Peter Frampton’s Fingerprints won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. While recording his latest album, Thank You Mr. Churchill [NewDoor/UMe], Frampton took a slightly different tack than previously. See the November 2006 issue of GP for a detailed overview of Frampton’s recording techniques and philosophy.
Did anything change for you recording wise between 2006 and the recording of Thank You Mr. Churchill?
This is the first record that I’ve recorded straight to digital instead of starting with analog. I just made a decision that I would try it and I’m pretty happy with the results. It definitely saves time. And I do like to end up on digital so I can clean things up and manipulate them a little bit.
Why the move away from analog?
There are all sorts of reasons not to go analog, unfortunately, including the quality of the tape. I’ve heard horror stories about how many reels you have to go through just to find one that is biased the same as the one you just used, and there are also problems with the size of the tape, and having it fit correctly into the two-inch guides.
There’s a thing called CLASP [Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor] I’m looking into that is basically a box that ties your digital workstation to the analog recorder. I’ve talked to a few engineers about it and some say it’s great, while some say it needs some work, but that would probably be the only way I would go back to tape now, because otherwise synching and all that between digital and analog can be a nightmare.
Not to mention having to clean set up the machine all the time.
Yeah. That’s a pain.
In terms of mic placement when recording guitar amps, are you still putting a Shure SM57 dynamic at an angle to the speaker cone and a couple of Neumann condensers a little ways back?
Basically. Working with Chris Kimsey [the engineer on Frampton’s first solo album] again after all these years, however, was great because he has different techniques. So, whereas I would put a single 57 away from the center of the cone because I found it too honky sounding, he showed me that if you’ve got a dynamic off to one side and then you add another dynamic directly on the cone and move it around until the two dynamics sound good together, that could also be very interesting. There aren’t any rules, so never ever say never.
Then, if you have a condenser a little further back, you’re up to three mics, and if you go stereo or add a room mic there can be up to five mics per setup. The only thing is you’re recording five tracks at once each time, so it mounts up when you’re doing solos and stuff like that.
And then you wait until you’re mixing to get the right blend?
We sort of do the blend at the same time. We’ll adjust the individual levels from the outboard mic preamps so that all the faders on the board are at zero, which would make one think, “Why couldn’t you just put it all on one track then?” But we don’t [laughs].
Is that just because you don’t have to?
You worked early on with both Glyn and Andy Johns. Did you take much away from them?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. My first engineer ever with a band was Glyn Johns when I was 14, so I sort of started at the top as far as engineers go. And then of course he really sort of set a standard, to say the least, by doing the first couple of albums with just about every major act that came out of England. And then Andy came along when we were doing Humble Pie stuff, and recorded our first two records, after which we moved to Glyn. So it’s keeping it in the family!
They were the much the same in some ways, and very different in others. For example, Glyn used very few mics on the drum kit, whereas Andy took it to extremes and put a mic on every square inch of the drum kit—and both systems worked, obviously. Andy was responsible for capturing some of those enormous drum sounds that John Bonham got while recording.
So, I learned a lot from both of them, and Glyn’s assistant during the Rock On album was Chris Kimsey, who co-engineered my latest album, so Chris is right there with both of them. We were all big buds and sort of started together.
Photo: Gregg Roth