Spotlight On Electric Guitar with Ross Hogarth (R.E.M., Jewel,
Motley Crue, The Black Crows)
Blue: Is there an absolute starting point you go to every time
you begin the process of achieving a good electric guitar sound? What's the
most important element in getting a good electric guitar sound overall?
Ross: As is the key to almost all recording, the sound starts at the source.
No amount of alchemy in the world can turn feathers into chicken…or as
the old wise sage says, “You cannot polish a turd.” I make sure
that the source is what is intended by actually putting in my earplugs and going
out to the amp and making sure it sounds the way we want it to. I then make
sure the microphone placement is exactly where I want it to be on the speaker
cone. I am very detailed, I use a flashlight and check distance and such very
carefully on every mic.
As far as mic placement on the speaker, you will find that where the cone or
dome meets the paper is the approximate magic spot for a dynamic mic. Since
the dome of the speaker is the brightest spot, in general you do not want to
mic straight-on with a dynamic mic since the sound gets very clacky and bright
and not musical. On the other hand, with a ribbon or even a large diaphragm
condenser, these mics seem to like the brightness since it balances the proximity
effect and creates a huge, bright sound. So I tend to put the ribbon in approximately
the middle of the speaker -- give-or-take depending on the actual sound it is
representing -- with the dynamic mics on either side pointing at that magic
Blue: What kinds of things do you listen for in the microphones you choose for
recording electric guitar? Maybe give us a couple examples of different sounds
you might be going for on different-sounding parts of a song (i.e. maybe soft
verses vs. loud choruses?)
Ross: I love to make a guitar sound like I made the amp sound. Once I am happy
with the source, I want a mic or blend that allows me not to have to overly
EQ the sound to translate.
I have found that the combination of a ribbon mic blended with a dynamic mic
gives me a very realistic picture. I do use sometimes use one large diaphragm
mic from time to time on a small combo amp or place it back a bit for a roomier
sound, but in general the most consistently tried and true combination of mics
is as mentioned above. I often use a stereo mic back a bit from the close mics
and print this on separate tracks for sounds that may want some natural room
Blue: What's the most unconventional technique you've ever used to get the
exact electric guitar sound you were looking for?
Ross: I do not consider any technique really unconventional since just about
anything goes. One of the cooler sounds I’ve gotten, though, is using
one of those cigarette pack amps that has the little 1- or 2-inch speaker in
it and miking that for a crazy little distortion sound.
Blue: Do you record electric guitars dry without compression? Describe your
Ross: I do not record heavy sounds with compression since these are already
very compressed by the amp. If I am, it’s because of some radical anomaly
in the sound. I do often use some compression on cleaner sounds if I feel it
helps in the overall sonic vision.
Again, I don’t have one rule and take it on a case by case basis.
Blue: Is there a scenario where you'd still make a concentrated effort to record
guitar to analog tape or is there no sound that can't be achieved digitally?
Ross: I am now making my records in ProTools. I don’t discount the wonderfulness
of tape, but ProTools is my record medium for all the right reasons. Since this
is the case, I have to make sure my sounds are what I want them to be going
in. I make use of great mics and great pre-amps, as I always have.
Blue: How does your approach change when you record lead guitar versus rhythm
Ross: Lead guitar is a sound that will take the place of the lead vocal for
the moment it plays. Because this is the case, the sound has to carry the track
at that moment instead of being a team player in a supporting role. This means
that anything goes as far as size and space.
Blue: Tell us about one of your most memorable experiences recording electric
Ross: I have been very fortunate in my career to have the opportunity to record
some amazingly talented guitar players. Whether it’s Larry Carlton, Warren
Haynes, David Lindley or any of the cool young players, one thing is always
the same: a great sounding instrument plugged into a great amp is by far the
easiest way to make an engineer look good. I believe that good care and feeding
of the source will always make the job of the engineer and the microphone much
From engineering REM’s “Life’s Rich Pageant” and Motley
Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” early in his career to recently
producing Ziggy Marley, Melissa Etheridge and the Doobie Brothers, Ross Hogarth
has “done it all” over his 20-plus-year career as a producer, engineer
and mixer. His motto in the studio? “Whatever works!”