Guitar Setup


Studio Pass: Sylvia Massy


Lesson Info

Guitar Setup

So Whitney is here from the Thunderpussy band. And you play the guitar? Yes. All right, so we've already gotten drum sounds and we've gotten bass sounds. It's time to work on the guitar, so I wanted to talk about strategies. The way I'd like to record your guitar is to use your amp, but at the same time, I wanna split the signal from your guitar to go into a second amp, and a third amp, and maybe a fourth amp. Which is what I would do if I could afford all those amps and had space to haul them around. (laughing) Good! Then we're on the same page. Yeah. So, you've got a Marshall combo. It's a sweet old thing. It's great. It looks like a handsome old man. We're going to set up, also, a Marshall 100 watt lead. Is that correct? 50 watt. 50 watt lead, fantastic. Little more saturation that way. Great. Then we're going to also have a couple unusual things that we're setting up. One is the amplifier from an old film projector. And it has an onboard speaker but we can a...

ctually take a send off of the amplifier to drive an outboard speaker, and we're gonna listen to that and see what that's like. It's supposed to be something really cool. They have it here at Avast, and they keep telling me how great it is, so we're gonna see. And then I wanted to try some things with a solid-state amplifier driving some kind of, let's say-- Power tool? Power tools, or maybe a blender or a dremel or something. It's something that Ed Cherney told me about, and I tried it on another project and it worked fantastic. What we did is we took a solid-state amp and put the guitar signal into the amp and out of the speaker outputs. We wired in an old dremel drill. Now when you hit your guitar chords, it starts the drill up. And then you mic the drill, or you actually have audio going through the drill. Either way. But it's a fantastic weird and wonderful thing, especially for guitar solos. So we'll try that. It'll get crazy, too. Okay. Should I go pick up the ax? What did you bring? I've got a Gibson SG, and I have a Fender Fat Strat. Fat Strat. Which one do you normally play? I'm back and forth with the guitars right now. But I'm pretty into the sound of the SG. I think for this particular tone that we're going for, that crunchier, sort of driving tone, the strat's a little more buttery, it's a little brighter. I don't know if that's right, but we can try 'em both. Well, why don't we start with the amp, your combo, that we know, and you know, and let's just listen to both of these guitars through your combo with the settings that you normally play. Cool. I believe that we have the combo already isolated off into an iso-booth. So we're gonna have to kinda stand in this room and listen to it as it is already in an iso-booth. All right. Let's do it. Let's listen to both these guitars. Okay, the SG is plugged in and let's take a quick look at the set up that we have in here. I'm gonna take a peek just so I can see what's going on here. And we have this combo set up here with two mics on it. I'm gonna adjust the mics. Do you need a flashlight for that? No. Okay. I like to have the mics equal distance from the cab, from the speaker. Basically, each speaker has it's own mic, and I'm using a 421 and a 57, and I combine them to record onto one track. And I like to combine the mics onto one track just to make sure the phasing is correct. And I can blend them, like if I want a deeper tone, I'll use the 421 as the louder of the two. If I wanna brighter tone, I'll push the SM57 louder, but I'll blend this way and I'll be able to adjust it later without using a lot EQ. Okay, looks like we're good there. We're gonna step out here and listen to the SG. So, my amp? Yep. Just mine? Just your amp. (guitar music) Okay, okay. I'm gonna step in here and listen closer. (mumbling) It's a little dirty. And then, I don't know. This is the main volume if it sounds-- Okay. (mumbling) (guitar music) Okay. It's really brash, but then that's the nature of an SG, too. I just turned up a little more low end, more bass. I turned up the bass a little bit. I turned down the gain a little bit. (guitar music) And that's your-- (guitar playing) All right, all right. Let's try the SG, or I mean the Strat and see what the difference is. (guitar music) All right, all right. I have to say that I think I like the strat better. Okay, yeah, this is like Old Reliable, right here. Yeah, it's got a clearly tone, it's less brash, it's got nice color. And I think let's start with that. Yeah, and you know oftentimes, so when I play the strat, I haven't adjust this pedal, but I often use this compressor. (guitar music) Ah. (mumbling) That's a nice, deeper tone. Sounds great, right? I like that better. Okay. Okay, we'll start there. Starting point. Do you wanna hear the other amps at all? Or do you just wanna dial that one in? Well, we're done with this one now, let's turn off her combo. Yep. Let's listen to this 50 watt Marshall. (guitar music) (mumbling) All right, all right. Don't you just love these things? God, it sounds great. God, it sounds really good. It's killer. Let's not even mess with it! It sounds great. It's killer. But I see that we have this little jumper that's going from, what do you call this here? The bright and the-- The bright. And the normal channel, I think? This is a little trick that we've done in the past, too. What's up with that? To add an extra amount of gain, I believe, is what it does. It jumps. There's two channels in the amps, and it jumps the channels together so you have both channels of active gain. So you use a little jumper-- Why have I never thought of that? To go from one channel into the second channel. And it gives it that little