angle like it at the centre of the cone like it at the at the edge of the dust cab my kid at the edge of the speaker you do all this different stuff and see for yourself how that really affects the guitar tone. There's a neat thing I've seen recently which is like a little guitar michael robot that somebody made that kind of moves them like around by a by a joystick and you can in real time here how that have that varies there's also some guitar and plug ins that allow you move the mike around that can help you sort of determined how how my question will change based on based on that but that's your first source of you after all obviously the amp in the player and the guitar that stuff is really your first horsedick you but the first as an audio engineer the microphone placement is your first sources you so the closer you can get to a finnish product by placing my correctly, the less work you'll have to do down the line and the closer to a finished product you will have as your tracking, and you'll make better decisions about the tones of all the other instruments all on the way. So do a little experiment, see what you like best for mike positions and then or see how my position's very mentally catalog that, and then pull out those tools that you have as various people come come through and ask you to record them, um so that's with working with a single microphone, but sometimes you might want to use multiple microphones, and you know when in doubt a single microphone is always safe, because as soon as you throw two mikes in the mix, you're you know, you're welcoming problems. So there's a little thing, which I think I'm actually play tomorrow in the base thing where I did a little demo of one wayto do some phase checking between various microphones on map, moving, moving them around. You can also do that using some sample alignment, like the pro tools, has a thing called time adjuster and let you slide around tracks a little bit, or this also coming home little labs has a device called the ibp, which is an all past filter that can let you phase line multiple microphones but the best way to do is to really get it right at the source and the first way that I started just visit is just visually like if you can take the you know take the windscreen off the mic and figure out where the capsule really is you know like on a sm seven for example it's really deep into the mic it might be two or three inches in from the edge of the money aquarius like on an sm fifty seven it's right towards the edge so if you're using this and fifty seven in sm seven on the same cabinet first thing you want to do is kind of like line up the capsules and that'll give you the best starting point for time alignment um again like I was talking about earlier when I use multiple microphones aye I like to rather than use two similar sounding mike's all use or two similar sounding like positions I'll use to really different sounding microphones into really different sounding mike positions and if there's less overlap in tonality between the two signals and actually even further than that I'll use two different sounding like preempts to capture those two different sounding likes into different setting positions to sort of further the tonal difference between them which actually makes them have less of a phase relationship between them it makes it a little bit hard harder to dial in the phase after the fact but it's, the phase relationship becomes a little bit less important between them. I will, um, typically blend those microphones on the way, and if I feel pretty confident about them and this kind of two ways that I do that I have mixing console so I can do, I can run my like cramps into cem channels of my mixing console and then some them together down teo danto one input into pro tools, and that sort of means this fewer decisions I have to make later if I don't have the confidence about how I want to blame the mikes together on the way in, I'll keep him on separate tracks or from doing multiple multiple amplifiers. I'll try to keep those on separate tracks as well if you don't have a mixing console and you choose to blend microphones on the way in in pro tools, you can basically make yourself what do you want? Combine two mikes down to one track you can just make yourself three tracks, you'll have two oxen, putz and then one audio track, so for the two oxen puts, you'll assign your hardware inputs from your microphone pre op, so let's say those air going into inputs one two you'll sign your ox inputs to be inputs one and two, and then you'll sign thie ox outputs, too. A bus and you, khun, make your own boss in name it. Or you can say I don't assign each of these oxes to bus one out. And then the third track that you've made is an audio track. Set the input of that audio track to the corresponding bus of your oxen puts, and that will allow you to digitally control the blend between the two microphones and record them onto one track. You have to be a little bit wary of imparting some late and see into the signal when doing it that way. But if you're set up your setup well, it should be much of a problem, but I do that. I do that in the analog world. Um, okay. And in addition to close my king the amps, sometimes you might want teo have an ambient mic on the guitar. I, uh yeah, it's actually. Here. You know what? I haven't beat mike since katrina let's, listen to him, toggle between close in the mike and then play both of them. Okay, so one thing I did with the ambient mikes on this particular project and I don't always do it this way, but when we're done tracking drums, I left the overheads set up on the drum set and without changing any of the settings on the overheads I used the overhead drum mike's as my hammy and guitar mikes and I'll do that with overheads or room mikes or whatever on the drums and matt I feel sort of helps in part of feeling that the guitars were played in the same room as the drum set sometimes I'll even send the tar room mikes out the same channels for the same outboard processing as thie over ads and really make it gel like a live recording and it's a very small, subtle thing to do but I think it's a little small details that really give you that sense of being there I think it helps with that the other reason why I like to use room likes for guitar I should take two reasons um in this case I'm using a stereo from iconic guitar the stereo overheads sometimes I'll record bands that just have one guitarist and we don't always want to double the guitar tracks so it's nice to have a little bit of presence like if if the guitar is just out of like the left speaker for the van halen thing, for example like you'll hear always hear van halen records is just like left pan rhythm guitar and then some ambiance and the right side that gives you a sense of space on amano guitar that you wouldn't get if he just had one single mono guitar hard panned on demonic guitar sort of hand up the middle, sometimes conflicts a little bit too much with the drums, bass and vocals, so nice toe to pan up the guitar, even if it is a model guitar, so that will give it a sense of space. So sometimes you know, I might have one guitarist in the band, and they're just do the verses monitor our single guitar, then the chorus has doubled, or maybe or maybe there's, a guitar break and it's just one guitar happening at any given point in the song, and particularly when you're listening on headphones. You know, in real life, you never, um, you never listen to music where you absolutely can hear nothing from your right here and on lee here stuff in your left ear. So having a little bit of room, mike, or maybe it's, reverb or whatever on a guitar or maybe it's not hard banning the guitar, a little bit of presence in the opposite speaker can keep you from feeling disoriented when listening to something on headphones. Actually, some of the some of the best headphone amps actually have, like a cross talk feature where it will impart a bit of the right channel into the left, and vice versa said that you don't feel disoriented when you're listening headphones. It feels more like the experience of listening on speakers and I think that those things might even put a subtle delay on the uh the opposite channel that it bleeds in ok, so um ra mike's now final thing I'll talk about about miking is about the idea of running d ies and with with the interest of revamping oer and oer editing one of the common sort of modern production techniques is too well, some people don't use guitarists anymore and they just record the isa museum simulators I don't I don't typically do that but it's nice to be able to see the transience of of a guitar sing a lot of like heavily distorted you know this thing just looks like a giant worm you don't know what's going on it's just just a bunch of fat waves but if you had a d I track I think actually d I base yeah see let's let's zoom in on this base thing um you can't see that well, but you can see a little bit more of the dynamic range of the bass guitar in the d I then you can in the microphones certainly when comparing the base that's much the base sub channel but when comparing the base mike to the d ay base you can see the attack of better so if you feel like you're gonna be editing the guitars that you have a particularly sloppy guitarist or if you're trying to go for that ultra tight guitar thing you think you need to edit some guitar performance is sometimes die even if you don't use it at all in your mix khun b a helpful tool to guide you as to where the guitar players actually picking um I feel as though the whole concept of the eyes is um is a a lot about indecisiveness um at least at least in my in my studio experience it's it's like we don't know if we can get a good guitar sound now so let's just save that for later and we'll get a guitar tone later and a lot of times I mix records people or mix on lee records records I haven't recorded people will send me d I guitars and asked me to re anthem and I really try to avoid that whenever possible because I feel like guitar players and the amplifiers interact with one another you know you feel a certain amount of air moving off the amp in a different amps respond to you in different ways and and that causes you to change the way that you play and to hear to perform with a temporary guitar tone is to me is kind of like flying blind I mean it's not the worst thing in the world but it's the best the best guitar turns I've got have not been re amps they've been a guitar player interacting with their amp and really knowing what it does and actually I find it even for like you know really organic atar stones in my studio I can judge them best when I play the guitar myself you know I don't I don't do it exclusively I have the guitar player in the group play you know, play their rig but then it's not feeling quite right I'll grab their guitar and just play a little bit like oh yeah ok there is like this little weird thing going on that I didn't notice until I started playing because I didn't there's like a feedback loop that happens between the player's brain and the amp but you don't have unless you actually experience it for yourself so and when you do when you set out with the idea that you're going to die your guitars and then later re anthem then you're setting out of the idea to remove that feedback loop from the recording process but that being said if you're really indecisive or if you're recording at home in a place where you're not allowed to make any noise or uh you know you think you nailed it but you're not you're not sure and you want to just have have a safety net sometimes dies or cool I don't do them by default but if if I'm unsure about something I will record it andi think I only recorded this basically I in case I wanted to sort of illustrate some simulator type stuff with the base, which I probably won't dio. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't even recorder based.

