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Wild Tricks - Les Paul and Beyond

  06/09/10 00:32, by , Categories: BFMN Exclusive, Sound, Studio Sound, Ed Lapple, Take It From Me , Tags: bfmn exclusive, edward lapple, joe walsh, les paul, take it from me

Wild tricks in the recording studio are the stuff of legend. Musicians in the know will whisper about how the latest hottie got his sound. Ever since Les Paul invented the multi-track tape recorder, there have been arcane secrets of the recording black arts. As these secrets are divulged and they become commonplace, the studio Merlins must return to their lairs to conjure ever-different effects. Here are some classics.

Flanging came about by sending a signal to two tape recorders and then mixing their returns together at the console. Then, much like a butcher at the meat market, you lightly rested your thumb on the flange of the reel of tape on one machine. The slight delay to the signal caused by the application of a human digit caused wonderful, shimmering out-of-phase signals, which created a new sound in music.

Speaking of shimmer, if you wanted a really bright and shiny horn sound, you could have the brass play about one foot from and straight into the control room window, then mic the reflected sound off of the glass. Call it “Bright Brass.”

A good trick for guitar was to slow the tape machine to one-half speed and have the guitar player overdub a double-picked part. When the tape was played back at regular speed, you would have what sounded like a mandolin part, one octave up.

There was one echo chamber in New York City that was so famous for its special sonic qualities that the boys recording in Nashville would telephone the mixing room in New York and patch the signal that needed the reverb into the telephone line. New York would send it into the echo chamber and patch it back to Nashville on another telephone wire. It worked great but it must have been weird to get major long-distance charges on your studio bill after a long mixing session.

For an organic sound, we took the output from an amplifier and ran it into a short piece of plastic tubing. We stuck that in our mouths and miked our face, then the fun began. The sound changed as we varied the shape of our mouths and Joe Walsh had a new signature.

Today, many engineers are hot on re-miking. They will send a completed mix out to a guitar amp, then mic the amp, crank in a little distortion and combine that signal, in the right proportion, with the original mix. It gives you a very interesting sound.

Any type of wild trick that you can imagine is fair game, if it gives you a great sound. Experiment with playing it backwards, try organic versus digital effects, use atmospherics and sound effects to impart a feeling of an aural movie to your song. How about using stereo effects to create audio 3D? Forget sterile sound! Give it grit, investigate texture mapping and morphing your sounds by applying graphic, visual effects technology to the audio experience.

It’s easy to hear a pundit say, “Thou must play it live to be real; music must feel the beat.” That’s Bull; the truth is, that statement eventually distills down to, “If it sounds good, do it.” Yes, I’ve been guilty of saying that myself, adopting the “Chuck Berry didn’t need no overdubs” school of thinking. I believe the truth is that the pair of ears that are listening to the music don’t know how you did the session, and – understand and remember this truth – THEY DON’T CARE.

The only thing that is important is that your sound is involving; that is the goal. When you tell a story, the key is to get the listener intrigued, invest them with the hunger to hear more, the desire to see where you are going to go. They must have the absolute need to go through the next door. If the technique of your production is apparent, to the audience… You blew it! Tease to attract, seduce their ears; your tune should, in fact, be a siren’s song compelling the listener to come closer, promising to whisper many truths so softly into their ears.

Yeah right, that all sounds good but it’s easier for me to write the words than it will be for you to do the deed. But nobody said it was going to be easy, or did I? I hope not. These words are the covenant of the grail, my suggestions merely allude to the path. Your job is to make a commitment to this assignment. Dare I say that your quest is to find that grail and present it to today’s court, the audience… Oh, and while you are at it, would you mind pulling Excalibur out of that rock and dropping it by the castle?

Happy hunting.

This entry was posted by and is filed under BFMN Exclusive, Sound, Studio Sound, Ed Lapple, Take It From Me. Tags: bfmn exclusive, edward lapple, joe walsh, les paul, take it from me

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