A young Ken Scott in the control room at Abbey Road.
The recent release of Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust by legendary engineer/ producer Ken Scott (with Bobby Owsinski) provides loads of insights on the making of truly great albums. The book should be extremely inspirational to home-studio engineers and aspiring producers, as Scott details the technical and creative applications critical to the production of Magical Mystery Tour and “The White Album” by the Beatles, Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardustand the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie, and many other tracks by artists such as Jeff Beck, the Rolling Stones, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Here are some exclusive, guitar-oriented excerpts for GP readers.
The White Album
“At the end of one of the takes, I joked to John, “God, the way you guys are going the next thing you’ll want to do is record in there,” as I pointed towards the relatively small Room 2A. He didn’t say a word. “Okay, new song. It’s called ‘Yer Blues,’” John announced the next day, “and I want to record it in there,” and pointed towards Room 2A. “Me and my big mouth,” I thought to myself.
The good thing was that the room was empty, but it was so small that if one of them turned and swung his guitar, he’d hit someone else in the head. There was so much leakage of all the instruments into the mics that it was just a question of doing the best you could to blend it all together to get the sound, because you couldn’t pull up the drums without increasing the level of the guitars as well. That said, I loved the drum sound we got. What you end up hearing on the record is what we heard during the recording. The only thing we ended up recutting was just a little of the vocal. You’ll notice if you listen to the track that the sound of the vocal completely changes about halfway through the song. Where it changes is where we recut the vocal. John said, “It’s going to sound different anyway, so let’s make it completely different.” That was the way they were; it was, as I can’t emphasize enough, all about trying anything.”
“Ronno [Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson] was a Marshall man through and through, and he used a Marshall Major 200 with a slanted 1960A cabinet that was rarely turned up full. I would always use a Neumann U 67 or 87 just in front of the speaker cabinet and occasionally a distant mic. Mick got his sounds via a Cry Baby wah-wah pedal that he’d move slowly through its travel until he hit on the right sound for the song, and then he wouldn’t touch it again. The acoustic guitar frequently played along with the electric rhythm guitar to give the sound of it a different feel. I usually miked it with a U 67 or C 12A and compressed it, sometimes quite heavily, with a UREI 1176 or LA-2A.”