Microphones to Record a Jazz Guitar Amp

Apart from all the time we spend practicing and doing gigs, it’s becoming more and more common for us as jazz guitarists to be able to record ourselves. Today, more than ever, musicians from all musical styles own and use a certain amount of home recording gear. It has become an essential part of our careers for us to be able to do everything from making our own demos, composing and recording music as well as providing guitar tracks for a project that we can upload to another artist or producer who lives halfway around the world.

So much gear, so much to know and so many opinions about what is best. In this post, I’d like to look at some of the different microphone choices to record a jazz guitar amplifier. What are some of the better microphones we can use to capture a good representation of what a straight up, clean jazz guitar should sound like?

One of the things you will encounter in your quest to find which microphone to buy is that the majority of the reviews and recommendations come from musicians and recording engineers who work predominantly in the pop and rock genres. All those great microphone reviews are focussed on capturing a guitar player shredding through a Marshall stack. Although some of what they find may be true and will still translate to the kinds of sounds we play, for the most part, there is much more for us to know.

Ok, so recording jazz guitar, what do we need to know? Let’s start with microphone types. There are 3 types of microphones you can use to record jazz guitar: Dynamic, Condenser and Ribbon. If you want to know more about each type, click here. All are great microphones that can be placed in front of your guitar amp. Which is best? Which type should you buy? The good news, all 3 types of microphones can produce great results. In the end, it all comes down to your own tastes, goals and what you are willing to spend.

Dynamic

We’ll listen to 2 dynamic microphones: Shure SM57 and Beyerdynamic M201 N (C). Dynamic microphones are generally on the less expensive side. Dynamic microphones will most often have a narrower frequency response and don’t require phantom power. Now it’s important to note that a narrower frequency response is not necessarily a bad thing. What that means is it’s not going to pick up the really low or the really high frequencies. We don’t really want the boomy low notes or the super high overtones anyway. So, in essence, dynamic mics are sort of providing a nice EQ for us. Dynamics will help take out some of the stuff we don’t really want anyway.

Condenser

For condensers, we’ll listen to a Shure Beta 181 with supercardiod capsule and a Neumann TLM 102. Condenser microphones have a much wider frequency response, usually from 20-20,000 Hz and do require phantom power. Although most audio interfaces today do provide phantom power, there are still some that don’t so it’s always good to check. Condenser microphones are much more acurate and will pick up much more detail, both in a good way and in a bad way. This of course means that if you are in a noisy environment, the microphone will capture all of that as well. Any amp hum, ringing tubes, finger noise, street noise, all of it will be more evident in the recording. At the same time, more of the colour, nuance and the dynamics will also come through giving you a much richer sound.

Ribbon

Ribbon mics are a favorite for guitar players. I would describe them as being both accurate and flattering. They are probably somewhere between being a dynamic and a condenser. They seem to capture a lot of detail but always in a good way. Ribbon microphones do not require phantom power and in fact phantom power can severely damage a ribbon microphone. Ribbon microphones also need to be matched with a very good preamp that can provide 70 db or more of good, clean gain. If you are planning on using a ribbon microphone with a soundcard which does not have enough gain, there are solutions like the “Cloudlifter” or “Fethead” which offer an additional 20 db or so of ultra clean gain. The Ribbon microphone we will listen to is the AEA R84. It is a beautiful modern day recreation of (or perhaps a microphone inspired by) the vintage RCA 77. The AEA R84 is an expensive microphone but there are many excellent low cost Ribbons for as low as $99 which provide amazing results on guitar amps. (Apex, Cascade Microphones, MXL…..)

Recording Chain

Here’s what was used for all of the recorded examples. Microphones, placed around an inch and a half from the speaker grill, went through a BAE 1073MP preamp into a Universal Audio Apollo Quad into Pro Tools 2018. For the AEA R84 Ribbon Microphone, I used a Grace Design M101 preamp. The Grace has a Ribbon mode which works very well with the R84 and provides very clean, high gain levels.

