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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > June 17 > GETTING A VINTAGE SOUND


It’s the MusicTech Vintage Issue! As today’s recording processes hark to past glories, never have classic sounds been in such demand. John Pickford examines the history, the processes and the gear that made classic recordings sound so good and endure for so long – and shows you how to recreate vintage vibes with today’s gear…

MT Cover Feature

Before digital recording became the industry standard, most home recordists (as they were once known) had to make do with sub-standard, semi-pro recording gear to lay down their tracks. Likewise, many small ‘demo studios’ offered cheap and cheerful multi-track recording, by using entry-level mics through poor-sounding mixing desks onto compromised tape machines. During this period – we’re talking mainly the 1980s and 1990s – some engineers lucky enough to have acquired an old mixing console from the late 60s, or a mid-70s 16-track tape recorder, found that compared to modern, budget gear, vintage equipment sounded far superior.

Nowadays, both home-based producers and professional studios alike have access to first-class hardware and software, much of which is either based upon or a clone of classic vintage designs. What’s more, much of this kit is affordable and no more expensive than the nasty-sounding budget gear that flooded the market 25 years ago. The main element of modern recording practice that differs from sound recording’s glorious past is the lack of multi-track analogue tape. Although some diehards lament the demise of tape recording, the truth is that digital recording is now so good, even top-flight professional studios that still own an old 24-track recorder conduct most of their sessions in the digital domain. It’s wonderful bedroom producers can now enjoy the same quality of recording medium as the biggest and most expensive studios in the world.

Gear doesn’t come much more classic than the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard (these two are owned by Joe Bonamassa)

While the recording industry has rightly embraced digital recording as its future, for the creation of world-class sounds, it now often looks to its past. Long-established companies such as Neve and Universal Audio offer authentic versions of their classic designs, while newer manufacturers compete by producing superb-sounding recreations at affordable prices. And now that digital modelling has improved immensely, engineers can enjoy any number of Pultec EQs, Fairchild compressors and UREI limiters without owning a single piece of outboard hardware.

May the source be with you

The availability of vintage audio designs is a fairly recent development in pro audio – however, the guitar industry has never lost sight of its roots, which is why generations of guitarists, for the most part, still use close relatives of the Fender and Gibson models that first appeared in the 1950s, rather than modern designs. This is the fundamental point: vintage sounds have to be created at source and no amount of classic mic-preamps or iconic compressors is going to give authentic results if the source sound isn’t correct. Likewise, to emulate the sound of classic pop sounds from the 50s, 60s and 70s, an understanding of the recording methods employed back then is vital – which is what we’ll be showing you over the next few pages.

Sun Studio, where rock ’n’ roll was born, along with the notion of a recording studio offering a specific sonic identity

Of course, vintage sounds can be classed as anything from 50s rock ’n’ roll to the New Wave sounds of the late 1970s. However, in this guide, I’m going to explore classic vintage sounds that incorporate guitars, drums, organs, acoustic instruments and vocals; vintage synthesisers are a subject for a future feature. Much of the gear is available as clones in both hardware and software re-creations: take a look at your special Classic Gear supplement free with this issue for more on these.

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