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Don's Tech Corner

Intro to Don's Gear

I have made a lot of changes in my guitar stuff sinse I last wrote about it and would like to update it.

I'm using my Gallagher guitar again. This is the guitar I used on the early Morning Star CDs. This guitar was hand made by Don Gallagher and it has been a war-horse for me. After a lot of use in praise the electronics have become worn out. I stopped using it because I like the guitar and didn't want to cut holes in it to try some new pick ups. That is where the blue guitars came in. I finally settled on a good pick up system and put it in the Gallagher.

The pickup is made by RMC pick ups (
rmcpickup@california.com) and it has 6 indivdual gold saddles and needs to be mounted by someone who knows what they are doing. There is a Joe Mills PZM (presure zone microphone) inside the guitar too. This mic is made for acoustic instruments. It sounds great but can give feedback problems if the monitor system is too loud. It is the combination of mic and pick up with the VG-8 sounds I have made that makes the acoustic sound like an acoustic.

There is a 10 pin plug coming out of the guitar and it connects to a Poly Drive ll system from RMC. This is a box that you can have mounted inside the guitar if you chose to. I didn't want to cut anymore holes in the guitar.

The Poly Drive ll has a 13 pin plug that goes to the Roland US-20 "Y" plug and then to the Roland VG-8 for guitar sounds and on to the Roland GR-33 for string sounds if you like that kind of stuff. The PZM requires phantom power so I have the Poly drive ll wired to give phantom power from my mixer to the mic. That all sounds complicated but it is quite simple.

This system is proving to be much better than any I have used and the RMC pick up works very well when installed correctly. The miss-triggering (midi miss-triggers)have all but stopped and the sound of the bridge pick up itself is better than most.

All this does cost some money and time to get it installed, but if these things are not a problem for you I strongly recommend this system for anyone who is serious about an acoustic sound on stage.

I've tried many MIDI guitars in the past and have found some good and bad features in all of them. The Roland system seems to be the most accurate and forgiving. Most MIDI guitars are electric solid body guitars with electric strings on them. I use an acoustic guitar with GHS silk and bronze strings #370. The strings are light gauge. Light gauge because this keeps the top of the guitar (behind the bridge) from raising up under the strain of medium or heavy strings. These strings also help the pick-up to track better. These strings are heavy enough to strum, without going out of tune, and light enough to play electric guitar leads. I've been using these strings for over twenty years and have an endorsement with GHS.

Working as a studio musician for so long gives you a better idea of what will work for you when playing for many hours at a time. I cannot stress enough how important a set of guitar strings can be to your overall playing. With the right ones, you can play for hours without pain or cramps. With the wrong ones, it's over in an hour and the difference between how much music comes out of the guitar compared to the noise the strings make producing the sound, is night and day.

The spiritual warfare has literally worn out two complete MIDI guitars I had before the blue guitar.

The Mackie VLX mixer has the advantage over some others, which allows you to plug in a stereo or mono mix from the monitor system, and have it only come through the ear phone output and not the main outputs. Thus you can listen to the monitor system and your guitar and just feed the PA with your guitar. You can also turn your guitar or the mix up without having to ask the monitor man to turn you up.

I use earphones that are comfortable and open air. If they are too isolated you won't be able to hear something that happens on stage if it is not in your earphone mix.

There are many other details concerning the recording of the CD's which I will get into on another sitting. I can only handle just so much tech details before I burn out.

I strongly believe the presence or the anointing of the Lord cannot be enhanced by technical stuff being top quality, but it can be quenched by it being poor. The same can happen when the attitude of the band members is, "this is good enough equipment for the church." It is not about the money invested, but the time and understanding gained by caring.

I encourage you to pray about a greater understanding of technical stuff that is used in the praising of the Lord. After all, He invented all this stuff any way.


Intro to Don's Recording

I've been asked some questions about the recordings we have done over the past six years. Here are some answers I hope and again hope this is not too dull.

The recordings of the live praise CD's has been a learning experience at least. After working for many years in the music business, I learned how to make recordings. There is a lot more to it than I can explain in these brief technical notes, but all that to say, the Lord wanted me to use what He had taught me while in that business.

The Lord had some clear directives that I had to follow. The first rule was to make it feel like it did when we were at the meeting. That means that we needed to make sure the same anointing is present when the CD is played as was when we were all praising.

That was not hard for me as I was there and also led the praise. That becomes much more complicated when you only have the tapes to listen to. Without prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit, the end result will just be another CD with music on it.

In some cases the Lord would not let me fix some really bad parts of the music and at other times He would encourage me to do what I had been taught for many years in the music business. With computer technology at our disposal and the ability to make almost anyone sound good, there must be integrity involved with making a CD that contains the sounds of the praising people of God offering a sacrifice to their King. There are parts of that sacrifice that He will guard and keep just the way He likes it and that is that.

This has taken me six years of mixing and working on these kinds of recordings to get a little idea of what to do.

Studio:
My studio consists of a 44-input automated analog console made by AMEK called "Big". The automation is a must when mixing 40 tracks of music. The studio has 40 tracks of Tascam DA-78 digital recorders which all the music was recorded on; plus 24 tracks of Adats by Alesis as well as 24 tracks of 2 inch analogue. (The extra machines came over with me from Nashville where many formats are needed to accommodate the many different recording media.)

