Studio Faire la Nouba moves forward to the past
Posted by: Larry the O 4 years, 9 months ago

Studio Faire la Nouba came online in early 2010, but there was lots of gear and systems that were not part of the original commissioning, and I've been bringing stuff online bit by bit as I get the chance. Last night the studio took a fun step forward when I did my first loud guitar recording, for the first time using my studio guitar rig, which is brand new after 30 years.

Maybe I should explain. Or maybe not, but blogging is essentially free and no one will force you to read this claptrap, so I shall plunge fearlessly ahead.

Thirty short long years ago, I was a student in Boston. I made the acquaintaince of an MIT freshman named Seth Gussow, who was interested in audio and, like freshmen everywhere, managed to get his nose soiled in all kinds of interesting adventures. One of his adventures was finding and resurrecting an old, disused speech research studio in Building 20, an old building on the MIT campus that looked like a World War II temporary. Building 20 was a fascinating forgotten world. In addition to the studio, there was a 10-foot high wall of 4-inch speaker drivers that had been, at one time, Dr. Amar Bose's earliest experiment with plane waves. On the wall adjancent to the driver wall was all sorts of graiffiti to the effect of "you'll never get it off the ground, Orville." How prescient.

Seth had stocked the studio with one of the very first eight-track tape recorders ever made, which had originally belonged to, yup, Amar Bose. He had found the recorder gathering dust in a fraternity basement, brought it to Building 20, found it had one bad channel on the record head and one bad channel of electronics, matched them to give him a 7-track recorder, then found a bunch of old 1" computer tape that he repurposed for recording audio. My band recorded a demo in the tiny studio, hauling all of our mattresses in to use as baffles.

None of this has the first thing to do with Studio Faire la Nouba, except for Seth Gussow, who also gifted me with a McIntosh, all-tube 60-watt mono power amplifier. He had gotten it literally as government surplus and it didn't work, but it looked to be in pretty good shape.

I hauled that broken amp around with me for 30 years, in the hope of someday getting it fixed. My notion was to use it as a studio guitar amplfier. Well, last night all that came true.

Don Helmholz is a friend of mine who is a long-time engineer at Meyer Sound Labs in Berkeley, where I worked for four years. His hobby has long been working on McIntosh amps, and he agreed to take mine on, just because he is a sterling fellow. It took a while for him to get around to the repair, but eventually he got it working better than the stated specs. I have an old speaker cabinet from Leslie, not a rotating speaker cab, just an open-back cab with an 8-inch speaker of uncertain provenance. I don't recall where I got it, it just entered my orbit and was hauled around with the amp for years, never having been used. The idea was to use a Line 6 Pod Pro as the preamp, feed the output of that to the Mac60, and thence to the Leslie speaker cab. But, even having tested the speaker cabinent and found it working, I was nervous that I would hook it up to the amp and blow the amp up. So I hadn't tried the amp, months after getting it back.

Last night I had a guitar recording session for Cosmic Mercy, a band whose two albums I have mixed. This would be the first recording I had done for them, however. I set the speaker cab up as the base of triangle, the other sides being two of my custom baffles, laid on their sides with their corners pushed together to form a 'V'. Into the V I placed a mic stand with a mic, a good ol' SM57 through a PreSonus Studio Channel mic preamp. I didn't feel like being adventurous with the mic, given how adventurous I was already being. Then, I laid another baffle on top of the structure to make a housing, and threw a packing blanket over the whole affair to add funk factor. Finally, I took my three tall baffles and surrounded the whole rig with them.

I hooked up the speaker and finally, three decades after getting it, powered up the amp. It worked beautifully and sounded great. In fact, it sounded so good we went with the first preset I picked on the Pod Pro (which happened to be one I had stored in the past). Although I have often recorded just through the Pod, I thought that, while the Mac amp was extremely clean, the tube thang and a real speaker would add the 'life' and 'presence' that the Pod doesn't always achieve as well as a real guitar amp. And so it was. Best of all, with the amp cranked up pretty well, it was still possible to hear the guitar sound through the studio monitors (Studio Faire la Nouba is a one-room facility), and when I went outside while Kenny was cranking and wanking, I could not hear it at all more than five feet away from the studio!

Rock and roll. Man.

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