Carl Verheyen on the Manipulation of Sound in the Air

Although much of today’s electric-guitar recording is done using plug-ins and virtual amp models, I am still a holdout for miking amps.
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Although much of today’s electric-guitar recording is done using plug-ins and virtual amp models, I am still a holdout for miking amps. The manipulation of sound in the air remains my favorite way to get a unique guitar tone.

You may argue that playing direct through a plug-in produces a more modern sound, and I would agree that sometimes a whacked-out, heavily effected guitar tone is easier to achieve using modeling technology. But when you go that route and select your sound from software presets, the risk is that you will print a generic “out of the box” tone. This is very convenient, of course, but consider this: By plugging into an amp, selecting mics, auditioning mic positions, and stringing together a handful of pedals—some hi-firackmount reverb effects, a low-fifilter, and a stereo chorus—I have the chance to produce a sound that nobody has heard before. That’s what makes recording guitars exciting for me.

sound manipulation close-miking.

This quest for unique tones is one of the main reasons why recording artists are constantly asked, “How did you get that sound?” Tones and gear are obsessed about in our community, and everybody is on a lifelong quest to sound better. A big part of that quest has as much to do with the recording environment as it does your gear. Rooms have personalities, and a savvy guitarist should exploit the sonic signature of the space he or she is recording in—whether it’s a big studio with perfect, acoustically tuned rooms, or a home studio with an interesting- sounding hallway, bathroom, kitchen, garage, or attic. Critical listening in any environment is also essential to ensure that standing bass waves or frequency bumps don’t compromise the integrity of your guitar sound.

I just finished six days of recording at Sweetwater Studios in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Their state-of-the-art facility has the latest in microphone technology, as well as many awesome vintage pieces. I had 25 guitars, 15 amps, seven speaker cabinets, and four drawers of pedals trucked across the country from Los Angeles to work with producer/engineer Mark Hornsby. He likes to mic my speakers with a Telefunken M-80 dynamic mic for articulation, coupled with a Royer R-121 ribbon mic for a more organic tone. After selecting the exact position of the speaker to mic, a good engineer will go out into the room, and walk around as you play. When Mark finds that spot where the guitar sounds best—where, in fact, the tone “blooms”—he’ll set up a room mic. The choices for microphone positions and polar patterns are many—x/y, omni, aimed at the floor or ceiling, and so on— but adding that room track to your sound produces depth, or what I like to call “sonic girth.” Whether I choose to print delay or reverb along with the performance in real time, or add effects to the mix later, this three-mic technique is the foundation of my tone in the studio. It’s that manipulation of sound in the air that makes a great guitar tone. I live for that!

Carl Verheyen is a critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer, clinician, educator, and tone master with 12 CDs, two live DVDs, and two books released worldwide.