In The Jingle-Jangle Morning - Roger McGuinn (Byrds co-founder
and folk music great)
“Your microphone is the most important piece of equipment
in the acoustic guitar recording process,” says Byrds co-founder, solo
artist and longtime recordist Roger McGuinn. “Find that perfect sweet
spot between the last fret and the o-hole, about two inches away, without picking
up too much ‘boom’ from the hole.”
McGuinn found his sweet spot with The Byrds, and hasn’t let up since.
He has recorded eight solo albums since the band broke up in 1973, yet many
fans don’t know about Roger’s early ‘60s folk roots. A young
prodigy in Greenwich Village who wrote folk songs for Bobby Darin and was in
’63 the music director on Judy Collins #3, he also played with the Chad
Mitchell Trio and the Limeliters before forming The Byrds with Gene Clark and
David Crosby in 1965. But every folk music lover today is well aware of McGuinn’s
Treasures From The Folk Den in 2001 and his newly released The Folk Den Project:
1995 – 2005, the former a Grammy-nominated collection of rare remote sessions
recorded in the actual dens of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and other folk icons;
the latter a 4-disc box set of exactly 100 folk classics Roger recorded in the
McGuinn’s Florida “den”—his home studio.
RED: I wasn’t aware of your banjo playing, though you must have played
one on some Byrds albums?
ROGER: No, actually I didn’t. David Crosby had an aversion to the banjo
and actually made me sell mine, then I bought my Rickenbacker 12-string. I love
the banjo and think it’s a great sound, but I can’t take a steady
diet of it. I love hearing the contrast between a 12-string acoustic song followed
by a banjo song: the 12-strings booms and sounds so big and full which makes
the banjo sound all the more sharp and crisp next to it.
RED: How did you mic your banjo for The Folk Den Project?
ROGER: The banjo is such a loud instrument that I stand about 18 inches away
from the mic with it. If you get any closer with a banjo, you’ll get way
too much of it [laughs.] Just placing a microphone in the general vicinity of
a banjo picks it up great—in fact, you really just need to be in the same
room as the microphone. A foot-and-a-half away is optimum for me, with a good
condenser microphone aimed at the head. The capsule is vertical and parallel
to the head of the banjo, creating a kind of shotgun effect that gets the whole
sound of the room.
RED: And for acoustic guitars, including your 7-string custom McGuinn Martin
HD-7—how do you mic those in the studio?
ROGER: I’ve got a handmade large diaphragm tube condenser mic I use for
guitars and vocals. Sometimes I have to EQ the lows off it when I use it for
my voice. There’s also a 19mm diaphragm phantom-powered condenser mic
I use for acoustics, as well, and a lipstick-sized studio condenser mic I use
for a particularly warm guitar sound. For the acoustic guitar, it’s just
a matter of proximity.
RED: Do you mic an amp when tracking your classic “jingle-jangle”
electric 12-string Rickenbacker sound?
ROGER: No, for that I go direct into the computer without an amp through one
of my three I/O interfaces. I got into recording the 12-string electric this
way back in The Byrds when we always went direct with it in the studio. That’s
the clean part of the jingle-jangle sound with no hum or ambient room noise.
It’s a very compressed sound, of course, and I achieve that by running
the Rick through a pair of Jangle Box stomp boxes I love. Those are based on
the compressor circuit built into my custom Rick model [Rickenbacker 370/12
McGuinn Limited Edition 12-string.] Once I’m in Adobe Audition with it,
I don’t really need to compress the Rick any further because the two Jangle
Box’s have already nicely compressed it. But I do like to hard limit the
track once I’m in Audition to really punch the Rick to the edges of the
RED: How do you record your vocals?
ROGER: I close mic all the time. I have a metal popscreen filter that I place
about 2-3 inches in front of the capsule. I sing about three inches in front
of the screen, so I’m about six inches from the mic. A metal popscreen
is easier to clean than a foam one because you can wash it with soap and water,
and I’ve never gotten any f’s or p’s through it, either.
RED: You’re a longtime computer recording fan. How do you route your microphones
into Adobe Audition?
ROGER: I have a variety of methods of getting guitars and vocals into the computer.
I bought Pro Tools just for the Mbox because Audition 2.0 now supports it and
I like the Mbox’s two Focusrite mic preamps for guitar. I also have an
Edirol UA-25, a two–channel XLR interface with phantom power, and a Lexicon
Omega which has eight inputs so I can track drums here. I’ve used laptops,
desktops, Macs, PCs, all sorts of ways to get my guitar and voice into Audition.
I don’t use plugins for processing mics at all, just for post-production
sweetening with reverbs, delays and other effects. The Omega has built-in compression,
and I believe the Edirol UA-25 does, too. But, beyond using the Jangle Box for
the 12-string electric, I pretty much just record flat into the computer and
deal with the sound after that. As long as there is a nice, clean signal into
the computer that isn’t clipping, then I’m happy.
RED: When have you tried out a weird microphone, signal path, or other recording
idea that seemed like it absolutely wouldn't work out, yet then it did?
ROGER: Well, actually, the whole jingle-jangle Rick sound was a beautiful accident
with The Byrds. It came about in the studio as we were taking it direct into
the board. I believe Ray Gerhardt had UREI compressors and oddly he placed two
of ‘em on my guitar track in series. He cranked the first compressor up
to 100% and ran that into the other. I think he did it that way because they
were recording mostly classical music and middle-of-the-road songs in those
days, and the studio was scared of rock ‘n’ roll—they actually
thought we might break their equipment! So he just limited my guitar that first
time to keep from pegging the meters and breaking their equipment, but it came
out sounding just great. The two compressors also gave the Rickenbacker that
RED: So your jingle-jangle guitar sound was “accidentally” created
out of this fear the studio had back then of rock ‘n’ roll?
ROGER: Yeah, I think so. From that day on we recorded the Rickenbacker that
way, and the jingle-jangle sound was born.
RED: Finally, Roger—and this may be an impossible question for you after
performing and recording music for over 40 years—can you isolate your
single most memorable moment?
ROGER: Well, this is very memorable, if not the most memorable one. It happened
in East Berlin in 1987 before the wall came down when I was opening up for Bob
Dylan and Tom Petty on their European tour. I went out there, just me and my
acoustic guitar, and played “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and the whole
place lit up with cigarette lighters—140,000 people, all with their lighters
lit and held over their heads. They all seemed to do it all at once, spontaneously,
right in the middle of the song and I got chills. It was a very rewarding moment.
They probably thought I was Dylan [laughs]. After the concert Dylan was talking
to Camilla [Roger’s wife and business partner] and he told her, “Roger
really saved the show—with the first song.” Actually, I have a picture
of that moment hanging right here on my wall.