Thursday, September 21, 2006

General Sound Tech Questions

This is mainly for Thomas
, but anyone else with sound equipment experience can feel free to chime in.

Be warned, though, it's long-winded.

I've finally got a little extra room to set up my small batch of recording equipment (which will hopefully grow). My problem is that I can't find any good primers out there and I haven't been happy with the stuff I've been able to record. It might be my signal chain - and is no doubt largely due to my general ignorance.

Here's a quick rundown of what I'm dealing with:
-Fostex MR-8 digital multitracker
-LTO S-6 6-channel mixer
-Boss DR-5 Dr. Rhythm
-Boss ME-50 Multiple Effects pedalboard
-Crybaby Wah
-Behringer Condenser microphone (the mixer supplies phantom power)
-Fender M-80 Amplifier

Not much, I know. For the signal chain, I usually feed the drum machine and any mics into the mixer, then that into the multitracker. For a guitar I go through the pedalboard into the amp then straight into the multitracker.

The big problem is that I can't ever get a good guitar sound. I think it's the amp, but using the amp simulation in the multitracker generally sucks. Feeding it all through the mixer generally sucks, too. I want to get a full, heavy distorted sound, and the levels are never right - I either cut it out completely or it redlines.

I'm thinking I need a compressor, yes? Are there any good primers online that detail general recording stuff like this? Are there general rules for what level to put things at, how to get volume, the real nitty-gritty?

I'm not looking for anything professional, just being able to tinker with effects without getting overpowered by the drum machine or having to weaken the overall sound. I usually have to cut so much of the gain and level that the distortion loses most of its shape. And I can't even think about using the wah - the high-end completely redlines, unless I just completely cut it out with a filter. Not good.

Any thoughts, anyone?


Thomas said...

Looks like a decent setup to me.

How are you going out from the amp? I can't find a lot of information on the M80, but it looks like it's basically got an effects loop and that's it (I'm assuming you're not using the extension cabinet jack, but if you are that's the problem right there, and it's a wonder you haven't let the magic smoke out). You might try going straight from the ME-50, because its amp simulation is probably better than the multitracker--but you've probably tried that already.

Also, how are you EQing the distortion? Scoop?

A compressor will even out your volume, and it can lower it. But if you're driving the mixer that hard, you'll probably be driving the compressor's input, so what you'll get is the same nasty sound but softer.

If you're not averse to owning more Behringer, they've got a DI box with a speaker simulation that you might try, the Ultra-G. I'd skip the amp, and change your signal chain to guitar -> wah -> multifx -> DI -> mixer/multitracker. For a little more money, I'd replace the amp in the signal chain with either a cheap combo with a headphone out, or a pocket amp. The Roland Micro Cube is excellent for that.

When it comes to resources--hey, man, I'm just making it up as I go along. I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I'm no Phil Spector. Sound on Sound has some good mixed-level Q&As in their archive. I picked up Peter Kirn's "Real World Digital Audio," and it was not a bad guide to the general stuff, but probably won't solve this specific problem.

The best resource I usually have for this kind of thing is a good musician's forum. The last time I dropped in, the guitar player's forum at was a good community of knowledgeable people, and the feedback tends to be good. I bother the BassPlayer forums there every now and then, and they've always been helpful.

Did that help?

Johnny Pi said...

Yeah, that does help a bit. I appreciate it. Of course, I don't understand everything you said, but at least it gives me something to go on. I found a few recording forums, and it was complete gibberish to me, even in the beginner section. Though they did say to record everything through the mic - I'd rather not piss off my apartment building.

I tend to avoid pushing stuff through the amp - it's just too much and too hard to even out. But then, of course, I get almost nothing. I'll have to look into the DI. And I'm not sure if I've tried going straight from the ME-50 - I'll have to try that.

Don't shortchange yourself, either. I know next to zilch about any of this. I'll try the musicplayer stuff, too. Thanks again.

Thomas said...

No problem! The reason most people will tell you to mic an amp is because the speaker and the power amp are a big part of a guitar's distortion sound--assuming it's the amp sound you want, and not just a pedal. The conventional wisdom is that you mic a guitar, but you DI a bass--personally, I think a straight DI bass without speaker sim is pretty dull and lifeless.

The beauty of a little .5-watt combo is that you can crank them up for a great overdrive sound through a mike, but at a really low volume level. My friend Lee Flier (you might see her in the MusicPlayer forum, she's a moderator) insists on a tube-driven overdrive instead of a pedal, so she's got a tiny little boutique amp and then she mikes that into the PA live.

Feel free to send me an e-mail any time about anything you don't understand.