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Chris Henderson's Recording TipsProof that guitar players do listen to other instruments
If theres one thing Chris Henderson knows, its how to get a killer guitar sound. But the veteran guitarist with Southern Rock band 3 Doors Down has honed his recording techniques for a variety of instruments in his Mississippi studio, some of which he was kind enough to share with us.
If you missed our previous interview, you can go here to read about how Hendersons Rivergate Studios in Gautier, MS, was completely flooded after Hurricane Katrina, and how he rebuilt a bigger and better facility than he had before. About the only things he was able to salvage from the flood was his collection of vintage guitars. As he describes below, those guitars are like colors in a painters palette, with different tones for different purposes. Henderson also discusses his drum recording techniques at length, and touches on his methods for recording vocals and bass.
He records everything directly into Pro Tools HD 7, hosted on a PowerMac G5 with a 23-in. Apple Cinema display. A complete equipment list is included at the end of this article.
What are your favorite guitars for recording?
I've got a 58 reissue Les Paul Gary Rossington Signature model. I've always been a fan of Skynyrd, and I was in Nashville one day in a music store and I saw this old beat-up guitar. So I picked it up and strummed it clean with no amp, and it just sang. When I asked the salesman what it was, he said it was a Gary Rossington, so I bought it. And that's probably the best rhythm guitar I have. I also have a 57 Les Paul Jr., and a 57 Fender Jazzmaster, which is great for cleans. And I have an array of Teles and Strats that I picked up through pawnshops from wheeling and dealing.
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Les Paul Gary Rossington Signature model
1957 Fender Jazzmaster
Paul Reed Smith Mark Tremonti signature model
And then Paul Reed Smith, which makes the guitars I play live, makes a single cut, and if you have these guitars wired properly, theres a Mark Tremonti signature pickup that sounds like any Les Paul out there. These guitars will shoot out against any Les Paul you put in a room with them and they will kill them. They'll crush them. So I've got four of those guitars in my studio at all times. If you hear any record I've recorded over the years, you're listening to those guitars, plus the Les Paul, which usually doubles.
What about strings, do you use 10 gauge, or bigger?
Well, it depends on what the band is tuned to. If it's a 440 band for standard tuning I'll use 11s or 12s. But if theyre in open C or A, like these Korn bands are coming through, of course you've got to step up the gauge to get the guitars to sit right. I typically don't like using my guitars for that. But I do have a couple. I've got a tech that lives around the corner from me. Hes good guy, he works in a local music store, and he'll come and set my guitars up for each session that's coming in. I'll have him set up all my standard guitars. But my 58 and my vintage guitars won't be on that session, which kind of sucks, because I like using those guitars. But I don't really want those big cables on them -- these are guitars I can never get again.
I usually use a 57 and a 421 side-by-side right on the same cone. What I'll do is solo each mic for whatever tone I'm looking for. If you want a little more low end, obviously you move off axis a little more, out towards the woofer and away from the middle. I'll kind of tweak the mic left or right a little bit to try to get the tone I want for that particular song. And that way I can basically use the same mic set-up throughout the session. If I'm looking for something that the head won't give me, I can go out and move that mic just a little bit and get what I'm looking for.
Do you blend the 57 and the 421 tones?
I blend them just about just about every time. And then if someone else mixes it, of course, they can do what they want to with it and I don't really get into that. It depends on who's mixing. But as long as it sounds great at the end of the day, I'm cool. I just make sure that they have everything they need when it goes to a mix.
I also use a [Audio-Technica] 4050. So I record all three mics at the same time. The 4050 will typically be buried or be gone completely. You really don't need it, the 57 and the 421 do the job so well.
Let's start with the drum mics. You use Sennheiser MD 421s on toms?
And a Shure SM 57 on snare?
On top and bottom. For overheads, I'm using the Royer 122s. And for room mics, I use the Studio Projects T3s. For the price, they're great. What I will usually do is mic the kick and snare through a PA, and I'll put it out in my garage. And I'll put a couple more T3s in the garage and mic just the kick and the snare. It makes the drum kit sound like you're playing it in an arena. You've got to deal with things rattling, but you go out there, find out what's making the racket and troubleshoot it. That's how I do my drums.
