There are many personalities to an acoustic guitar. What happens when a natural acoustic sound is not what you’re going for?
What about sending an acoustic instrument to a guitar amp? Why? Well why not? Seems pretty natural to an elecric guitar player, but to a violinist or pianist? Tori Amos did this on “Boys for Pele” where they sent her piano through some Marshalls. Fun. It can bring out some really cool frequencies in the instrument that you don’t always hear. It can add some dimension.
Sometimes you don’t know how you’re going to arrive at a sound. You have a direction and a sense of what you don’t want. I’m all for trying to find ways to twist the natural sound of acoustic instruments when appropriate.
During the recording of Abby Ahmad’s new record (Curriculum) there were some moments where we wanted to exploit the sound of the acoustic guitar. But not so far that you would loose concept of the instrument..
When it came time to track “Up and Though” we were looking for something a little gritty. A straight acoustic sound was not conveying the graininess that was inherent in the lyrics. I wanted to try running a direct out from the pick-up of the acoustic into a guitar amp to blend with the mics. For this track Abby was digging the sound of a Bubinga wood Takamine. That particular guitar was responding well to the low C tuning she was using. I found the spots that I knew I wanted to mic on the guitar which was one mic in front pointing at the 12th fret and another over her shoulder pointing straight down at the bridge. (I used small diaphragm condensers for this). Next I took the DI feed and tried some amps. I centered on a Carr Hammerhead. It was breaking up in a cool way, in a way an electric guitar wouldn’t allow. I placed the amp in another room for separation.
We noticed something we didn’t expect though. When leaving the door open a little, some of the sound from the amp was feeding the mics. We had separated the amp to prevent this. But with the bleed from the other room, the guitar somehow sounded bigger and rounder but with an overdriven graininess to it. We experimented wit how much to leave the door open…aka how much bleed we liked. I balanced the three signals and strapped an LA2A across the acoustic guitar bus. In the end the guitar needed no eq. That was the case with a lot of Abby’s record.
There was another track on the album named “Borders” that I was looking for something special to add to the acoustic guitar track in the bridge of the song. (I spoke in my last article about how we captured the main guitar track.) The bridge in the song breaks down. It’s a quiet moment where it’s just Abby singing and playing acoustic guitar. For some reason when listening to this section I remembered sitting in school in the early to mid eighties. They would often make us watch films in science and history class. This was before everyone had DVD players, let alone YouTube. The movies were on reel to reel tape. Obviously some of the films were showing wear and they would wobble a little when they played. You could hear it slowing down and speeding up. I wanted to hear the acoustic guitar that way. It’s not the kind of chorus I could re-create with a plugin.
So luckily I have some freaky shit in my toy box. I grabbed a ZVex Lo-Fi Loop Junkie and reamped the acoustic. This ZVex pedal is a sampler that re-creates the sound of old analog gear. I played with the dials until I got it sounding wobbly and noisy and tracked it. It’s subtle against the main track, but adds a lot of vibe. Vibe is very important to me. Sound = Feeling. Remember when that used to matter?