extra umph. Wow. Yeah. I should do that on my amp. Well, if you got, you need four holes, though. That's the thing, you need four holes. (laughing) Gotta have four holes. (laughing) But anyway, I love this. This is great. I think we leave this. This is the projector that I talked about. This is an Avast thing, and it's the guts from an old film projector. It has an external speaker output, so that speaker's going? It's going in and feeding the 412, and then-- Output's going into a speaker. Play it. Let's see what this sounds like. (guitar music) (guitar drowning out speakers) All right, all right. It's really bright. There's a tone knob. There is a tone know on this thing? It's on this side here. There's a volume and a tone. Those are the only two controls. I think this is tone, right? Okay, good, good, good, good. There's a little richer. Keep strumming. Play. (guitar music) All right, I like that. Okay. There was a tone adjuster there, and I've just turned it down so it's a little deeper. Pretty cool thing. Let's get crazy. All of 'em. Okay. Oh, you wanna turn 'em all on? Yeah, it's like why not, right? Let's-- Okay, turn 'em on. Go for it. (guitar music) We have one other thing in there-- Yeah, now this fourth thing is a kind of a weird thing and I'm not sure if it's gonna work or not, but we might as well try. It makes sound. Let's go look at it, first of all. It's also our splitter is going into this additional amplifier. It's a solid-state amp. It's an old, what is it? A Princeton? Yeah, Fender Princeton solid state. Fender Princeton solid-state amp. It's a combo. We've disconnected the speaker. Right? Yep. Disconnected the speaker and plugged the power cable right into a drill, I think it is. Or saw. We just took the power cable from a dremel. No, what is it? A Black and Decker? Ah, this is a Black and Decker Super Saw. Jig saw. Supper Saw. And we've taken the speaker outputs of the Fender, and we're going straight into this jigsaw. (laughing) I have used it with a dremel. It worked fantastic. So we're gonna try it with a, do you got a good shot of that? Okay. So, play and see if it works. All right, is it working? It's making sound, it's just not quite enough juice to drive it. But I can definitely hear the... You can hear the motor. I don't wanna get hurt. I just pushed the button. Let me see. I'm gonna try. Wow you can really hear it. You can hear it, but it's not really work. Oh, oh, oh. Something's happening. Come on. Come on! Okay, hang on a second. How can we get more juice outta your guitar? You know what we could is we could try running a booster pedal before the amp. Let's do it. Here. Yes. To just give the amp more juice. Yes, I think what we need is we need more juice going to this little amp. More juice. Oh, oh, wait. What's going on? Did you do something? It's working. (laughing) Oh, the fuzz wah seems to help. Fuzz wah. The fuzz wah. And the rat. No rat. No the rat's not good but the fuzz wah is working great. (guitar music) It just doesn't sound like anything, though, right? If it was a drill. Oh, that's going pretty good. (mumbling) It's just not noisy enough a motor. (mumbling) So that's just like the feedback. Actually, if you mic that up pretty good, if you put a close mic on that, that actually might be good. Now play a different note. Play a solo. You know what that is? It's just because this is on, so it's like the feedback. Of nothing. So when I actually play a note, it sucks. Yeah, play a solo. (guitar music) Then it stops. It's just like when you let the pedal go stream. You know what I mean? It's starts going crazy. It's kinda working though. It's good. But I can only hit an E and leave it alone. (laughing) This is pretty good. It's going. All right. It's going now? Well, yeah, but it's only when-- It's a very specific thing. I think we need to try this anyway. All right, I'll turn it off. All right, there we go. (laughing) Okay, we're gonna try it. I think we might actually go get a dremel and try something else, too. Okay. Okay. Try it now. Let's see if it moves anymore. I just boosted the amp with a distortion pedal. Oh. Now, if you're doing a solo, what happens? (mumbling) It's a pretty good idea. (guitar music) Come on. Looks like it's only with chords, right? No, if it's a sustained note, it starts. Interesting. What happens if we just set it on the amp? Does it vibrate enough to make it resonate? 'Cause I bet it would use this as a speaker box. Check it out. If we just set it here. (drilling) Oh, that's pretty good. But the solo part. All right, all right. Well, we wanna definitely mic this up. I'm gonna throw a piece of tape on it 'cause it might come off, too. Yeah, okay. All right. It's pretty good! It's not bad at all, actually. I wish the blender woulda worked, though. (laughing) Then we coulda had margaritas, too. I know, right? (laughing) Every time I solo, we'd make margs. Thank you Ed Cherney for this idea. I think it's a really good idea. Okay. So we're gonna go with the jigsaw for now. We might change it out for a dremel later. We're going with the strat. And we've got all three amps over here working which is the Marshall Combo, the 50 watt head, and we've got the projector running. All three at the same time. And the Black and Decker is cranking now. So we had some questions about how you actually hooked that up. I would be glad to talk about that. So what it is wired, how did you wire it? Well, let's pull it out and actually take a look at it. Oh, it's actually the output-- Just pull it out here. The output of? The output of the amplifier. Can we just pull it out here? Yeah. Speaker output. Speaker output is literally wired straight into the electrical cable. Okay, wow. And we can change this out. Apparently