A Quiet Roar

Here is a song I wrote in order to create a playing opportunity for myself and some of my musician friends. Staying in shape while gigs, rehearsals and most playing is on hold is important. It’s important both in terms of the physical aspect of staying in shape on your instrument and also keeping the creative side of music making alive.

So what’s the plan? Call, email and text some friends and enlist them to take part in a musical project. I’ll write the tune, arrange it for the instruments we have and then start the recording process.

I have the players, (flute, flugelhorn, trombone, bass and drums along with me playing 2 guitar parts). I’ve got a nice little Bossa ready to go. Next we need the arrangement. Time to grab my guitar, open up Sibelius and start writing. For this tune I decided that I would make myself the feature taking the solo and sharing the head with the flute, flugelhorn and trombone.

For this arrangement I’ll need an intro, to map out who plays which parts of the melody and when, where to harmonize, some backgrounds and an ending. Sound like a good plan for this instrumentation.

Arrangement done so it’s time to lay down some tracks. First I save the Sibelius file as a MIDI file so I can create a starting point for my guitar tracks. With MIDI files in Logic Pro I can record a rhythm guitar track on nylon string and play the melody on electric. I also added an electric bass part to help the drummer with his part.

So this basic version with guitars, bass and a few MIDI horn parts goes off to the drummer. Within a day or two he sends me drum tracks and percussion tracks along with videos. Next I mix another version with all the drum parts and send it off to the horn players. Soon enough I have all their parts and videos and then do a quick mix of all of that, remove my bass part and send that off to the bass player. Bass playing sends me his part and video so now I have everything.

With all the parts done, I can now do a better mix and also redo my guitar part and solo. Next I mix everything and finally bring all the videos and the final mix from Logic Pro into Final Cut Pro. I’m no video editing wizard so a simple video highlighting everyone here and there will suffice as the music is the main ingredient.

Here is the final product!

A Quiet Roar

And here is the guitar part to give you an idea of the tune.

A Quiet Roar, Guitar Part

For now I’m planning to keep active musically by writing, arranging, recording and posting more videos of my music. I hope this will give you a better idea of the process involved in collaborating and creating music with others while being unable to meet in person. I hope everyone is finding creative ways to keep active musically. Keep playing your jazz guitar and moving forward musically. Nothing can stop us!

Quarantine Time Creativity

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This is without a doubt, a terrible time in history for the well being of all around the world. Covid-19 has taken a terrible toll with a staggering number of lives lost and terrible suffering by so many. It is also proving to be a time of extreme hardship for millions with many losing their jobs, salary and livelihood.

For the many musicians and artists around the world, physical distancing has put a sudden stop to any kind of performing or live shows. Artists and performers from young new talent to the most popular and famous have been unable to share their gifts in the usual way. Somehow despite all of this, there seems to be so music music happening just the same. On Facebook and Youtube you can see and hear all kinds of artists who somehow manage to reach out to audiences with performances pieced together using every kind of technology and music gear along with sheer perseverance.

I have been so moved by artists like Chick Corea and his creativity workshops presented from his home straight to YouTube. Wow, what an incredible gift to all those learning to play jazz. So many famous and talented musicians are sharing their gifts with the world despite these challenging times.

Artists are a resilient and tenacious lot. They are above average at weathering storms and enduring hardship. Isolating oneself from society is something we do on a regular basis as well. We are good at locking ourselves away and practicing our craft alone for hours and hours on end. We are perhaps a little more equipped at isolation than others.

I think this is a good time for all of us to try and be creative and share our gifts with the world. Whether by yourself or collaborating with friends or musical colleagues, grab your iPhone, tablet, favourite DAW or whatever is available to you big or small and make some great music. Record audio or a video of you performing some great jazz guitar and share it with anyone and everyone who will listen. Music heals and inspires. It’s something we can all contribute right now.

Recently by brother, also a guitarist, reached out to me to collaborate on one of his compositions. He had an idea to record and video one of his tunes and maybe find a few other musical friends to help out. He did most of the hard work organizing everything and editing the video. I helped out with the mix. We played some music, shared it with the world and hopefully made a few people a little happier as well.

Now I’ll share it with you. BTW, that’s me playing the 7 string classical guitar and my brother Ron playing electric. We are joined by two very talented Montreal musicians: Dave Watts on bass and Stephane Jose on drums.

RED

Another project I’ve been involved with is the Blue Mondays Jazz Orchestra. We are a Montreal based Big Band with a vocalist. Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have recorded 4 videos which you can find on YouTube. It was an opportunity to keep the music and the band going.

I’ve played on all of them and mixed all but the first. It’s been an interesting experience to piece together a big band chart with 16 members recording on their own in isolation. The end result is pretty amazing considering many used iPhones and tablets and did so in much less than perfect recording environments. (living rooms, basements…) Have a listen to “The Look of Love.”

Blue Mondays Jazz Orchestra – The Look of Love

I will once again encourage you to keep at the music and stay positive. We will get through this. Make some music and share it with the world. If you help to raise the spirits of even one person during this pandemic, then it’s worth it.

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 noise as well. Any amp hum, ringing tubes, finger noise, street noise, all of this will be more evident when using a condenser mic. 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. The sound of a ribbon microphone is probably somewhere between that of 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 the what and how 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.

Links (Related Articles)

Recording and Mixing Jazz Guitar (jazzguitarlessons.net)

https://www.jazzguitarlessons.net/blog/recording-mixing-jazz-guitar

Beginner Guitar HQ (Best Stage Microphones)

https://beginnerguitarhq.com/best-stage-microphones/