Other Stuff:
I use two different editors. One is an Akai and can edit up to 8 tracks. The other is a computer-based editor with Digital Performer software (version 3.01) installed on an Apple computer. It can handle up to 32 tracks of editing.

I mix to an Alesis Master Link CD burner at 24 bit/44.1. The reason for 44.1 rather than 48; 88.2, or 96 is the math it takes to dither down to 16 bit/44.1 (which all CD's are) is easier starting with the 44.1. Since I'm passing the music through an analog console, the frequency response will be in good shape when it gets to the Master Link, providing I don't do anymore processing to the music.

However, I mix to 24bit/88.2 or 96K when I have enough money to have the CD mastered in Nashville. If not, I master it myself which sounds good on the Master Link as long as I don't do much in the line EQ or compression.

All problems with digital recordings has to do with manipulating what is on the tape. When in the digital domain, any changes made to the initial recording requires more and more bits to accomplish the desired changes. Thus demanding more expensive equipment with every change from the original.

You should always remember that the final product will be 16 bits and the device used to dither down from 24 bits to 16 bits should be the best equipment you have and it should be the last thing in the chain that happens. There are many articles written on digital recordings around and it would do you well, if you are going to get into this, to read as much as you can.

Outboard gear:
I have a lot of outboard gear that I use when mixing the live stuff. I use a Manley VoxBox on the lead vocals. This has a tube based compressor and equalization. There is a d-esser in it as well and comes in handy when the singer is too near the drums or standing too near the monitor speaker.

When dealing with the drums, I compress the kick and snare and noise/gate the toms. This keeps down much of the rumble that is happening while parts of the kit are not being played. Beware of overdoing compression while mixing. Though it is handy when trying to handle an unruly vocalist or the volume changes an electric guitar player goes through, it can quench your overall mix if used too much.

I have a Red 7 by Focusright that I use on the bass guitar. This is very natural sounding and keeps the low end as consistent as can be expected on a live recording.

The keyboards range from thick pad sounds to brittle sounding sequences used in some songs. If it is recorded well, it is usually no problem. Beware of using too much low-end on a keyboard as it will tend to muddy up the bass and other full range instrument.

Acoustic guitars with bridge pick-ups consistently sound bad to me. They always seem to sound edgy with a hard top end. This can be fixed in a mix by gently compressing it and equalizing 3 to 5khz down 3 to 5 db. If the acoustic player really bangs on his or her guitar while playing, then I use a BBE sonic maximizer on it. This puts a little ambiance back into the dry sound a bridge pick-up produces. This is another instrument that will mess with a lot of other instruments if not treated right. For example, the high end sound of a bridge pick-up and a flat pick strumming over the strings will be in conflict with the hi-hat of the drum kit. It will also make the drummer sound like he's not playing with the rest of the band when in fact it is not his fault.

If the acoustic guitar player is leading praise, they will have a tendency to rush the groove when the anointing hits, or they will play along with their singing, following the melody with the guitar. When this happens it is important to bring the guitar down a bit in the mix while they are rushing and back up when they get it back together. If they consistently rush, I track-delay their part to make it fit in the band better. Most of the new digital recorders have this feature.

Background singers are just that, background singers. If you get them too loud in the mix they will be foreground singers and you will lose the personality of the leader. If that is the desired affect then turn them up. This is where much of the trouble is in any live recording. There are usually two, three and more mics on the background singers. These open mics with monitor speakers turned up loud right in front of them will create the largest problem a live recording can have. There is always lots of leakage through these mics and in order to get the singers up to the desired volume, you will be turning up a lot of leakage. We have often over-dubbed the background singers in the studio so we can turn them up as loud as needed without all the other instruments leaking into their mics.

Background singers and REAL bad guitar solos are the two most fixed things on any live recording.

I have sampling synthesizers in my studio with many different instruments in them. If we record something live that is very difficult to make sound good (a sitar, for example), I replace it with a sample of a sitar and the record sounds much better for doing it.

Audience mics are very important to the live praise recordings. You should dedicate at least two tracks to them. We do four tracks and it really helps. That means there are four mics out in the audience, up high in the room so you are not too close to one person. Praise will sound like one person is there if you get too close to the crowd. Be sure not to get too close to the PA speakers either. It is best to experiment with this idea until you find the best place to put these mics.

The entire idea of recording live praise is to record live praise. The band is playing, the people are praising.

There is a fine line between having the audience mics in the mix for the excitement of people getting into God, and exploiting their reaction as if they were reacting to the band. This must be led by the Spirit. The louder the audiences mics are, the worse the band will sound, in general. The bass and drums will all but disappear when those mics are turned up. This means that you need to be sure how to use these mics.

I find a reverb that sounds like the room the recording was done in and use it on the vocals. When you choose to turn the audience mics down, the reverb on the vocals will make it feel like the audience is still in the mix. This will help if you have decided to fix a guitar solo or any other repairs you may have deemed necessary. If the audience mics are too loud, there will be a conflict between what was on tape compared to what you fixed.

There are many more points to cover but I feel burned out on tech talk. Remember to feel what is happening on a recording. If you fail to sense any real anointing on the first play-backs, there could be a lot of technical reasons, and it may have nothing to do with what is on tape. God is very capable of witty inventions. Ask!

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