we could just swap it out with any number of appliances, right? Yep. Yeah. Because all it is is just plugged right into here, see? So we can try a dremel, we can try a blender, we can try any number of things. We actually did have a blender that we tried, but it had the same problem. It just wasn't quite loud enough to make it spin. Apparently you need a lot of juice for blenders. (laughing) No pun intended. Okay. Cool, thank you. Does that explain it? Yeah, yep. It's coming straight outta the speaker output. Okay. And into this. There's no power going to this. It's only the speaker output. So now, the sound is going directly in here, and then we wanna mic up the motor, just to get the motor sound. Cool. Because it's supposed to be reacting to what she's playing. Right. So this'll be fun. That's awesome. Here you go. No problem, I will get this up to go. Great, all right. Do you ever use solid-state amps? That's another question-- This is a solid state. This is a solid state. I've tried this with tube amps and it will blow it up. Oh, okay. So you don't wanna do that. Hopefully, your amps are fused so you can, it doesn't damage your equipment. Right. But solid-state amps, it works great. How 'bout to actually power a cab? Do you ever use solid-state? Or are those all tubes in there? These are all tube amps. Do you ever use, do you ever-- Sure, yeah. I've used, what is it? The warhead, which is a Randall head, which is solid state. I like that. Very metal. Yeah, yeah. It's all good. Cool. Yeah? Yeah, sure. Okay. So we got that. Do you wanna play your guitar real quick? I just wanna make sure it's still making drilling sounds. (guitar music) Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh, it's great. (laughing) Okay. Cool. You have the mics in their position, somewhat? Do we have headphones for Whitney? I do right here. Great, so we're going to go in the control room while you're playing here. And what we just need you to do is maybe do some rhythm parts from the song and just keep playing. It's gonna be loud. If you like, we'll shut the door. I like loud. Okay, you like loud, good. So just play along and we're gonna listen to all these mics. It'll take us a little time. This box on top? Yeah. Do you know the on and off buttons? No. So there's an on, on and on. So it's your amp, the Marshall and the projector. All right, I'm gonna go in there now. Got it. And that's the order we'll do it. We'll do your combo, the Marshall and the projector. Sounds good. And then the dremel last. We can just leave the dremel on 'cause it's in a booth by itself. Cool. Yep, awesome. It's fun. Now, Sylvia, did you wanna check these one at a time or did you wanna go through with all of them on? One at a time. Cool. So we'll start with the combo here. Whitney, if you wanna go ahead and play your combo and switch that on, I'm gonna close this door for us here. I think Kellan's-- (guitar drowning out speaker) All right. So what I'm gonna listen to, I'm gonna listen to both of these mics individually. These are two mics that are only on the combo. There's a 421 and a 57 on the combo. I'll start by listening to the 421. It should be a deeper tone. Then I'll listen to the 57, which is a brighter tone, and then I'll find a blend, and I might check the phase between the two mics to see if it sounds better one way or the other. And if the mics need to be moved. I think they're gonna be okay, but we'll try. So, first of all, listening to the 421. (guitar music) Okay. All right, and the 57. It is brighter. That's a nice combination. Let's see what kind. Okay. Oh, that's combo, yeah. We could probably get a little more. We need a little more level. And I like the blend of the two mics. Okay, I'm gonna add some EQ to this now. Hello. Can you hear me? Okay, go ahead and stop for a moment. So what I'm gonna do is find a blend of the two mics, the 421 and the 57 on the single cab, and then I'm going to add a little bit with these 560 EQs. A little bit of the low mid around 250. And then a little bit on the upper mid, with is about 4K. Just to give it a little clarity. And I wanna keep the honkiness, 'cause I love that kinda sound. I think it'll be appropriate for this song. Okay, so we got one of these cabs is ready to go. Let's move on to another one, now. If you wanna let her know, she can switch the on/off button on that box. Are they all on right now? No, it's just the combo. We can switch it to the Marshall. We can have them all going. You want 'em all going? Yeah. Go ahead and switch the other two on for us. And then you can just play all three of 'em. Awesome. Great. So that's that. (guitar music) Okay, so we got the combo done. Now we're gonna look at the 50 watt. Here's our monitor and our 421. Ah. Okay, the 421 sounds pretty good. Now let's listen to the 57. That doesn't sound like it's working. Want me to go move it? Oh yeah, let's take a look at how it's miced. Hold on. Let's take a quick peek at where those mics are. Sounds like maybe the speaker's not working. Or it's off, pointed off into the wall or something. The combo sounds great. But this 100 watt-- It's on the backside there. Is not sounding so good. So I'm gonna go back around here and take a look at the mics. Yeah, okay. I'll position these mics different here. The 421, I'm gonna point directly at the speaker. All right, that's about the position where the seam would be on the speaker cone. Same thing over here. I'm gonna try to get it in the same basic position. Same distance from the speaker. That's probably around the point where the seam is on the cone. We'll mic that spot. All right, let's take a listen. Okay Whitney. Can we shut the door? Yeah, I'll get the doors. (guitar music) All right. Okay, okay hold