When I interviewed Scott Henderson for Guitar Player, we had a great conversation that resulted in way too many words for the space allotted. I decided to concentrate on his playing and gear for the GP piece and cut out the parts that dealt with recording specifics. It is great information for any guitarist who wants better studio sound, so I am posting it in Guitar Moderne.
Vibe Station sounds different than some of your other records.
We recorded it at 96kHz rather than 48kHz; it makes everything sound more open, musical, and three-dimensional. The guy who mastered the record, Joe Gastwirt, ran it to half-inch tape before he mastered it. The tape gives it that smooth sounding high-end that doesn’t hurt your ears when you turn it up. There was no compression used in the mastering. We told him we wanted to keep all the dynamics. The tape has just enough compression to smooth everything out and help fix any minor problems in the mix, but not overly compress it and make it sound like a pop record, where everything is the same volume. Tape has this magic quality–there’s nothing like it.
The drummer, Alan Hertz, was the engineer for this project. One of the first things that he said when heard my tracks was, “Some of your guitar tracks are too fat. They’re taking up too much space in the mix.” It’s my nature to try to make all the guitar tones sound fat, but some of the utility parts had to be scooped out so that they would stay out of the way in the mix. I find it’s better to just record the best tone the amp can get and then EQ it with a really good EQ, post recording, rather than to try to tweak the amp to make the tone different.
I learned to EQ fairly well back on the Well to the Bone album. That was the first time I tried to do a layered record. Now, I’m able to EQ a part to scoop it out or put it lower in the mix, and to properly add treble to layer tracks. Alan is still better at it than me. I thought I had done a pretty good job on the guitar tracks before he came in, but he tweaked them and got some of the guitar parts to stay more out of the way, yet be heard. Outside of panning guitars left and right, you really have to know EQ pretty well to keep them out of the way of each other.
Sometimes, for layering, it’s a good idea to use a different guitar. I used a lot of guitars or I would use a different pedal. I was constantly switching amps, guitars, and pedals for different tones.
Do you overdub solos?
I try to do the basic solo guitar part live. I don’t want to stray from that too much because that’s where the interplay came from. The problem with that is I can’t play with enough volume to get a good tone, because the amp bleeds into the drum mics. I had to turn my Marshall, which is normally on about six, down to one. When you turn the amp down that low it doesn’t sound as good. I knew I could get better tones at home than in the studio. When I replayed it, I copied a lot of what I did on the basic tracks because I didn’t want to spoil the interplay with the band. I would learn my solo and play it again. If I didn’t memorize the solos outright, I played ones very similar. If there were phrases I didn’t like, I’d replace them.
I highly recommend listening to Scott Henderson on the weekly podcast Guitar Wank, where he and straight-ahead jazz guitarist Bruce Foreman hilariously discuss gear, music philosophy and other musicians (often naming names). Don’t be fooled by the title, it is a wealth of great information.