Peter Frampton has recorded a couple of bitchin’ guitar albums in his career, including a little ditty called Frampton Comes Alive, and 2006’s Grammywinning Fingerprints. He’s also an avid home recordist—albeit with a much hipper and more gear-lush personal studio than the average musician. As the follow up to Fingerprints, Thank You Mr. Churchill [A&M/New Door/Ume] gets ready to drop this April, we thought a few words of studio wisdom from one of the world’s greatest rock guitarists might help you with one of your projects.
“There are no rules—just go for whatever sounds good,” says Frampton. “But knowing the sound you want at the start—before you even touch a microphone—is a good idea. It’s all down to what you can get out of each amp and guitar—what’s the best match for what you’re trying to achieve? Someone once said to me, ‘You’re like molasses [in the studio],’ because I’m so methodical. I take my time, and I don’t rush. When you’re in the studio, the microscope is on, and in order for me to play my heart out, I have to be turned on by the sound. It’s like the sound is so wonderful that I can’t stop playing because I love it so much. To get there, I might take a day to choose an amp, choose a guitar, select the mics, and then position the mics. Sometimes, I’m so exhausted by the setup that I won’t actually cut the track until the next day. And, to me, that’s okay. Some sounds come in a minute, and some sounds take three days. You never know how it will go, but you have to take the time to get there, because if you’re not inspired by the sound, you may not rise to the occasion and play something great. I mean, you can have all the best equipment in the world, but if the performance isn’t stunning, your track ain’t going nowhere.”
“It’s all down to trial and error. Basically, I work two different ways as far as electric sounds go. One is positioning a Shure SM57 close to the speaker. But I don’t like pointing the mic at the speaker cone—that’s a little too honky for me. I like to angle the mic at sort of a 90-degree angle, pointing a bit off to the paper [of the speaker]. The second part is setting up room mics. I position a pair of Neumann mics—I have a couple of vintage U67s and a U47—about ten to 12 feet away in a wide-stereo configuration. Then, a little closer—I call them the ‘mid-room mics’—I’ll use either a stereo Royer or two mono Royer mics in an X-Y pattern. So I’m actually recording five tracks of one guitar sound. Then, I can choose the sound—or combination of sounds—I like later on.
“You know, when I first started recording with Glyn Johns in the old days with Humble Pie, he would put Neumann U67s on just about everything. I don’t remember seeing an SM57 on anything in those days. And then Neumann brought out the U87— which was the transistor version of the 67—and everybody seemed to switch to 57s. And I know why now, because after getting my hands on a couple of beautiful old U67s, I realize that you can put them close on the amp, and they sound virtually the same as what you’re hearing in the room—as long as you don’t put them too close. So, one of my alternate options to the SM57 close-mic is to swap it for one of the U67s positioned about 18 inches or two feet from the speaker.”
“Neumann KM184s are definitely a standard for me— I know I’m going to get a great sound with them. They don’t capture a lot of bass, so they sound pretty good flat—you don’t have to do too much of a roll off. The U47 is nice, too, but it’s not a good choice if you’re strumming away because it will pick up too much low end and muddy things up. I typically do the conventional thing of positioning one mic by the soundhole, and another mic higher up on the fretboard, pointed down towards the 12th fret or so.”
The Recording Environment
“My studio has a wood floor with fabric-covered walls—except where I set up the amps, which is a complete wood of stone. The reflection off the wood floor is nice and even, whereas the stones on the wall are all angular, and the echo is a bit harsher in a good way. And then the fabric dampens the reflections a bit. Obviously, not everyone is going to have the same construction in their recording space, but I’ve found that the best spaces give you a nice bit of ambience that’s not too bombastic. You don’t want the reverb swamping the room and all your guitar sounds. You also have to be careful not to crank up the guitars too loud if you want some natural room sound on your tracks. There’s definitely a threshold where the volume overpowers the room, and the ambience just kind of goes away.”