Yamaha Sub-Kick placed in front of bass drum
Oh absolutely. That makes the kick nice and fat. And like I said, you bury it. If you've never recorded a Yamaha Sub-Kick, you're never going to miss it. But if you have, you will never go without it. It adds a little something to the overall mix that you just can't get without it. Basically, it's an NS-10 speaker wired backwards. A lot of guys used to use that technique back in the day. They'd take NS-10 speakers out, wire them up with XLR cables, and make a microphone out of that speaker. Since Yamaha made the NS-10s, they started making that mic. And it's the same thing, it does the exact same thing as an NS-10 wired up.
What mic preamp and compressor chain do you use for drums?
What I usually do is I have a UA 2-610, and I use that for kick and snare. And then I'll run the kick through an 1176 compressor, and the snare through an LA-2A. And that's typically how I do the kick and the snare. And then after I've got that set up I'll tweak it. I'll change snares if I need a different snare tone, or I'll change mics. But nine times out of 10, it's the 57 through the 2-610 through the LA-2A or 1176 for kick and snare. And then I've got a UA 8110, which is the new eight-channel pre, and I'll use that with the 421 as a top mic for my toms and the Beyerdynamic Opus 88 for the bottoms. I'll also use a Beyerdynamic Opus 99 kick drum mic with the Sub-Kick.
And you have your own drum kit, right?
I do, I have a DW Collector's Series kit. Our drummer [from 3 Doors Down], Greg Upchurch, plays DW drums. He was able to get me a really good deal on them, so of course I can't pass that up. A lot of times, bands that record at my studio come straight from the road, and they'll bring in this beat-up drum kit that's been on stage night after night. It won't have good heads on it, and I won't know the kit. And if somebody brings in a set of Tama Rockstars, I'll be pissed, you know what I mean? At the end of the day, I want the drums to sound good. I know I've got a good drum kit, I know I've got good heads, my mics are already placed pretty much, and I know the room, so I don't really like somebody to bring another kit in. But if they fight me, I'll shoot out every drum and we'll make a Frankenstein kit out of it. But nine times out of 10, they can't beat it, unless somebody's coming in with some old Gretsches or something like that.
Hey, you never know.
I did have a guy come in with a set of old Gretsches, and he insisted on playing them, so we did a shoot-out. And we ended up using one floor tom from the Gretsch kit, and his Gretsch snare beat my snare, because I'm using the [DW] Edge snare, which is a great live snare. I've got several lying around, but that's usually the one that works.
Do you ever do drum replacement?
If it needs it. Sometimes you'll miss things sonically if youre engineering and producing at the same time. There are producers out there who say there's no way they're going to miss anything, but they do. The snare will slightly go out of tune, things like that. Once you start comping drum fills and things like that, you'll have one straight beat where the snare sounds great, then you'll have a fill, and then the next section will be a comp on the eighth take where the snare will be tuned slightly different. And if that happens, sometimes it's just so slight that nobody can tell, but if I notice it, then I'll replace something. But usually only the snare. And I won't stack, because I want people to hear the kit. But if the mixer stacks, there's nothing I can do about it -- as long as it sounds good at the end of the day.
Avalon U5 bass DI
For bass, I see you use an Avalon U5 direct box.
Yup, a U5, with a 2-610 and a Beyerdynamic Opus 99 mic. I'll mic an [Ampeg] SVT 810 cabinet, and then I'll run a DI through the SVT Classic head into the Avalon U5, and I'll use both.
That's a nice sound.
And you know what, nobody can beat it. I had a guy come in from a band the other week and he had this SWR solid-state bass head with the tube in the back, and he insisted on using it. I said okay, sure we'll use it. So what I did was, I recorded the song with the SWR, and then I went back and rerecorded another playlist with the SVT. After we were done, I said this is what we've got. I didn't tell them which one was which, and I asked which one do you like better? He said he liked the SVT, so we went back and we recorded it all with the SVT. So that's the way I do it, I kind of sneak them in there.
What is your favorite vocal mic?
I use a [Neumann] U87.
Yeah, but I've got a [Neumann] 147, too. It really depends on who's singing. But you know what, the 87 beats the 147 every time. It's a great mic. That's the one we use on all our 3 Doors records.
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