I played my 1968 Gibson ES-175 using the neck pickup through a Traynor YCV20 with JJ tubes and a 12″ bass speaker. Why a bass speaker? I’ve always preferred the sound of my guitar through a bass amp. Using a bass speaker helps to cut a lot of the unwanted highs you get from most amps. At this point, I like tube amps. I keep going from jazz amp (Polytone) to tube amp, (Mesa Boogie) back to jazz amp, (Acoustic Image) and now once again a tube amp. (Traynor) It’s funny because I’m sure the listener never actually notices the difference anyway. In the end, we sound like we sound.

Below are the recorded examples for each microphone. Since some of the microphones have higher signals than others, I’ve matched volumes to help make comparisons easier. Also, there are 2 examples for each microphone: one with just guitar and one with piano bass and drums. In most cases the sound of the guitar alone doesn’t tell us enough. How it’s going to sound in the context of an entire mix is much more important.

Tape emulation, parallel compression and reverb have been added to all examples with piano, bass and drums. The solo guitar examples have no processing. No EQ has been added to any of the examples.

Shure SM57

Shure SM57 Solo Guitar

Shure SM57 Guitar with Trio

Beyerdynamic M201 N (C)

Beyerdynamic M201 Solo Guitar

Beyerdynamic M201 Guitar with Trio

Shure Beta 181 (Supercardiod Capsule)

Shure Beta 181 (Supercardiod Capsule) Solo Guitar

Shure Beta 181 (Supercardiod Capsule) Guitar with Trio

Neumann TLM 102

Neumann TLM 102 Solo Guitar

Neumann TLM 102 Guitar with Trio

AEA R84

AEA R84 Solo Guitar

AEA R84 Guitar with Trio

Final Thoughts

Which sounds best? To me, they all sound like they get the job done very well. To be fair, these are all microphones I like to use on guitar amps and especially when recording jazz guitar. They do all sound a little different, and bring out different aspects of the amp sound. My intentions are not to say one is better than the other or give you a list of “the best” microphones to record jazz guitar. It’s more of a chance to have one more listen from a clean jazz guitar perspective.

This comparison has actually been pretty revealing to me. Hearing all these microphones side by side has made me reconsider some of my own choices.

It’s also important to note that I did play the example 5 times in a row. Because I wanted to place the microphone in the exact same spot each time I could really only use one microphone at a time. I know some people like to record the guitar once direct and then do the re-amp thing. I don’t have confidence in that approach. So even though I tried to play exactly the same each time, I’m sure I was influenced slightly by the sound of each microphone and may have reacted to each to a certain degree.

As always, I hope my Blog Posts are helpful and that this one in particular in some small way will help you to find the right microphone that works for your own style of playing and sound.

10 Note Scale

I know what you’re thinking; what’s wrong with the old 7 note scales? Actually the 10 note scale is a variation of the 7th scale, which yes, has 8 notes. As you’ll remember from my post on the 7th scale, the 7th scale is a mixolydian mode with added notes. The extra note we added was the major 7th between the root and the flatted 7th degree. This gave us a series of chromatic notes from the root to the 6th degree.

For this next variation of the 7th scale, we will be starting our scale from the 3rd and we will descend to the root and all the way down until the next root. Along the way, there will be many chromatic notes. We will be adding chromatic notes between the 3rd and 2nd degrees; between the 2nd degree and the root and between the root and the flatted 7th degree.  Here are the notes of the scale over a G7 chord.

10 Note Scale

Yes there are 13 notes in the example above but there are in fact 10 different notes. I choose to continue the scale all the way to the root both because this is a “G” scale and because it’s also common to play play the scale in this way.

Let’s look at and listen to some examples of this scale in use. First let’s hear how it sounds over a G7 chord.

Now let’s use it in a II – V7 – I progression.

Notice how the 10 note scale starts in the second half of the Dm7 chord.

Here’s another example over a II – V7 – I progression.

In this example, the 10 note scale again starts over the Dm7 chord but only in the last beat. The scale now resolves to the B note (7th degree) of the Cmaj7 chord. Nice!

The following solo is based on the changes to “All The Things You Are.” I have used the 10 note scale as much as possible. Please keep in mind that I probably wouldn’t play this scale as much as I have here. It’s mostly to illustrate how to use the scale and how it can sound in your solos.

As always, feel free to use as much as you like in your own solos.

