Home Studio……Why and What…

6StringLogo.gifHome Studio – Why and What *

Although I’ve accumulated a fairly serious amount of equipment over the years, and its quality ranges from good (recording) to high (instruments) it’s about my only vice.  I stay out of the bars.  A person could spend millions on this gear, so I place myself somewhere on the entry professional level when it comes to the recording gear I possess and the professional level when it comes to my instruments.

About my current project:  A few years ago a friend who knew me back in the old days of my guitar playing asked that I record a song on the computer and send it along.  After resisting for almost a year, I sat down one day and plugged a microphone into the computer, pulled out my guitar and played and sang into it.

It sucked.  I decided to get a cheap mixer and some budget software for recording and at least send along a semi presentable project.  Well, you know how that goes.  One piece of equipment leads to another, and then well….you just “gotta” have this, and then…

An idea for a personal, fun, and meaningful project came to me.  My own grandparents and great grand parents have little left of connections to them.  A few faded pictures, old letters maybe, some jewelry, and spoken memories of those that remembered them.  This is the digital age.  Nothing really decays, it can only be thrown away or lost.  I decided to produce my own cover songs of about 20 different tunes that have meant something to me personally during my life in terms of things I’ve experienced, people I’ve known, etc, and other songs that paint a picture of the times I’ve lived through, reflected through particular artists or songs.  While recording these songs, I’m slowly bringing family members into the project having them either sing or play an instrument, or if they do neither, do some other form of accompaniment.  So far I’ve managed to involve my wife Susan, my daughter April, my brother David,  my grand-daughter Lindsea, my sister Laura, and my lifelong friend Gil with more to come.

Someday when all of this is finished  I will combine this music with a family genealogy, pictures, text, voices, video, etc and burn it to enough DVD’s to distribute to family members who may pass it on down the line.  And someday, digital being digital, 500 years from now, my descendents will view and listen and have perhaps a huge chuckle at my expense, but I doubt I’ll care at that point. In any event, they’ll have a record of their own heritage,  and that will be a much more comprehensive record than I do.

Regardless, I’m certainly having fun, and learning as I go.  At this point I’ve come a long way in learning about the recording process, and I’m now delving into the art of making a quality mix and master that will hopefully someday rival what comes out of professional studios.

My Instruments & Equipment

    • Martin D28 6 String Acoustic
      This is my “baby”.  The crown jewel of my guitars.  Bought new in 1969 in El Paso Texas.  One of the last produced with genuine Brazilian Rosewood, this instrument still sounds and looks incredible.  Just brought it back from a visit with the skilled luthiers at Portland Fret Works, where it was re-fretted and had a new pick guard installed.  The action, which was always good, is now incredible.
    • Martin D12-20 12 String Acoustic
      This instrument is actually a year older than the D28, and is also in pristine condition.   It plays beautifully when a 12 string is called for.  This instrument also recently had its pick guard replaced.
    • Gibson Songwriter 6 String Acoustic / Electric
      I purchased this guitar in December 2008 after eyeing it and playing it at Guitar Center for almost 2 years.  It’s a beautifully playable instrument with a sound to match, and it’s a compliment to the Martin D-28.  The electronics are top notch and not cut out of the wood of the instrument, rather the plug to the amplifier is part of what the strap hook would normally be.  The whole thing is a class act.
    • Gibson ES-335 Electric Hollow Body
      I bought this on Ebay about 5 years ago.  It’s wine colored, and in top notch shape.  It’s pedigree says that it was made by Gibson in 1982 in Bozeman.  For an all around beautiful sounding electric, the ES-335 is the choice of many pros such as BB King, Eric Clapton, Justin Hayward and many others.
    • Roland Fantom X6 Workstation Keyboard
      This workstation has allowed me to do many things to augment my tracks by providing instruments I neither own, nor play.  I’d never used keyboards before and this has been a fun learning experience.
    • Ibanez Nylon String Acoustic / Electric
      The Ibanez is a fairly inexpensive addition (A-20) to my guitars and comes in handy for the times I want the flavor of nylon sound, plus it can be plugged directly into my audio capture device and that’s handy too.
    • Yamaha Electric Bass
      This bass is just a cheap electric bass that does the job I bought it for, and that is adding a bass line to my songs when needed.
    • Hofner “Paul McCartney” violin style base.  This base has a completely different tone from a solid body bass and even though this is the “cheap” model of the Hofner that McCartney plays, the lighter gauge strings give it a completely different tone from the Yamaha.
    • Fender Twin Reverb Amp – Early ’70’s Tube Version
      The soft analog sound produced by this amp before everything went computerized in them makes this a collector’s item in the amp world.  The Twin is still made and sold after 40 some odd years, so that speaks to it’s quality.
    • Behringer Eurorack UB-1204 FX-PRO Mixer
      This is a neat little mixer I bought when I first started out, but because of the way I’m doing things now versus what I thought I’d be doing when I started out,  I hardly have much use for it, although live performances through a P.A. system would probably be very cool using this.
    • Alesis SR18 Professional Drum Machine
      This is a newer addition to my equipment, and I’ve been VERY pleased with my results so far, although I’m still in the learning process.  It looks extremely promising.  I am not a drummer, and even if I were, having a set of drums in my small room is an impossibility, and I’m sure my neighbors might agree.  I’m looking for good things with this in terms of adding drum tracks to my projects

