Q&A October 2013, Part II
11/11/2013 (updated 11/11/2013)

If you listen on CD or iPod, everything ends up in digits, and it becomes a matter of how much warmth, or how real a picture, you can squeeze onto the format. On the 'Electric' record, we recorded everything 16 track analogue, but at some point we dumped it into ProTools, and personally I like the mixture of the two worlds. If I'm recording at home, I use tube mics but record digital, because it's easy, and I can't operate and service an analogue machine.

For you recording at home, the Tascam 4 track is a good place to start. An upgrade would be something with wider tape, but we're talking serious money, and more engineering skills. The mics are very important - after the signal source (i.e. you) the most important element in the recording chain. Get the best mics you can afford. If you go online to somewhere like Sweetwater, they offer a range of large diaphragm condenser mics all the way from $100 to about $7,000. The Shure SM27 is about $300, and the Shure KSM 32 is around $500. Both of these are rugged, expensive-sounding mics on a budget. They are good for vocals and any other application. If you can spend more, there are tube mics that start around $1,000.

In my studio at home, I use a Telefunken AR51 for vocals. This is a copy of the famous Telefunken 251. These go for about $2,000 (compared to about $15.000 for an original 251). On guitar I use a crossed pair of Neumann KM 184s (around $1,600 the pair). I also have a Royer ribbon mic, which is great on guitar amps, and a selection of other mics for percussion, room, etc.

Mic pre amps are also very important to achieving a warm, realistic sound. I like, and can budget for, Universal Audio gear. I use an LA610 on vocals, and a 4-710d for everything else. I record onto a Mac using Digital Performer software. I send it to Simon Tassano to mix!

As to the room you record in - that's a whole science unto itself. Are you recording drums? How big is the room? Does the room have unpleasant overtones? I can't answer this question here. If you have a friend with studio experience or audio knowledge, bring them to your recording space and get an assessment. Acoustic treatment can be inexpensive.


Re: BBC centre gig

Hi there. Trying to find out if and when the bbc television centre concert - the closing down one - with Kami and Pete there as well - will be released at all? Thanks, Bill Slack

This is owned by the BBC, and as I have mentioned frequently in this column, it's hard to tell what they are going to do and when. I have no power over this.

Richard: First of all, thanks for another fantastic performance at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. The billing had me expecting a solo show, which I'd certainly have enjoyed, so it was an unexpected thrill when Taras and Michael came out and started setting up. Great set: "For Shame of Doing Wrong" is a longtime favorite, and the pairing of "Can't Win" and "1952 VBL" was an amazing back-to-back distillation of the range of your playing. I suppose the gorgeous weather helped, but that was certainly among the most satisfying shows of yours that I've seen.

(Video Webcast Archive - Hardly Strictly Bluegrass!)

Secondly, a question. Of all the fine live recordings you've released over the years, the one I find myself coming back to more than any other is "Live From Austin TX." I suspect it's the instrumentation: I don't know if I've ever seen/heard you play amplified acoustic before; it made a very different blend with Danny's bass, and makes that album (and video) stand out for me.

So I was wondering how you'd made that particular guitar choice, and if you've done it often? Thanks, Brian Burns

All I was using for the ACL show was a Lowden acoustic with my normal stage set-up, i.e. Sunrise p/u and internal condenser mic. This went direct to the recording medium/PA, that is to say not through an amp. This is what everybody does with 'acoustic' guitars these days. Most tracks were played on electric guitar. Perhaps the difference you perceived was the trio format with acoustic bass - that does give the sound a lot of space.