on. So I'm going to blend the 57 and 421 on this stack. It's a Marshall 50 watt amp. And a 412 cab. And the two mics that are on that cab, I'm blending. And I'm gonna send through a bus to one track. So our combo has two mics on it and it's going to one track. And this 50 watt head is going into one combo. It has two mics and that's going onto one other track. The second track. So I'm busing 'em through these buses. The 50 watt head is being bused through bus 3. And the combo is being bused through bus 4. So now, I'm gonna use this and I'm going to use this by recording two tracks. One with one amp and one with another amp. I'll split them wide and it'll fill up the whole picture without hollowness of just having two mics on one cab. Two heads, two cabs. This is gonna be a great way to do it. So let's double check our levels with this. I don't even think we need any EQ on this Marshall. The 50 watt. I think it sounds great. I did add a little EQ on the combo, but we're gonna stick with no EQ. (guitar music) Hold on, hold on. Actually, to match the combo, I think I am gonna add just a little bit of upper mid on this. What are my choices here? This is a 553. It doesn't give you. Do you know which frequency choices are on a 553? There's low, mid and high frequency. It's not really giving you a choice. I believe that's the inductor EQ, and I'm not sure. I think it's 800-ish, in the mid. Okay, okay. That might be all right. Can you play a little more? (guitar music) All right, all right. Hold on a second, thank you. Scott? Yes. Can you tell me why this panning is not working? Ah-ha! Really? Mm-hmm. Okay. Great. Okay. Great. A little more please. (guitar music) Oh, that does not sound good. There we go. I got it, just exercise. (guitar music) How's our levels? The combo could come up just a little bit. The Marshall's fine. Okay, we're gonna adjust the level. The combo could come up, is that what you said? Do you want me to push it up here? Oh, yeas please. (mumbling) Great. (guitar music) All right, hold on. Okay, so I think we have our main guitars, which is the combo Marshall and the 50 watt combo. No, it's not a combo. The 50 watt head. Those are our two main guitars. And I think we've got that sorted. I'll think we'll get a pretty good sound to start with and now let's go for some of the more unusual things that we have prepared. And one is this projector. Projector amp. The projector amp. So I'm gonna go ahead and mute our Marshalls and turn on the projector. And let's listen the that. Go ahead and play. We're gonna listen to the projector now. But just keep playing normally. (guitar music) Cool. That's brutal. It's pretty cool sound. (guitar drowning out speakers) All right, hold on please. So, I like that a lot. It's really aggressive and just like roar. So that's our projector. So, I think we've got, let's see, we've got both the Marshalls and we've got a project. And we've got the projector. It's just the dremel or the power tool. Okay, now it's time for the power tools, right? Yeah. We got a question for you, Sylvia? Yes! About microphones. Would you ever use a ribbon mic on a guitar amp? Do you ever do that and when would you do that? Well you know, I have found that my trusty combination of Seinheiser 421 and Shure SM57 works so well that I will always start there. I'll swap out a few things. Ribbons, I don't go for the ribbons. That's not my first thing that I would go for for it. And I don't normally do far micing on guitar. Unless it's a solo. Specifically a solo part. Then I'll go for a more of a room mic on the guitar. And that's where I might use a ribbon, too. Is more in a room. But close micing, you usually don't use the ribbons on the guitars. And do you record with reverbs or do you add those later? Do you record dry? Well, in the case of this combo that we're recording now, they combo has an on-board reverb tank, and we're using just a little bit of it. That's part of her sound, so I'm gonna leave that in there. I might add some revers later, but generally I'll go pretty dry unless it's part of the artist's sound. And the combo does have a little spring reverb on it. Cool. Okay, ready for the dremel? Or what is it? No, it's not a dremel. It's a power tool. Saw, some kinda saw. It's a saw. Power skill saw, power saw. Saber saw. Saber saw? Let me get this ready. Black and Decker. Black and Decker. (laughing) Okay. Have her. As well. Let's see where is it anyway? Here it is. Okay. All right, play some more. (guitar music) You got something? Maybe we should just have her play. I'm seeing it here. You see it? There it is here. Oh, wait, hold on. Pardon. Go ahead and push it up. All right. (laughing) Okay, hold on. Would you play a sustain note so we can see if that Black and Decker's working? (guitar playing) (saw whirring) Well, that's kinda cool. Yeah, it's kinda cool. All right, all right. It's cool how it keeps going after she's done. (laughing) Very good. I think it's gonna work really well. (mumbling) Say that again. Was it that when the fuzz wah is on is when it works. The saw? Maybe in the verse. Yeah. The pedal. Because the second verse you don't play, right? Maybe they could all just be sustain notes with weird Black and Decker going on. Okay, I think we got a sound of this guitar, actually. I think we're kinda at a place where we could take a break from guitar. Cool, all right. Thank you very much. Okay, so we did get a good level on the Black and Decker, right? Yeah, it's a little quiet but it's dimed. Right. So we could compress it if we need to. Oh, great. But other than that, yeah, we got a good level. Okay. There's stuff we can throw it through over there. Okay, good. If we need to. Let me know and I'll patch it in for ya. Okay.