“All The 10 Notes You Are”

 

Improvising with Triads (Arpeggios)

When we think about improvising in jazz we most often think about more notes, bigger arpeggios and more complicated scales as the road to playing more intricate and exciting solos. It’s true that 9ths, 13ths and all manner of complicated extensions do add beautiful colours to our solos. In this post, I’d like to point you to an easier route to achieve this goal. We will explore how simple 3 note triads can be used to create beautiful lush textures in our improvised solos.

So how does this work? Let’s start with some simple examples. First off, we will examine a couple of 4 note 7th chords and look at them in a different way. What if we visualize them as slash chords. What is a Cmaj7 chord? Cmaj7 has 4 notes; root, major 3rd, 5th and major 7th. Some will also say that a Cmaj7 is a C major triad with a major 7th. All true.

What if we look at Cmaj7 the other way. What if we say that a Cmaj7 chord is an Em triad with a C in the bass?

We can do the same for a Dm7 chord.

Visualizing our chords in this way gives us a new tool to improvise with. Instead of thinking of a Dm7 arpeggio or a D Dorian mode, we can think of playing a simple F triad over a Dm7 chord. This is perfect as we avoid playing the root. The bass player has the root covered so that leaves us to everything else.

Next let’s look at some 9th chords. What if we take the top 3 notes of a 9th chord and see what kind of triads we end up with. Let’s look at Dm9.

If we use an Am triad to improvise over a Dm9 chord, the triad will give us the 5th, 7th and 9th of the Dm9 chord.

For the Dm7 chord, I’ve used only an Am triad.

Now we will go one step further. Lets look at G7(sus4). In this chord we have  the root, 4th, 5th, flatted 7th and 9th. Remember that we are using the 4th to replace the 3rd and not adding the 11th on top with the 3rd still present. We will however visualize our chord as having an 11 (no 3rd) for the purpose of creating our triad. In other words, we will use the 7th, 9th and 11th. We end up with an F major triad.

A nice way to incorporate the F triad into a nice improvised line is to combine it with a G triad. In the example below I am using F and G triads to create a line.

Bars 1 and 2 are G triad to F triad, 2 beats each while bars 3 and 4 do the opposite: G triad for 2 beats followed by F triad for 2 beats.

The same 2 triads also work very well over an F Lydian mode. Our chord is Fmaj7(#11).

Triads often make up the upper extensions of more complax chords as in the example below.

If we take the 3rd, b9 and the 13th, respell enharmonically the Ab as a G# we end up with an E triad. In the example below, I’ve used an E triad over the G7 chord.

Here we have only looked at a few possible ideas for improvising with Triads. There are many other possible triads to explore. Your next step would be to look at the chords to one of the songs you are working on and experiment with some of the possible triads contained within the chords. Look especially at chords with lots of extensions and try to see what kinds of Triads each contains.

As always, have fun and be creative with your practice!

 

Autumn Thieves (Stealing from the melody)

In the words of the great Igor Stravinsky: “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.” As I’m sure you don’t want to be a “lesser artist” but a great artist, we’re going to learn how to steal. What are we stealing?

When it’s your turn to improvise you need a place to start. If you are going to take your solo right after the sax player, you want to take the last idea she or he played and work that into your solo. If you are the first soloist, you’ll be playing right after the head so you want to take your cue from the melody. We are stealing musical ideas, licks, melody, rhythms or whatever we can from whomever is playing before us or even from the melody. It’s always nice when one solo blends into the next and the spirit of one solo is passed on to the next solo.

In this post, we are going to look at how we can use elements of the melody to craft a solo. We will be looking at “Autumn Leaves” as this is a very well known tune. It also has many strong melodic motives which can easily be worked into new ideas. So the idea is to take one of the motivic ideas from the melody and use it as a starting point for your solo.

If you plan on taking more than one chorus of solo, you need to have a plan as to how you will begin your solo, what you will play in the middle and how you will conclude. It’s not the best idea to just play 3 choruses of Bebop lines. You want to have some variety, a sense that you are on a journey and a feeling that your solo is part of the overall structure of the piece. I’ve always felt that you should not just be soloing but rather playing a specific piece of music. Apart from having different chord progressions, what make one tune different from another. Whatever standard you are playing, use ideas from the melody in your solo. Play that piece.

