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Monday, December 8, 2008

Funky and uncommon recording gear, Part 2

The original series as written by the mysterious Jetphase

OK, so you've chosen the perfect microphone for the job, and now the task is to amplify the signal so that you can record it. This is the job of the microphone preamp, and different preamps can impart different tones on the tracks. Some of the more famous and popular microphone preamps are the Neve 1073 and 1272, API 312 and 512, and Telefunken V72 and V76. While all of these are great mic preamps, sometimes you just want to use something a little different.

Altec 1567A: This is a tube mixer, with up to five inputs and one output. It has a big, full sound that really works great on drums, electric bass, and even electric guitar. It has tons of gain, so it really matches up with ribbon mics quite well. Plug a Shure SM-57 into it and you'll be amazed at how fat it sounds.

Altec 1589B: I've only found one use for this two input/one output solid-state rackmount mixer: Snare drum. The Altec 1589B possesses a cool, crunchy sound that works with rock snare drums. It helps them cut through the mix, and is truly a great tool to use in helping your mix stand out. I've had mixed results with it on electric guitar amps, but it's always cool on snare.

Proco Rat pedal: So what if this is not a mic preamp? Plug a Shure SM-58 into one (using an impedance transformer) and sing into it, dialing up just a bit of distortion on the Rat pedal. It helps give the vocal track a really cool top end that can make the vocals easier to sit in the mix. It can also be really work well on a snare track.

Helios mic pre modules: I'd love to give you a model number for these, but they were all pretty much built for custom Helios consoles. They tend to be very punchy sounding, and can distort in a very musical way. For a sound comparison, you can listen to the classic recordings of The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Bad Co., and many others. Tough to find, expensive, and worth every penny. They're unbelievable on just about everything you run through them, especially electric guitars, drums, bass, vocals and keyboards. When I said everything, I meant everything.

Langevin AM-16: Basically this is a very smooth sounding mic pre with a very solid bottom end. It rocks on electric guitars and drums. The AM-16 is a fairly clean sounding preamp, but still has enough character to call it colored sounding. Among top-level engineers and producers, these preamps are well known and their reputation is certainly well deserved.

Telefunken V672: Want a mic pre that really accents the midrange of an electric guitar in an aggressive sounding, yet pleasing way? The Telefunken V672 is the solid state class A successor to the legendary V72 modules made famous by The Beatles, yet it really has its own sound. Snare drums and electric guitars come alive when this microphone preamp is used to record them.

Calrec 1061/1161 mic pre/EQ modules: When Neve stopped making consoles for the BBC, Calrec was employed to make a console that was similar in sound characteristics to the Neve, but do it for a lower price. Most of the Calrec modules fall somewhere in between the Neve and API modules sonically. The EQ generally mirrors the Neve module EQ frequencies. These are starting to be better known, but they still haven't caught on with the masses. Super on most everything, as they're slightly cleaner sounding than the Neves, but punchy like the API.

Audix 35102: Legend has it that in the 1970s a bunch of disgruntled former Neve employees left to make mic preamps for Audix. The 35102 is one of their designs. Well, actually, it's one of Neve's designs. The Audix 35102 is nearly identical to the Neve 33114 modules, with the same EQ points and St. Ives transformers. The best part is the Audix can typically be had for a much lower price than the Neve. These are cleaner sounding than the legendary Neve 1073, and are great on bass, vocals and drum overheads.

Ampex 350 tape recorder electronics: Technically speaking, these are the electronics that go with the legendary Ampex 350 series reel-to-reel recorders. But, once converted into a mic preamp, they yield a lush, round sound that sounds great when overdriven just a bit. It's all tube. Tons of hits in the 1950s and early 1960s were recorded on the 350 series reel-to-reels. Take a listen to something tracked through a mic preamp conversion using Ampex 350 electronics and you'll know why. Absolutely one of the coolest vintage tube mic preamps on the planet for recording bass, kick drum, and even vocals. As typical for 1950s electronics, they can be somewhat noisy in comparison to today's standards. But, sometimes a little noise is worth having when it gives you tone this good. And, they look so great in a rack with their big VU meters.

JHD Tube Preamp: Actually, this is a tube guitar preamp designed for recording electric guitar tone direct. However, plug a dynamic mic into it (using an impedance transformer) and throw the mic in front of a guitar cabinet, dial up a bit of gain on the preamp and watch out! This thing is fuzz heaven. I've used it in conjunction with a Shure Green Bullet mic to get one of the coolest slide guitar tones I've ever heard. It's great for distorting vocals too.

Tech 21 Sansamp: This is another direct recording preamp for guitar. When you run a snare drum track through it, though, it does some real magic. In fact, these are fabulous on vocals, guitars, bass, snare and most anything. These are a really great tool to have around.


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