I’ve been using small-but-quality recording components since I started around 15 years ago. I simply haven’t needed anything more until recently. Aside from a short stint with the disastrous Tascam US-800, I’ve always run nothing more than a couple microphones and a 2-channel interface. Electric guitars & bass have usually gone through my multi-effects processor (Boss GT-10, Line 6 HD500x, etc.) straight into the interface while drum tracks have mostly been painstakingly sequenced.
It’s inevitable, though. I’ve outgrown a minimalist “studio” (if that’s what you even want to call it), so I’ve spent the past 3 years building a more proper studio. It’s never finished, but I recently put the final touches on the latest incarnation.
With that said, now seems like a great time to talk a little bit about each component. My hopes are that if you’re in the market for studio gear, this info serves as a pretty good baseline and helps you make some more informed decisions (especially when weighing wants vs needs).
Hmmm…where to begin. How about we start with the sound sources and follow the cables all the way to the magical software that makes all this stuff come to life? Sound like a plan? Great. Let’s jump into vocals.
Vocals and Microphones
Don’t laugh. This is what I used to record on…
That’s a $60 MXL V63M large diaphragm condenser microphone. Believe it or not, I was pretty happy with the tone I got from this entry-level mic, and I still don’t mind it. As of the time of this article’s release, everything you’ve heard with vocals that I produced has been on that mic, and I’ve been pretty happy with it.
However, projects are getting more serious and it’s time for an upgrade. I considered the Shure SM27, but I got my hands on one at Guitar Center and for some reason just wasn’t that impressed. I never gave it a fair chance in the studio, but it’s not like I could just take it home for a week and bring it back. After some more research and a leap of faith I made my decision — the Rode NT1 (not the NT1a).
It’s virtually noise-free and picks up a frightening level of detail. The build quality of this microphone is just as jaw-dropping as the sound. The mic itself feels like tank and the included shock-mount with pop screen (it combines both) are solid. My only gripe is that the pop screen is not positionable, so I’m still keeping my second pop screen on hand for flexibility.
We commonly categorized guitars, drums, and other instruments separately from studio equipment because they are our performance vehicle much like a vocalist’s singing voice (how’s that for a redundant term). However, EVERYTHING in a home setup becomes one with the studio. Prior to my recording days, I had only a couple guitars at any given time. I just didn’t have a need for many more options unless I was tuning differently or jumping from electric to acoustic.
Frequent recording seems to demand a larger variety of tones and tunings…for me at least. It’s also mandatory to have other staple instruments available (such as bass guitars and drums), so before long the arsenal builds up. Most of my studio instruments will never see the light of day but they are always there; ready for a song that just needs something extra.
This is my number 1 guitar and it’s got the battle scars to prove it. It’s only a few years old, but it’s got more scratches and dings than all of my guitars combined. It’s also my most expensive instrument. Go figure. Anyway, this guitar makes its way onto most of recordings at one point or another. It’s loaded with Seymour Duncan Jazz pickups, which gives it a great warm not-too-in-your-face vibe…which really contradicts its shape. It’s an odd duck and I love it.
This is my newest axe and it’s a beast. The active EMG 81/60 pickups give this guitar a really compressed and feverish tone which is great for metal. Ironically, it doesn’t respond well to low tunings (even with a full setup), so this is my “E standard” studio guitar.
This is actually my live guitar more these days. The pickups are kind of junky, but it looks cool and it plays like butter. A nice set of EMG 81/84s could really bring this guitar to life.
I know what you’re thinking: all this high-end equipment and then a student-level guitar…what gives? Well, I’ve loaded it with the same bridge pickup as my KV5FR and it sounds great. I mainly use this for alternate tunings.
Every studio needs an acoustic. Don’t ask me why I am stuck on Ovations…I just am. I’ve heard people bash the hell out of them, but I enjoy their tones and they are super easy to record with.
A bass is a MUST in any studio and I’ve been a fan of Ibanez basses since the late 90s, so why stray now? The SR-305 is a great mid-level bass that has killer highs and a really punchy bottom end. This bass pretty much screams metal, so my more mellow bass recordings tend to need a little extra treatment.
I prefer acoustic drums hands down, but let’s be real – you can’t always accommodate a full kit. They’re bulky, require maintenance, inconsistent, and loud as #%(@. Electronic kits are generally a much more practical home studio option.
I’ve used, recorded, and trusted Roland V-Drums for years. When an item’s only function is to get beat to hell, build quality is EVERYTHING and this is where Roland shines. The built-in sounds are nice, but I’m only using the kit for recording a MIDI performance, which I’ll discuss in the last part of this series.
Other MIDI Instruments
I integrate a LOT of electronic & EDM elements into my music. To capture expressive performances, I rely on the M-Audio Oxygen 25 (original version) and Korg padKontrol. The Oxygen is great for natural tonal performances such as piano, strings, and other musical sounds. However, traditional keys are AWFUL for percussive electronics, so that’s where the padKontrol comes in. This handy device allows me to demo drums quickly without needing to get behind the kit and also works great for samples and other oddball electronic sounds that don’t work well on the Oxygen.
As you can see, I’ve chosen instruments and input devices that give me the freedom to produce fully-rounded recordings. This helps keep the focus on writing and recording in the studio and not on figuring out how to make noise happen.
That wraps up sound sources. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below and keep an eye out next week for part 2 where I’ll be stepping through my processing and recording hardware.
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