Class Description

Over the last 30+ years, Sylvia Massy has built a career as one of the gutsiest and most innovative recording engineers and producers. She has worked with legends like Prince and Johnny Cash, and won awards for her work with bands like Tool, System of a Down and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. In this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will get a peek inside the recording process of one of rock’s legendary engineers. 

While she is a proficient master of vintage gear, Sylvia stresses that great records come not from having the right gear, but from capturing great performances. Join Sylvia as she records a song in the studio with Seattle alt-rock band Thunderpussy, and learn how to work with an artist to capture that magical take in your own work.

Pulling from her years of experience and sharing stories from her newly published book Recording UnHinged, Sylvia will show you:

  • How to get interesting and vibrant drum sounds, using the room and the drummer to your advantage
  • Capturing great sounding guitars at the source, without editing and reamping
  • Pushing vocalists to deliver their best vocal takes 
  • Mixing both in the box and through a console using outboard gear

Sylvia is also known as a prolific educator, speaking and teaching at some of the best recording schools around the world. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s most celebrated A-list producers. 


Jimmy Foot

This Studio Pass episode with Sylvia Massey covers a lot of ground. From fundamentals like correct mic placement and phase to experimentation with amps, cell phone delay and a few extra parts, Sylvia makes it fun! I have been lucky enough in my career to work with a number of great engineers and producers. I haven't had the opportunity to work with her, but Sylvia is certainly in that category, and anyone who gets a chance to work with her would be a lucky person. This broadcast is the next best thing. Great job there at Avast Studio and fantastic camera work! And as for Thunderpussy; you guys rock!

Marc Felish

Wow, that was such a blast. Thanks so much Sylvia and everyone else for making this such a fun experience. I picked up so many new ideas that I can't wait to try out! Sylvia is such a creative producer, it was so much fun to be a fly on the wall watching everything. Loved it!!

Marcus Soares

Awesome! A great opportunity to pick into the creative mind of one of the greatest and get that kind of knowledge that you can't acquire otherwise. Highly recommended!