Scott Mathews' Four Essential Studio Flight Checks

February 7, 2014

I just returned from a trip to Melbourne, Australia, where I produced an incredible emerging singer/songwriter from Perth. Unfortunately, when we started recording, we noticed the intonation on his favorite guitar was inconsistent. Believe it or not, we had to stop tracking, retune the guitar for each individual chord, and start recording again. Needless to say, he was a bit frustrated his guitar was not up to snuff, and the malfunction disrupted the flow of his playing, as well as taking up valuable studio time to deal with what should have been an avoidable problem. Lesson learned—prepare your gear for recording sessions!

Guitarists must view the recording studio as one big, unforgiving microphone that will reveal every sonic gremlin produced by your favorite guitars and amps. And wasting precious— and often pricy—studio time due to gear-maintenance issues robs you of all the good stuff, such as actually making the music! Don’t get caught unprepared. Here are four easy rules for ensuring your gear is in tip-top shape before the session starts.

New Strings = Good Tone
Sounds dumb, huh? Change your strings. Duh. But how many guitarists actually do it? For the clearest sound at the source—which obviously affects the signal chain all down the line—put new strings on every session guitar the day before or the morning of the session. Make sure the strings are pulled, snapped, and warmed up to settle in and stay in tune. Carry extra sets of strings in all the right gauges for each guitar should you need to replace any.

Get a Setup
Set your intonation carefully— or have it done by a professional— before the studio date. Guitars necks need to be free of any bowing. Adjust your trust rods, check your bridges, inspect all hardware, and make sure tuning is true up and down the necks of every session guitar. Almost every producer and engineer will tell you that great tone starts with a meticulously set up instrument. A fantastic amp won’t make up for wobbly intonation.

Terminate Noise
De-noise all your pots and toggle switches by spraying them with a good-quality cleaner. If spraying the pots does not prove effective, you may need to bring your guitar to a professional repair person to seek out problem areas and fix them.

Listen to the Cabs
Don’t pack up your amps for the session until you have checked them for any cabinet rattles and speaker noises. Listen critically. You likely won’t hear rattles and buzzes on stage or in the rehearsal room, but the studio microphones will bring those noises front and center, and bring a quick halt to the session.

An Ounce of Prevention…
These four tips come under the heading of “Obvious and Simple Fixes that Many Guitarists Don’t Do.” Don’t be that guitar player. Heed this advice, and get the guitar tracks you were hoping for—as opposed to feeling frustrated about your gear sounding like crap, while also getting the stink eye from all the other participants involved in your recording session.

Scott Mathews is a record producer, composer, vocalist, and multi– instrumentalist whose music has sold in excess of 20 million units, and has generated more than 30 RIAA Gold and Platinum Awards in the pop, alternative rock, R&B, country, blues, and dance genres.

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