Class Description

In this two-day course, prolific producer Kurt Ballou will take you behind-the-scenes of GodCity Studios to show you exactly how the magic happens. This all-access studio pass will immerse you in every aspect of Kurt’s distinctive sound — from choosing and setting up gear, to tracking and mixing.

Kurt will show you the basic and advanced techniques he uses in his studio every day, and teach you how to apply them to your own recording — regardless of whether you’re working in a studio or at home with a DIY setup. Using anecdotes from his years behind the board, Kurt will also teach you his best practices for working with bands to extract the best and most inventive sounds.


Keith Foster

First off, even though I'm neither a beginner nor a recording professional, this class is absolutely worth the money you spend on it - especially if you plan on making heavy music. There are enough tips, tricks and guidance in here to get your money's worth many times over. That said, as an indie artist who goes to a studio to record drum tracks, then does the rest ina home studio I found some of the things disheartening. Much of the class follows a "I do this thing using item / amp / microphone / plugin (X), it's pretty cool" vibe, and it sounds cool.... until you check the price. As an example, the 'stereo buss processing' section sounds fun to try, except for the part where the three pieces of gear cost about $8K. As a result I found myself figuring out how to incorporate the essence of what he was saying without the gear budget to do so. Maybe I'm not the intended audience but a little more concept and less gearhead would have been even better. That said you should totally get it, it's a low price for so many hours of great content.