for the curious
We get lots of questions regarding guitars, gear and mixing. Here’s our deal in the hope that it helps you in some way.
We lean pretty hard on our guitars. The following few have stood the test of time and never fail to please. Our workhorse is a Godin nylon string, the Multiac Grand Concert.
We’re particularly fond of Godin for many reasons. The craftsmanship and electronics are second to none, but more importantly they are produced from Canadian trees that fall. No tree is cut down to produce these guitars. That alone gives us reason to respect the natural beauty of these instruments. Godin quality is right up there with some of the best American made brands at a much more reasonable price point. They can’t rely on being a well-worn brand whose prestige comes from a bygone era. They are state of the art and simply stated … high end instruments crafted for discerning guitarists.
On the electric side, well, we have another Godin … the 5th Avenue Kingpin II. This instrument is a semi hollow body arch top that has a very acoustic feel to it. In fact, it feels more like an acoustic on the neck side than you might imagine it should. The pegs aren’t overly fancy, and it is not overly ornate. It is not a fast guitar either. Out of the box the action is rather high. Yet the Kingpin II is incredibly warm, with a rich tonal quality that is hard to find. Godin chose a non-glossy, non-laminate finish which makes the top wood resonate the way an aged vintage piece would. This is a pretty serious guitar (less the glitz), which quite frankly is preferable considering the sound quality it produces.
Staying with the electrics, next up and newest is the D’Angelico Excel, which is a single cutaway semi-hollow body. With a thin light body, gorgeous natural finish and infamously featured art deco hardware, the D’Angelico is built to play all night long. We compared it to the Ibanez GB10 (which is visually and tonally superb), yet the D’Angelico seems more versatile on the rhythm side.
For acoustic, we use an Ovation. Not just any run of the mill Ovation, mind you. Our primary acoustic is a 34 year old Custom Legend. Beautifully ornate with abalone dressing, the age of this instrument transformed it into a real legend with legendary sound. Ovation also built its reputation on building very versatile guitars, and their higher end models do not disappoint.
Our newest acoustic is the Taylor 214 CE Grand Concert, a very tonally sweet instrument.
This is obviously a broad category, so we will touch lightly on the most important facets of our gear. Starting with the DAW, we are of the strong opinion that nothing beats Apple’s Logic Pro X. It has a pretty heavy learning curve and requires a suitable Mac to run it, yet it can do things most daws can only dream of. This opinion is well founded after many experimental years of dabbling in Cakewalk, Sonar, Audition, Ableton, Cubase, Sound Forge, Reason and Reaper. They each have their pros and cons and varying levels of sophistication, yet we find an absolute level of brilliance built into the Apple product.
The plugins found in Logic Pro X are some of the best out there, plus they’re integrated right into the work flow. If we work outside of the built in features, we typically go to the outstanding selection of Waves plugins that are nothing short of world class.
For recording, we really like the Focus Rite audio interfaces. They are clean, virtually noiseless and have no latency issues that might otherwise get in the way. They are hard to beat for quality and price…and they are easily recognized by your system as soon as you plug it in. It’s hard to go wrong with a Focus Rite.
The pedal board for anyone is purely personal preference. We’ve grown to love the Ibanez Tube Screamer, the Boss Super Overdrive SD1, Electro Harmonix’s Soul Food Overdrive, the Boss GE7 Equalizer, Keeley’s Compressor Plus, and the Boss RV6 digital delay and reverb. We have a few others, but these are the main ones.
We’ve tried several high end guitar synths including Roland’s discontinued VG99, but prefer the stomp box feel of a good pedal set. We chose to be musicians versus a bunch of frustrated programmers … which is what probably led to the demise of the revolutionary VG99 after just a few short years. Stomping a pedal is so much more intuitive and fun.
For in studio amp needs, we have a Fender Blues Jr which is a perfect mate for the arch top guitars. We use their higher end Celestial speaker which makes the unrivaled Fender reverb ring with fluid warmth. Very nice indeed, plus it’s not too heavy to lug around.
Finally, we have the audio files that add the atmospheric elements to our tunes. There are way too many to mention, but suffice it to say that this is a big investment that is essential. We tend to very carefully select only the best loops which are produced by high end sound developers (mostly from Europe). We then tweak those we call into production to meet the feel of the piece and what we are hearing in the moment. Most are, at a minimum, re- eq'd quite heavily. Over time, this curated, hybrid library of audio files has grown to a file of hundreds of gigabytes that requires a management system to efficiently navigate.
We’ve been students of mixing for over 30 collective years and quite frankly there is no secret to getting it right. It comes down to personal preference yet again and you need to trust your ears (when they are not fatigued). Mixing has become much harder since modern playback devices run the gamut in performance including how they connect to someone’s ears.
To attain a good mix that is likely to play back nicely on any given device (including streaming), the key is to listen to it in a variety of ways. A good set of reference monitors is our starting point. We use JBL’s. We then run the mix thru a Bose Quiet Comfort noise cancellation headset, and then a pass through your typical everyday earbuds. We do this at different volumes and ultimately wrap it up with the loudness meter in Logic Pro to make sure we are close to our reference specs (LUFS and such). We typically put a limiter at the end of the out bus fx chain to tweak loudness and circumvent clipping.
For us, the most important part of a mix or master is the EQ. Listen carefully, the EQ is everything. Too much middle, you get mud. Not enough middle, you lose richness, warmth and power. A clean bright high on your PC just might clip in other playback systems. A good setting makes it multi-dimensional.
There’s a ton of free web guidance on mixing. A lot of it gets technical, just look for the tips, see what you like, go with your gut. There is no one right way or a single setting that works well for every track or tune. Start with and stay with the EQ until you are satisfied. EQ the individual tracks in your mix, EQ the final track of your master. Don’t settle for something that you know isn’t quite right. This requires patience. Don’t use fx and plugins to fix a bad recording, bad in, bad out. Don’t by all means over process your tracks … or they will sound over processed … which is not professional at all.
We don’t try to get our mixes to absolute perfection. Perfection only exists on the original build platform if it exists at all since it's a matter of taste. Technically, we leave head room in all of our tracks for you to further tweak to your preference and system if you wish to.