Historical Sound Perspectives

Going Beyond Natural Sound Part 6

Historical Sound Perspectives

The sound or radio broadcasts improved during the late Twenties, with the introduction of increasingly sensitive mikes – plus amplifiers and monitor loudspeakers – to take the place of the phonograph acoustic horns used for recordings. Guitarists Lonnie Johnson, Eddie Land and pianist/cornettist Bix Beiderbecke took advantage of the development of such radio techniques, which were integrated into the recording industry during the mid-1920s. Possibly for the first time, these new microphones enabled all the beautiful subtleties of an acoustic guitar to be heard and captured on vinyl.

For our project, the blending of guitar sounds was easy, but capturing the cornet sound presented a problem. We placed cornettist Bill Berry in the dead side of the studio for isolation, and used a Coles 4038 ribbon microphone placed near the bell to capture the “blat” that a brass instrument creates as the sound comes out of the bell of the horn; EQ was restricted to a 4 dB boost at 12.8 kHz and +2 dB at 3.2 kHz. For the guitar parts I played and Ovation acoustic close-miked with an AKG C452;EQ was +6 dB at 12.8 kHz and +2 dB at 3.2 kHz. A Neumann U87 set to a figure-eight pattern, was used for the room sound and equalized the same as the C452.


The Lonnie, Eddie and Bix track was unique because here we are talking about two instruments that form a rather unlikely combination – guitar and cornet – and to get the two of them to “talk” together, to sound like you’re sitting in the living room listening to these two guys playing their instruments, is an unusual request. In actual fact there are three instruments: cornet, plus rhythm and lead guitars.


On the track, Swing Man Swing, I wanted to feature the sound of a studio rhythm guitar combined with a jazz band. The tow guitarists I wanted to characterize were Freddy Greene with the Count Basie band, and studio player George Van Eps. Greene was known for his recorded work, and Van Eps for his radio broadcasts during the Thirties. Nick Ceroli was my choice for drums on the total project, and his drum kit provided a fantastic sound for big band jazz. I thought about recording his set with just two mikes, but changed my mind when I considered the sound control I would need in the final mix.


Microphones setup for the jazz drum sound I ended up using was as follows: kick drum – U47FET; snare top – SM57; snare bottom – Shure SM545; high-tom – C452 with 10 dB pad; low-tom – 452 with 10 dB pad; high-hat C452; overhead-left and right – C414s with 10 dB pad. A good jazz drummer is very smooth with his sound, and you are seldom surprised by sudden changes in dynamics.


The Swing, Man, Swing track represented a departure from the others on the album, because we employed more multitrack recording. It involved two guys playing cornet and sax, and then doubled; in effect we used multitrack to make it sound like a big band. I decided not to play on the basic tracks, but to add the rhythm guitar later. In this way, I could work as the producer, following my score and guiding the performance. We used one of my favorite microphones for guitar: an AKG C452 with a 10 dB pad.


Blues for Charlie is very similar to Swing, Man, Swing, since again the idea was to utilize multitrack recording to capture a big-band sound with very few players, by doubling or tripling horn parts. Charlie Christian used the full spectrum of music available to the electric guitar during the late Thirties and early Forties. Through recordings and radio broadcasts, he totally revolutionized the jazz guitar.


For an electric guitarist, understanding how to get the desired sound out of his amplifier is paramount. I use a card file system for each amp and control settings for each guitar. The sound used for Blues for Charlie ran as follows:


q Guitar = Gibson 175 with GHS strings medium gauge; front pick-up used only; tone control set at three o’clock relative to its off position.

q Amplifier = Fender Princeton modified Phase II; volume 4.2, treble 6.8, bass 3.5 reverb 5.8, gin 3.6, and master set at 10.


For Charlie Christian’s sound, and all other electric guitar sounds on this project, I used my personal-use studio to work on the textures I was after. Having a small collection of good microphones helps so, by the time I reach the studio, I’m ready. We used again the AKG C452 with a 10 dB pad to record Blues for Charlie.