Here is the beginning of the melody to Autumn Leaves.

And since I play jazz I would probably play the melody more like this.

Here is what I played to start my solo. Can you hear how I’ve referenced the melody?

For the entire chorus of the solo, I’ve tried to develop the “borrowed” musical idea. Sometimes it is more obvious than others. This is good. I like to start with something familiar and see where it takes me. Just like in composition, the goal is to use melodic techniques such as the sequence and melodic inversion to name a few, to develop your improvisational ideas.

The solo below would be played as the first chorus of the first soloist. In other words, we are coming out of the head (melody) and so the solo will build on what we hear last and go from there. For a second chorus of solo, I would probably start to play more lines or perhaps play something more rhythmic. Either way, after a chorus of building on ideas from the melody, I think it is time to change direction.

Have a listen to the track below and as always, feel free to use (steal!) what you like.

  • Dave Watts: bass
  • Claude Lavergne: drums
  • Michael Berard: guitar, piano

Harmonic Minor

Improvising over songs that have a lot of chord progressions in minor is always so much fun. The thing I like most about playing tunes with a lot of progressions in minor is that you get to play harmonic and melodic minor scales. Both scales are very colourful. Minor is never dark. Minor is full of the some of the most beautiful musical possibilities available.

In this post, I’d like to look at the “Harmonic Minor” scale. There are a couple of ways one might visualize this scale.

  1. We can visualize the scale as being a natural minor scale with a raised 7th degree.
  2. Another way to visualize harmonic minor is to compare it to the major scale. I like to compare every scale and mode to the major scale. We all know the major scale well so comparing the notes of any mode or scale to the major scale will usually give us a pretty good idea what’s going on. The harmonic minor scale is then a major scale with a flatted 3rd and 6th.

A great standard with lots of minor progressions is “Alone Together.” In this post, I have included a solo over the chord changes to Alone Together and so to make our examples relevant, we will look at harmonic minor scales in D as the song is in D minor.

D Harmonic Minor Scale

Obviously it is possible to play the D harmonic minor scale over a Dm chord but that is not the most interesting and colourful way to use the scale. D harmonic minor is most often played over the IIm7(b5) – V7(b9) chords or the “minor two-five.”

Let’s look at D harmonic minor from E to E. If we look at the R, 3rd, 5th and 7th of the scale, and compare these notes to the chord tones of the IIm7(b5) chord, we see we have all the notes we need.

Now let’s spell our D harmonic minor scale from A to A for the V7 chord. I’ve used “alt” for a very specific reason. We’ll see why in a minute. First, look at the R, 3rd, 5th and 7th of the scale to make sure we have all the notes we need to spell our A7 chord. We have A, C# E and G notes so we are good.

At the beginning of the post I mentioned that harmonic minor was a colourful scale. If we look at the passing tones between our chord tones we see some very interesting notes. We have a b9, sus4 and a b13. The reason one would notate a 7th chord with the “alt” extension is to give the player the flexibility to chose the extensions she or he wants to play in their chord voicings. You can play a simple A7(b9) or an A7(b13) or some combination of b9 and sus4 or any other combination of the 3 possible extensions.

In terms of soloing, harmonic minor is going to allow you to play all of those beautiful passing tones over the dominant chords.

As always, (and this is quickly becoming my way of demonstrating the sound of whatever is being discussed) I’ve included a written solo over the chords to “Alone Together.” I’ve used harmonic minor as often as possible over IIm7(b5) and V7.

Listen to the recording, check out the lines I’ve played and feel free to use as much of it as you like in your own solos.

7th scales (Dom7 and Half-Diminished Chords)

Seventh scales (7th Scales) are basically descending mixolydian modes with added notes. The most common way of playing a 7th scales is to add the major 7th between the root and the flatted 7th scale degrees.

Adding this one notes gives you an 8 note scale which is important because it allows you, in this case, to start and end on the same note. This of course assumes you are playing 8th notes in a Bebop style.

As an example, let’s say we are playing a “C” 7th scale over a C7 chord and we are resolving to Fmaj7. If we are playing 8th notes and starting on the first beat of the bar we will end on the same note we start on. We start on a “C” note which means we will also end on a “C.” This is important because it allows us to end on the 5th of the Fmaj7 chord.

