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Recreating The Beatles Tones with Clay Blair at Boulevard Recording

Transcript
Warren: Hello, it’s Warren Huart here. Hope you’re doing marvelously well.

I am standing outside Boulevard Recording. Those of you who watched the interview I did with Clay Blair, the owner of Boulevard, will know that this is the old producer’s workshop.

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Alright, why are we here? Well, I like being here anyway, because this is where they finished up The Wall, which is one of my favorite albums, Shelley Yakus worked out of here, Bob Ezrin of course worked out of here, this is a wonderful studio, but what I love that we’re going to do is Clay, whether you know it or not, is a huge Beatles fan.

So we’ve got Adam Fury here from Chandler who’s brought us down some of the Abbey Road mic pres, and Clay has setup a drum kit, and we’re going to reproduce the tones from The Beatles. We’re actually going to focus on Come Together.

Now, just so you know, there’s no way Jose we would be able to play The Beatles track within this video. So you’re just going to hear us getting the tones, you’re going to hear the parts and stuff, but of course, if we played any of the stuff in it, we’d get it taken down. Which is quite alright, it’s The Beatles copyright, it’s not ours. We totally understand, but we’re going to talk about how its recorded, the miking techniques, the mics for Come Together, how it was done, and all kinds of fun stuff.

Oh, and shout out to JJ Blair who lent us a couple of D19s.

Alright, let’s go in and check it out.

We got locked out!

Alright, here we are. How are you my friend, are you good?

Clay: I’m great man, how are you?

Warren: I’m good, I’m good. So here’s the kit miked up. I have dumb questions.

Clay: Yup.

Warren: So is that how they did it? They put the mics underneath?

Clay: Yeah.

Warren: On the toms, obviously.

Clay: I think from Sargent Pepper’s — until Abbey Road, with the exception of Glynn Johns doing Let it Be, Geoff Emerick’s favorite tom miking technique was underneath.

Warren: I never knew that!

Clay: Yeah.

Warren: So these are D19s underneath?

Clay: Yeah. D19s under the toms, overhead, single overhead, never a stereo overhead, and on the hi-hats.

Warren: Wow. So overhead, D19, hi-hat, D19, toms underneath, and then what do we have on the kick there?

Clay: That’s a D20.

Warren: A D20?

Clay: And under the snare is usually a KM56, but we have a KM54. It’s not terribly — well, it is terribly different on some things, but underneath the snare, it works.

Warren: Ah. I actually have the KM56 which we didn’t bring with us. We could’ve brought my KM56. We’ll survive with the KM54.

Clay: Yeah, we’ll survive. Yeah

Warren: That’s amazing. Was there any room mics?

Clay: No. The only room mics are bleed, really. You can hear, especially on Abbey Road, because a lot of the tracks were eight-track, you can hear the drums all over the guitar amps, all over the bass amp, there was bleed everywhere. So they would all track together and bleed, and even scratch vocals bleeding into the drums on certain songs, but they were really good about making the bleed workable and useable.

Warren: That’s fantastic.

Clay: Yeah.

Warren: Well, can we go look at the mic pres?

Clay: Yeah. Let’s do it.

Warren: And this is — it would’ve been baffled like this?

Clay: Kind of. They had a similar thing. They had a baffle that would’ve come even farther from the side. They were pretty close together, actually. The bass rig, if this is studio — they were in Studio 3 for a lot of Abbey Road, but the bass amp would’ve been about here, baffled off. The guitar amps would’ve been a little farther out, baffled off with 67s.

So we kind of did that in this area. That’s actually an M269, but they would’ve used 67s on the guitar amps always with Geoff, and I’m trying to think when they started using 67s. It probably was Revolver. Then the bass, the Bassman, this is pretty close to what McCartney would’ve used on Abbey Road with a C12, which was Geoff Emerick’s favorite.

Early on, they used the D20 a lot. Norman Smith loved the D20 on bass. But also at this point, since Revolver, always taking a DI. Not always using it, but sometimes using it, sometimes blending it, but a lot of Abbey Road is amp. And in fact, this is the bigger cab. This is a 2 15, I’m pretty sure Paul had a 2 12, which if you listen to Came in Through the Bathroom Window, the bass sounds like a fuzz because of the speaker breakup.

Warren: Oh, wow. That’s amazing. Right, okay, well now let’s go and look at the pres. This is fantastic. That’s a heck of an expensive microphone to put on a bass.

Clay: Yeah, and leave the dynamic mics on the drums.

Warren: Yeah, it’s completely different to the way we think about it now.

Clay: Yeah, but with the exception of Glynn Johns. He did his usual pair of 67s, and a top, and I think he used a top snare mic. He might’ve been the only engineer that did. I might be completely wrong, but…

Warren: Okay, so what have we got going on here? What’s going into what?

