HERTZ BLOG - GUITARS & BASS
Our third day ended by discussing Hertz’s history working with Wacław ‘Vogg’ Kiełtyka and his band, Decapitated. We started the fourth day at Hertz pulling up behind a white van with a number plate from Krakow. A flight case of Vogg’s signature Ibanez Iceman guitars sat in the studio’s foyer, and Vogg greeted us with a smile from the control room. We sat down with coffee while Vogg and the Wieslawski brothers bounced ideas and opinions off each other while the group listened. Wojtek discussed that he often records with guitars already panned to ensure players can hear exactly what they’re playing, and chooses to record with less gain and more layers, to keep playing articulate. Gainy, driven amps have a lot of frequency information which can take up a lot of space in a mix while adding nothing to a mix. Ironically, the more technical and fast the music is, the more articulate and coherent the playing needs to be, so it works to use less gain. Vogg discussed his experience in studios as a musician, and how difficult it can be with an engineer who can’t take the lead and don’t inspire a fast efficient workflow. Vogg explained, while Slawek agreed, that he’s a musician that can be pushed, while other musicians can’t. He needs someone to coach the best performance out of him, and a lot of this is ensuring his instruments and equipment sound the best they possibly can, so he can focus on his playing. This ranges from ensuring his instruments are tuned and intonated, because a well tuned instrument really resonates in a musical way, similar to how Daray described a well-tuned drum kit. Being well-prepared for a recording (this ranges from knowing your mics, room and gear to ensuring musicians know their parts and their instruments play in tune) creates a better atmosphere and builds confidence in me as an engineer and producer.
Moving onto amps, Vogg fondly recalled his Crate Excalibur head, an American made solid-state head and described how ‘fast’ the head was. I’d never heard of heads being faster or slower than others, but it makes sense. Tubes heat, cool, expand and contract, sag and attenuate based on their input. Solid-state heads, generally, respond the same every time. The sound of tube heads is dictated by the tubes themselves, and as such sound different to the harmonically rich and sometimes harsh solid-state heads. He discussed how different hands can create different sounds through identical set-ups, and references some riffs from Decapitated’s Carnival is Forever, that were played with his picking in different places around the guitar, or by rolling back the volume on the guitar itself for clean passages the require even more note definition. It’s also inherently importance to have references, but find atone that works for the guitarist’s hands specifically, and give themchance to warm up with that sound, so they can become used to how the amp responds to their playing, e.g. solid state speed vs. tube saturation etc.
We moved into the live room and discussed mics, beginning with a Sennheiser 421 aimed between the cone and edge of the speaker. For me, this is usually a starting point as I think it gives a good indicator of the sound of the cab. The centre of cone (at least with dynamic mics) is usually too bright for me, and the edge of the speaker becomes too dull. It’s not to say either of these placements cannot be used, but as a general starting point I avoid it, and Wojtek agreed. We began by mixing up an EVH 5153 that Vogg had used on Decapitated’s Blood Mantra and Antikult, and had great results instantly through a matching 2X12 cabinet. Vogg began to play through Hertz’s Randall Warhead, which I’d seen in countless Hertz studio updates, and in the control room it sounded too harsh. We discussed that before any outboard processing is used, choice of cabinets, mics andplacement can vastly change the sound captured by the mics. Wojtek disappeared back into the control room, pulled the mic back an inch and there it was: our tone. Wojtek also explained that while checking tones, and even during first takes, we can keep an eye on any potential shortfalls, weakness or even strengths in our guitarists playing so we can continue to get a good sound at the source. This ensures we can work in a way that will keep them motivated and confident, and keep us on track for a great product. Vogg laughed, recalling having recorded a lot of decapitated’s earlier albums live in one-take with his late brother Vitek. Vogg had bought a no-name, custom overdrive pedal (they call them ‘boosters’) that he’d used live and on Antikult, and we also tried a few different pedals with the heads such as a T-Over and Ibanez TS9, as they affect different harmonics to the amps distortion channels. Early on, Hertz invested in different overdrives as they couldn’t afford to invest in a lot of heads and this provided a cheaper alternative for many different tones.
Once we’d chosen our overdrive and amp chain, we patched in a few different pre and discussed how they can begin the mixing process for us. Hertz have an abundance of Neve and API pre amps, as well as Cranesong and we used all of them on the different tones. Slawek discussed how different pres add different sorts of colour, and can contribute to putting the tones in the right place in the mix from the start. For example, the API preamps sound very ‘forward’, because they give attack and contribute aggression to tone. It puts the guitar in your face. Neve pres, however, have a lot of lower mids and don’t always leave signals such as guitars particularly articulate, but work great on kicks, snares and toms that require that kind of help in lower mids. We chose Cranesong pres, as they add some saturation without really colouring the tones too much, and we’d got a great sound at the source. Of course, it’s important to soundcheck your tones with the drums we’d already recorded, and bass if possible. Similar to mics, Hertz will reach for a different pre or mic/placement before adding any EQ or compression.
Over lunch, Vogg and I chatted about my time in Poland, and recommended I come to Krakow after the course. He quickly admitted that it had the worst air quality in Poland, but still ensured it was a great place to be, laughing. When we returned to the studio, Vogg quickly laid down some bass tracks on Hertz’s Modulus Quantum bass before we finished for the day. The Quantum’s neck was polyfibre, and held tune much better than conventional wooden necks that tune at the mercy of heat and cold.
The following day, we took the DI’d guitar and bass tracks and experimented with different mics, pre amps and heads, finally deciding on a Diezel and the EVH for guitar (after trying Pietr from Vader’s very own Mesa Rectifier, pictured above with a “Tour ’93” sticker). We also re-amped bass through a Fafner head intoan EBS 4X15 cabinet, Wojtek admitted that he generally uses more direct signals for bass, primarily through the studio’s Dafun DI box, and his Ampeg SVT pre amp. Both engineers at Hertz recommended recording bass amps quietly, and while we heard a huge sound through the control room speakers, inspection of the live room showed us an amp playing at about conversation level. This is all due to mic choice and placement, Slawek recommending a large diaphragm condenser situated close (2-3mm) from the cone to capture bass amp sounds. We also captured a signal from the Fafner > ADIG-LB speaker simulator, which we all chose in a blind test. Similar to the guitars, for bass its important to choose a pre that will benefit the signal, e.g. basses already have a lot of low frequencies, so why choose a Neve that will just add to this? While recording, keep your mix in mind.