Up until his albums with Velvet Revolver, Slash never recorded guitars any way but straight to 2" tape. Now, having gained a lot of experience tracking in zeros and ones, the guitar hero is more passionate than ever about the virtues of the reel.
“The biggest problem I found with Pro Tools was not just that digitally recorded guitars sound nowhere near as good as guitars do when they’re tracked to tape, but that every morning, when I would come in to the studio to listen back to what we’d done the day before, everything seemed to sound different. I finally figured out why: Pro Tools engineers like to sit up all night tweaking things, moving sh*t around, cutting and pasting, making the parts perfect—too perfect.”
Before tracking his new solo album, Slash [Dik Hayd Records]—a hard rocking tour de force featuring guest appearances by every vocal superstar from Iggy to Ozzy, Fergie to Lemmy—Slash auditioned the work of dozens of producers. His search for a new-school platinum-pedigreed hitmaker who also had a passion for old-school tracking techniques ended happily when he got to Eric Valentine (Smash Mouth, Good Charlotte, Queens of the Stone Age).
“Eric is innovative and does a lot of cool stuff,” says Slash. “For instance, he built this little robot that holds the guitar mic and moves it around. He watches the robot on a video monitor and controls it remotely so he can hear different mic positions from the control room. He even built a 48-channel board from scratch. It was half-built while I was tracking the album, so we only got to use it on one song [“Back from Cali’”]. We were recording through fresh-built modules sitting on sawhorses!”
Slash knew he had met his sonic soulmate when he told Eric he wanted to track all guitar, bass, drum parts straight to tape. “Eric loved the idea, and said he’d been saving up a mountain of 2" for just such an occasion. I think it was a significant move, recording that way, as this might be one of the last rock records you’re going to hear made on 2". I’m not going to boast that it’s the best sounding record of all time or anything like that, but it is a pretty good sounding record. Sure, I like the convenience of Pro Tools, especially for vocals—it was great to be able to record Ozzy and Kid Rock’s vocals in their houses, in their home studios—but for big sounds like snare hits and guitar chords, nothing sounds as warm as tape. Plus, recording live to tape inspires more solid takes—you gotta get it right or rewind. I know most artists don’t have tape at their disposal, but they shouldn’t use the convenience of Pro Tools to mask the fact that they can’t perform whatever it is they’re trying to record.”
The guitar parts on Slash’s new album were recorded fairly simply. “I did the whole album on the same Kris Derrig-built Les Paul copy I used on [Guns N’ Roses’] Appetite for Destruction through an ’80s Marshall JCM 800 that I had in storage,” says Slash. “For rhythm parts, which are usually on the left side of the mix, we’d often change up the amp to a Vox, Orange, Hiwatt, or something.
“Really,” says Slash in his characteristic self-effacing manner, “I did absolutely nothing new on this record. I actually regressed.”