Clay: So everything is going through the REDD. So these are the REDD 47 Chandler pres, which are a copy of what was in the consoles, the tube consoles Abbey Road. So we’ve got two here, two here. These are the RS124s, which are…

Warren: The modified Altechs.

Clay: Yeah, those are the Altechs that were Geoff Emerick’s choice for bass, piano, acoustic, all kinds of things. Then we have another pair of them here. So we have six mics actually going right now, all through the tubes.

Warren: Wow, gorgeous.

Clay: Yeah. No compression on the drums right now, so what he would do, literally, is record — I think some of the tracks on Abbey Road, it changed — the album Abbey Road.

So on the Come Together, for instance, and a few other songs they did in Studio 3, they still had the old four-track tape machines, so drums are always summed to one track with a Fairchild on it. So all seven of those mics would be summed down to one track when they took it, with a Fairchild, and that’s it.

Warren: That’s crazy. That’s crazy. So there’s no panning on those toms?

Clay: Not in the stuff they did in Studio 3. When they moved to Studio 2 to do parts of Abbey Road, I think Octopus’ Garden, a few other songs, I think there are some panned toms. Yeah.

Warren: That’s crazy. And it sounds so massive considering it’s just mono.

Clay: Mono, yeah. I mean, there’s also bleed in the amps. There’s little bits of bleed in those amps, and it does make a difference.

Warren: That’s amazing. That’s amazing.

[drums]

On Come Together, he’s using the Rickenbacker, because you can hear the sustain is so much longer. Actually, you can hear him mute it with his hands, but the Rick, that’s the wrong color, but same bass. The 4001.

Warren: That’s really gorgeous.

Clay: Through a Bassman, and the Bassman, you don’t — I think the rule is with putting a bass through a Bassman is you turn it up as loud as you can without overdriving, because it doesn’t take much.

Warren: Oh, I see.

Clay: Yeah, they’re very — they’re the worst bass amps in the world, even though they’re called Bassman.

Warren: Well, the Bassman 410 of course is the very first Marshall amp.

Clay: That’s right, that’s right.

Warren: First famous guitar amp in the world, a Bassman 410.

Clay: There was a Showman around too, but the Bassman is kind of the vibe, and I mean, honestly, it’s kind of — it looks like the volume is a little above 2, and the treble is about 4.5, and the bass is 3. It’s hard to turn the bass up too loud unless you have modern speakers, but the amp too, the amp going in, I’m not sure — whatever the preamp circuit was is super sensitive, so you might have better luck going into the second input for a bit of a lower signal, and those big JBL 15 inch speakers in there, which are phenomenal.

[bass]

Warren: Alright Adam, give us some detailed overview of these.

Adam: Alright, so let’s start with the REDD 47s. So the Chandler Limited, EMI, Abbey Roads Studios, REDD 47s. We actually have six here today. A little help from some of our friends, and some of our own stash here, plus Boulevard has their own stash.

The EMI REDD 47 originally designed in 1958, actually at the same time they were designing…

Warren: Oh, wow.

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Adam: Yeah, yeah.

Warren: I didn’t realize it was that old, I thought they came later.

Adam: Yeah, actually, 1958, they started concepting the REDD 51 console, which would’ve been the last of their two consoles. Before that, you had the REDD 37, the REDD 17, and those relied on the Siemens Telefunken V72s. They were expensive, and when 1958 rolled around and they started to design that REDD 51 console, they decided, “You know what, we have a better idea of what we think the mic pre should sound like anyway.” The line amplifier, that’s what they were, they were all purpose line amplifiers for the consoles, and they designed the REDD 47. And the REDD 47 replaced the V72s for the purpose of the REDD 51 console. So it was purpose built for that console, actually, and they were. They were the all purpose line amplifier whether you were amplifying microphones, or sending signal across the board, that’s what they had. They had a ton of these stuffed inside of the console.

The first REDD 51 console with the REDD 47s would have been built in 1959, and then there were only 3 ever made, however, as pertains to the sound that we’re talking about today with regards to The Beatles and all of that, they didn’t get ahold of the REDD 51 console until late 63, really beginning of 64, so all of The Beatles records that are cataloged from 64 to 68, before they went transistor would’ve been this sound. It’s definitely different that the V72, it’s punchier, it’s definitely more aggressive overall.

So that’s that.

Warren: I was going to push your punchier, because one person’s punchier is another person’s…

Adam: Is another person’s, yeah, yeah, but compared to the V72 which were a little more mellow, these were a little more aggressive.

Warren: I have a pair of V72s, and I find them soft.

Adam: Right.

Warren: They’re great on bass guitars when you just want, [imitates bass]

Adam: These are the opposite of that, right? Think Beatles revolution, the electric guitar was one of these overdriving a second one with the guitar going direct, no amplifier.

Warren: And before I get annihilated, I like V72s. They’re really nice on vocals when you want that warmth, for want of a better word, they’re great.