Now of course this is not all there is to 7th scales. It is possible to start on any note of the scale. Depending on which note we start on, chromatic notes are added in a way which ensures you will resolve nicely to your next chord. I will not go into every example in this post but will stick to just 2 examples for now. The first will be as described above and the second is as follows: Starting on the 3rd of the chord we will add chromatic notes between the 3rd and 2nd degrees, between the 2nd degree and the root of the chord and between the root of the chord and the flatted 7th degree. More information is also available in my book “Jazz Guitar Elements.”

A “C” 7th Scale (C Mixolydian with added note) is played over a C7 chord.

Next, let’s look at how we can use 7th scales over Half-Diminished chords. The first thing you should do is look at my post on “Chord Substitution.” In this post, we saw how a G9 chord with no root is the same as a Bm7(b5). If these 2 chords are in fact the same, then it stands to reason we can play a “G” 7th scale over a Bm7(b5) chord.

Here is an example of a “G” 7th scale used over a Bm7(b5) chord in a II – V – I chord progression in A minor.

Next let’s look at a standard. Below is a solo on the chord changes to “Stella By Starlight.” I’ve used 7th scales over some of the Dom7 and m7(b5) chords. At times I’ve used the entire scale and sometimes just fragments of the scale. (As in the first couple of notes only) Take a look and listen at how I’ve used 7th scales on both chord types. (Audio track is at the bottom of the post)

  • John Roney:piano
  • Dave Watts: bass
  • Claude Lavergne: drums
  • Michael Berard: guitar

Starting Lines (Early and Late)

In our last lesson, Improvising with Arpeggios (Bebop), we looked at using arpeggios to create lines in a Bebop style. All of our lines started on the beat of bar 1. When we play lines, we want to be more casual. To achieve this, start the line before the first beat of the bar or start the line late. Let’s look at different ways we can start our phrases before the bar and at ways to start our lines late.

To start the line early, the easiest approach is to use a pickup note. Let’s look at one of the lines from our previous lesson and add a pickup note before the line.

Adding just one note like this makes the line feel more natural and relaxed, more like a jazz line should. Let’s add a few more notes. In this example, we will use neighbour tones. Neighbour tones are the notes before and after our target note. In this case it would be the first note of our arpeggio. (F)

Let’s add a full 2 beats. Here I’ve used both diatonic and chromatic neighbour tones. (More on that in a later lesson.)

Next, let’s start the line late. We will add an 8th note rest and make up for the missing note by using a triplet.

Now let’s make the first beat of the line a rest and use 16th notes.

Starting lines before and after the beat helps to make your improvised lines sound more spontaneous and musical. In jazz, this is a must. When you are learning or creating new lines, you probably want to start by playing the lines from beat one. This allows you to more effectively understand what you are playing and how it will sound over the chords. Once you are comfortable playing the lines in this more strict form, work on starting the lines early and/or late to make them sound more musical and true to the jazz style.

Improvising with Arpeggios (BeBop)

In this post I’ll be exploring how we can create jazz or bebop lines using arpeggios. Arpeggios sound excellent in jazz lines partly because they give us the exact sound of the chord we are improvising on. Arpeggios are in fact a chord played melodically or horizontally as opposed to all at once or vertically.

When we look at a transcription of a bebop style solo, one of the first things we notice is that there are a lot of 8th notes. This is especially true for tempos that are medium to up. We will start with the idea that since the style calls for lots of flowing 8th notes, we will build improvisational lines that use mostly 8th notes.

To begin, let’s look at some 4 note arpeggios. There are 4 note arpeggios with no extensions (root, 3rd, 5th and 7th) as well as 4 note arpeggios which include the 9th. In this case we will omit the root and use the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th.

Let’s start with a simple II – V7 – I chord progression in the key of C major.

Next thing we need are some 8th notes to fill in the empty spaces. Notice the change in octave in bar 3 for the C note. When an arpeggio changes direction this is called a “Pivot.” The Pivot allows you to keep your arpeggio within a specified range. Had we not used the Pivot, the range of the line would be much greater and a change of position would be needed. By using a Pivot, the entire line fits nicely within a position.

