Q&A Session with Neil Zaza - (Guitar god and producer Neil
Zaza on miking the high and low notes)
If you’ve seen and heard Neil Zaza play guitar, you remember
him. His recently released Rewind: The Definitive Collection 1992 – 2004
is a best-of collection of his hits over the years he’s rightfully proud
of. His tracks on his Cleveland hometown’s Q104-sponsored First Annual
Holiday Festival disc, as well, are a must listen in the Zaza camp.
“I’ve recently tracked drums with Journey and Vital Information
drummer Steve Smith for my new CD, and this week I leave for L.A. to record
with Michael Anthony [Van Halen bassist] and Edgar Winter on keys,” Neil
reports. A big Seymour Duncan, Arturia, and IK Multimedia supporter, Zaza’s
cool website also highlights his ‘Have you ever been Zaza’d?’
slogan, his new CD release Staring At The Sun, and his vast ranging Far East
tours on behalf of Cort Guitars and his NZS-1 Signature Guitar. During the last
Winter NAMM Show alone, Neil made 20 live product and concert appearances in
just four days.
RED: Let’s start by chatting about your overall approach to miking. How
does it change from genre-to-genre or artist-to-artist, or does it?
NEIL: I take a very simple and organic approach to miking. I try to make it
sound as good as it can in the room and choose a mic that will capture that
sound in that room. Sometimes I will use various mics on a source and then sub
it out in the board to make one sound that I will eventually record. The guitar
tones on Staring at the Sun were done this way, for example. I try and not let
it get too complex.
RED: Talk a bit about your audio chain and tracking with EQ, compression, and
such. Does it change depending on whom or what you're recording?
NEIL: Again, I try to keep it really simple. My philosophy is that I should
get it to "tape" as dry and unaffected as I can. I try and not use
a lot of compression or EQ. I will EQ if the situation calls for it, but if
you can place the right mic in the right spot just right, then there is really
no need for EQ.
RED: How do you choose which microphone you'll use in a given scenario? What
are the three most important criteria you look at when choosing a mic for a
NEIL: I think of the overall sound I want, spl levels, and bleed from other
RED: Using a track you recently recorded as an example, describe briefly how
you set up a mic to record with it (proximity, pattern, angling, mounting, popscreens,
signal routing, etc.)
NEIL: For my new CD, Steve Smith played some Indian instruments. On one of
those tunes he played a clay pot. We tried a few different mikings and finally
decided that we should mic it from the top, as it would pick up the very nice
"whoof" when he pressed into the top. It took a few times to get it
right, but we captured it really cleanly. [see photo.]
RED: Is there any difference in how you set up or signal chain a mic for your
digital audio recordings versus analog ones you do or used to do?
NEIL: I will set it up exactly the same: Mic into a tube preamp—a Universal
610—then an Avalon 737, Peavey VMP2, and into a tube compressor. From
there it goes into my Apogee converter to my audio interface.
RED: We like to ask about crazy sounds you've gotten in the studio. Maybe you
planned those, or maybe not? When have you tried a weird idea that seemed like
it absolutely wouldn't work, technically or creatively, but it did?
NEIL: On the song "Staring at the Sun" from my new CD, I had the
volume in the control room to ear-bleed levels to cut my guitar solo on it.
As I was waiting to start the overdub, I merely moved my wah pedal in tempo
with the rhythm of the music and accidentally got a high-pitched squeal that
was crazy wild! We kept it on the CD.
RED: And then, of course, we have to ask about the times that an experiment
actually didn't work out.
NEIL: I usually make them work in some way no matter what, even if the final
result is a bit different than imagined.
RED: Coming from a talented musician-guitarist-engineer like yourself, this
should be interesting: What would you say is the toughest thing that engineers
consistently have to deal with in the studio?
RED: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today, Neil. We like
to end with the one that's toughest to answer: What's your all-time most memorable
NEIL: Being one of the headliners at the Busan International Rock Festival
in Korea a few years ago. It was crazy!