*A note of thanks here to my brother Dave whose input and knowledge of A/V equipment through his association with Universal Studios has been “instrumental” in helping me along the way in my learning experience of recording.  His guidance in helping me to make the right buying decisions for my level of pocketbook and expertise is much appreciated.

Recording Setup 

First, let it be said that depending on the depth you want to dive to in your home studio,  aside from your instruments, your PC or Mac (both of which it would be assumed that you already own)  and dedicated studio monitors, you can get into home recording with software, microphones and a decent audio card for well under $500.  So the price varies from $500 to millions of dollars, and since I’ve settled on home studio recording and photography as my “vices”, I’ve found my own sweet spot in all of this.

In addition, let me say this:  The internet is filled with people who are dedicated to their way being the “only” way if you are ever to produce anything of quality.  PC people.  Mac people.  A dozen different DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) competing for being the “best”, or more professional.  It is my opinion that depending on what you want to do, what you want to put into it and how comfortable you are working with what you have, you can find equivalent platforms on all sides of the equation.    Your mileage may vary, and I’m certain with some people that it does.  I’m happy with my choices, thank you.  If The Beatles could produce their entire catalog of genius on nothing more than 8 tracks, I’m sure that serves to point out that it’s “the boys, not the toys”.

  • Cakewalk Sonar Platinum:  After looking at the myriad of different software studio options on the PC side of things, (and there are lots of good ones out there)  I decided initially on Cakewalk’s Music Maker Pro for Windows, then quickly graduated to Sonar Studio, then Sonar Producer.  Sonar Producer would be considered a Professional PC equivalent of Pro Tools on the Mac side and is setting new standards every day in professional studio music production.  In addition to Cakewalk’s Sonar there are other professional PC solutions available that can certainly get the job done.  Note on Cakewalk:  The company was recently purchased by Gibson.  Gibson is expanding beyond being one of the premier makers of top quality guitars into several areas of the professional music business (Teac Professional Products, Tascam, etc)  with companies like Cakewalk and there should be some exciting things coming down the road.
  • Microphones:  I have two Rode NT 2-A’s for most vocals and direct acoustic guitar input.  This is a beautiful, warm microphone with outstanding sound.  In addition, I have two Shure microphones that are known as workhorses of the industry, both on stage and in the studio.  These would be the Shure SM 58-B for alternate vocals, and the Shure SM-57B for miking the Fender Amp and other instruments in addition to top quality vocals.
  • Audio Capture Devices:  After evaluating several different mid price range capture devices, I currently own three, but daily usage is down to one.   My recently acquired Roland OctaCapture USB interface is set to become my new “primary” recording source.  Combined with outstanding build quality, it has all of the I/O I could ask for,  and it will be replacing my well worn MOTU 828mk3 Firewire capture device that I’ve used for the past several years.  The MOTU is seeing decreasing support from the manufacturer and it has been discontinued in its current form.  I assume that one of the primary reasons for MOTU moving on is most likely due to the fact that Microsoft has abandoned Firewire support in Windows 8.1 and successive versions.  As a third, quickly portable (backup) unit, I used to rely on the Edirol FA-66.  I like this device because it’s built so well, it’s hard to hurt it which makes it a great portable choice, and it has excellent sound quality, but the drawback is that it too is Firewire, and has the same future with PC based devices as the others.  The end result is that the new Roland OctaCapture will become the in-studio and mobile solution for me.  Both the FA-66 and its bigger brother the FA-100 have since been replaced in Roland’s lineup with the new generation “Capture” devices to include Studio Capture, Octa-Capture, and Quad-Capture.
  • PC:   HP Pavilion e9280t, Windows 7 w/SP1, 64-Bit, 12 GB DDR3 SDRAM, dual TB SATA 3 drives, one being dedicated only to Sonar for I/O, HP 27″ glossy faced 1080P monitor (beautiful!).  Radeon HD 4650 Video, LG Blue Ray burner.
  • Mixing Speakers:  I  recently acquired a beautiful pair of Adam Audio A7X Studio monitors, and they are astounding.  The Pro’s on these speakers far and away outweigh what I consider to be the only Con, and that would be that they are a bit pricey.  So far however, I’ve gotten what I paid for.