Session Files: GUITARED OUT


I had forgotten this feeling, but it is actually possible, even for a guitardo like me. On a recent album project I spent eleven hours in a recording session overdubbing parts to several songs. I got so absorbed that I didnít eat and didnít even take tme to grab a cup of coffee. That night after I got home and put all the gear away, I didn't want to look at a guitar, post on a guitar forum, or even think of guitar. In fact, I was so exhausted that whatever evening was left turned into a slow motion tumble into bed. The next morning I woke up before five AM with a massive caffeine headache and had to go downstairs for some Ibuprofen which triggered the whole "time for the dogs to get up, go outside, and be fed" syndrome. Afterwards I put on a pot of coffee, pulled out the laptop, set up at the breakfast room table, and relaxed while I waited for the meds and coffee to kick in.

I'm glad to say I discovered that the guitared-out thing had dissolved into the blue overnight. I had forgotten how rough it is to do the long sessions where you are combining putting your heart into the music to get the passion as a musician with putting your whole analytical head into the project as a producer to exact the precision necessary for recorded material. Most of the material I was doing was up-front, in your face, can't-hide-in-the-background, lead work. Some of this material was extremely emotional art-rock type music. Genning up the passion to improvise emotive lead material while dialing in the precision as the producer was exhausting, especially after fifteen takes. Some highlights:

Obscure references from history: I was asked to put down relatively clean electric rhythm guitar, slowly arpeggiating the chords over the intro to a simple, slow song. I dug in my bag of tone tricks and decided to try a Strat with echo through a gently pushed Fender amp, through Leslie rotating speaker. It turned out sounding KILLER and fit the song perfectly. In fact, in my humble estimation, it kind of took over and "made" the song. After writing the part I was overdubbing it and concentrating on getting the timing right, when I suddenly "had a moment." I looked up at the control room monitor speakers and thought, "Whoa! I am channeling Joe Walsh's electric tone and playing attitude from the James Gang's Rides Again album." And it was true. During that period, Joe was so ON that he became a little controversial in the band because he would come into a session for another band member's song and just STEAL it with a killer tone and playing. Thanks to Joe, I may have just pulled that off myself.

The Greek word " 'eureka" means "I found it:" I was overdubbing lap steel leads for an art rock song when I had another little "moment." The signal chain was: lap steel into volume pedal, echo, Fender Deluxe, and reverb. Once again, I had written the part and it took several takes to bring passion and precision together. Once it was recorded, I thought, "what if I electronically doubled the part?" I dropped in a Waves doubler plug-in with the stock settings and BAM! there was an interesting, gently warbling sound I had heard several times before from Trevor Rabin. I had always thought, "How did he DO that?" Now I know.

File it under the wrong tool for the job: I approached a particular lead guitar part and thought, "you know, I should have brought a Gibson with me for this one (but didn't)." Well, I've never been one to cry over spilled milk so I just dived in with another guitar. I tried multiple times to nail the feeling of this song and just couldn't get it. Something was preventing the old subconscious, mindless process of improvising a solo in this case. And then it hit me: I had too many ďout-of-comfort-zoneĒ factors going at once. My home scale is 24.75" Gibson but I play whatever is needed. My home string spacing is also Gibson spacing and I'm used to their fret board radius as well. I am also used to medium-thickness Gibson necks and two pickup guitars with a space between the pickups and lots of room between the strings and the body. I was playing a G&L Strat clone with a 25.5" scale, 1 - 5/8ths width at nut, 12" radius, shallow depth, strings flat to the body, and the third pick up right where I normally pick. Apparently there was just one too many comfort factors for me to adjust to for me to be able to devote enough subconscious brain power to soloing. The same guitar was perfect for the Leslie sounds I mentioned above but just didn't work for this job. Had I taken a classic Strat that had more classic string spacing, neck thickness, etc., I would probably have been fine. I dropped the solo off my to-do list for the day and moved on. Thank goodness there is more time for overdubs.

File it under the right tool for the job: Going into this session I knew I would probably be adding some extremely subtle eBow parts to a really spacey intro for one song. While deciding what guitars to take to with me I remembered seeing a video of the sessions for David Gilmour's On An Island album where he was standing in front of a mic with a Baby Taylor and an eBow doing some very subtle effects. On a lark, I added the Baby into the pile of gear and tried it on the song. Sure enough, while it was one of the harder guitars to eBow that I've used, the effect was very subtle and delicate and just right for the song. I threw the notes I needed onto "tape" in a row and edited the parts together to create chord changes.

And finally, file it under overload: The impact of wearing the producer, engineer, and musician hats is far more than the sum of its parts. It takes a lot of effort to manage all the tasks at once. The natural tendency is to hedge on one or more and focus on the others. When that isn't an option, when you've got to get good tracks in all regards, it is very mentally fatiguing.

And now I remember why I don't do it all that often!