This example illustrates a slightly different possibility. Continue reading “Improvising with Arpeggios (BeBop)”

Getting Started with Jazz Scales on the Guitar

A Poor Man’s Guide to Jazz Guitar Scales

A Guest Post by Marc-Andre Seguin

Hello and welcome to a little “crash course” on jazz guitar scales, and many thanks to Michael, who has had an big impact on my life and my playing (more than he knows!)

The whole point of this lesson is to:

  • learn scales;
  • apply them on the guitar fretboard;
  • … in a jazz context. (Yikes!)

Improvising blues licks and rock solos can be done relatively easy on the guitar (“Hey, look at that 5th fret pentatonic fierce AC/DC lead!”) … but trying to make sense of scales as chords go by (fast) in a jazz context is a totally different ball game.

Remember your first jam session, the moment the bandleader pointed to you and went “Guitar solo!” on a blues in F or even Autumn Leaves?!? Yeah, me too. I was embarrassed enough already, struggling through complicated chords for strumming, I didn’t need the spotlight!

Ok, enough with the bad memories: let’s cover the M.E.D (minimum effective dose) so you can start walking before you run, without getting inundated with music theory. At the end of this post you’ll know exactly which scales to practice and how to master them.

Materials: Three Scales

To make things simple here, we will focus on three types of scales to fit with the three most common chord types in jazz. Our scales of choice are the major scale, the Dorian mode and the Mixolydian mode. The fit the major chords (or maj7), the minor chords (or min7) and the dominant chords (“plain” 7th) respectively.

For now, each scale will only be conceived of on the fretboard with one fingering. No need to stress out with positions and alternative “boxes” on the instrument. You’ll learn that *one* fingering and then go up on the next string with the same fingering. This will yield more or less the same digits patterns (which is very practical for playing without thinking later on).

It goes without saying, anything and everything you learn here can (and should) be applied in different keys. The guitar is wonderful this way: just learned something in C major and want to play it in D major instead? No problem! Move up two frets!

The Major Scale

Here’s the fingering for the major scale, in the key of C. Notice how we are starting with the 2nd (middle) finger of our fretting hand.

For now, only play the scale up to the 7th degree (sounding: DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI) and back down slowly until it sounds good. Repeat with the three starting string we’ve provided in the TABS, always starting the C note with your 2nd finger. Then see if you can play around in different keys.

It is extremely important that you only play to the 7th degree and NOT attempt to relate this back to any known scale position. You can always do that later. Continue reading “Getting Started with Jazz Scales on the Guitar”

Reading Exercise 28

When it comes to sight reading, it’s important to treat the music you are reading like any other piece of music. In fact, I will also add that it is important to try and read real music and not just from books that are “designed for reading.” “Jazz Reading Elements” is a collection of songs for reading and as you will see in this post, it is also a collection of songs for playing, soloing over and plain old playing jazz.

So when I say read and treat it like any other piece of music, I mean, play the melody with expression, feeling and dynamics, solo over the changes and comp the chords. The best way to do all of this would be to gather a bunch of musician friends together, like in the olden days, and everyone sight reads and solos over the music together.

To give you an idea, I’ve taken one of the reading exercises from my book, “Reading Exercise 28” and put together a recording which illustrates just this. Now unfortunately I didn’t hire all my favorite jazz session players but rather just played everything myself. In todays world this has become an easy enough thing to do. (And I’m a bit of a recording gear nut)

*Update April 28, had the great Dave Watts in the studio today and he added some beautiful double bass. Track has been updated. Thank you Dave!

So here we have the lead sheet for “Reading Exercise 28” from my book “Jazz Reading Elements” along with a transcription of the solo I recorded. The solo is in fact improvised so as with all improvisations, there will be playing that’s behind the beat and 8th notes that seem to have a tempo of their own. The transcription should be seen as a rounding out of all of the imperfections (or musical jewels) and not an exact transcription. To listen to the track, just scroll to the bottom of the page. I’ve also added an 8 bar intro to get you into the piece. Also please note that the classical guitar and piano are not playing the comping rhythm in part 2. Enjoy and feel free to add comments, etc…

 

Melody

 

Continue reading “Reading Exercise 28”