Clay: Well they also, like that V72 that they were using at that point had an extra 14 or 16, somebody will correct me, dB of gain, the esses, which are impossible to find.

Warren: Right.

Clay: Which were slightly different because of the gain, but I don’t know if that made them less soft, I don’t know.

Adam: So these had it different, apart from the tubes being the same between the circuits, it was a completely different circuit, so they were unique. You definitely hear that when you go from the records 63 and earlier, and then go 64 through 68, Sargent Pepper and all of that, there’s definitely a difference in sound.

So that’s those guys, then of course we have two here, and another one over there in that rack of the Chandler Limited EMI, Abbey Road Studios RS124s. The sort of holy grail compressors, it was kept a secret for so long.

Warren: The heavily modded Altech, yeah?

Adam: Yeah, I mean, they had I think gotten ahold of about 12 of the Altechs, the 436Bs I believe, and they just were not controllable, they weren’t conducive to what they were doing at Abbey Road Studios, at EMI Studios, and so they basically ripped them apart, and from the ground up, they came up with these guys. Of course, they were using the transformers and that kind of stuff, and the same tubes, but they came up with their own idea, and that was the RS124. So that would’ve been in 1959 is when that project started, and they were deployed in Abbey Road studios in 1960. So beginning in 1960, so pre-dating The Beatles, and all the way through The Beatles run, the whole of the 60’s period, they quickly became the favorite compressor at the studio.

They pre-dated the Fairchilds, they were just — they were used everywhere from tracking, to rhythm busses, to mastering, super incredible units, and actually in these, I think I’ve covered this in other places, but these red numbers here, the serial numbers of the three historic favorite ones, they still have and use at Abbey Road Studios. They were all different from each other, they had fixed attacks, and some other quirks that were different — different again from the schematics to a degree, and then also there were hand written notes that weren’t in the schematics, and once we got ahold of that and figured all of that out, Wade, our founder and chief designer, he decided, “You know what, let’s put all three in one, and let’s add some extra attack points, and things that are more appropriate for the modern setup,” including Super Fuse, which that’s modern.

Warren: I love, and you keep pointing this out, and I had a guy who worked at Abbey Road in the 70’s point this out to me, and quite a few other people, that it wasn’t Abbey Road until the 70’s. It was EMI Studios. You keep saying EMI Studios, Abbey Road, which is correct.

Clay: That’s fun, I didn’t know that.

Adam: And actually, if you’ve ever watched the RS124 video we did, it actually shows a picture and it says EMI Studios on the building, it starts out that way, but it’s pretty amazing, obviously.

Warren: They figured out, they’re like, “Wait there, we can cash in on this. We’re at Abbey Road, and there’s a really famous album called, what was it again, Abbey Road!”

Adam: And now they’re the most famous studio in the world. So yeah, that’s what these guys are, they’re the definitive EMI RS124s being made today, along with the REDD 47s.

Clay: What was Geoff Emerick’s favorite use on those? You were telling me about some of the engineer’s favorite uses for those.

Adam: Well, I understand and know that pretty immediately they gravitated toward them as soon as they got them, and of course they were tracking with them, and Geoff Emerick loved using them on bass, right? I mean, multiple times, he would run Paul McCartney through them. I think tracking through it then backing off the tape some more times, and then of course, rhythm busses, and certainly mastering.

Warren: Wonderful.

Adam: Very, very special units.

Warren: Excellent. Well, we’re going to listen to them.

Adam: There you go.

Warren: So let’s talk about the guitar. Now, you were actually saying it’s a 60 Les Paul you think. Is that correct?

Clay: So Clapton gave Harrison a red Les Paul during the White Album, and he was seen using it on Abbey Road quite a bit.

Warren: Great.

Clay: He also had a red SG, I think his was a 64, this is a 65, so if you want to go for that sound, you have to go through a 60s sounding Les Paul or an SG through a Fender amp. They were using drip Silver Face Twin Reverbs, which are basically black face reverbs.

This is a Princeton, but crazy enough, it sounds dead on. For some reason, when you put a humbucker through a black Fender amp like that, it just has this cool, kind of growly thing because of the pickups, and it’s beautiful.

Warren: I like Princetons and Deluxes in particular. Those amps I think are the most useable studio Fender amps for me anyway.

I’ve never personally had a good time with Twins, unless you want that super loud clean, or I heard — and correct me if I’m wrong — Steve Jones used to take a Twin and just put it up to ten across the board. [laughs] But that’s the sound of the Sex Pistols.

But we’re talking about The Beatles. So any particular settings?

Clay: You know, I kind of turn the bass up a little bit to compensate for it being a smaller amp, compared to a Twin, but it’s between 4 and 5, that’s kind of the sweetspot with humbuckers. No reverb for a rhythm part, but also reverb, I feel like they use a lot of chamber on those records, not as much on the amp with the reverb, but kind of barely breaking up, then on some chords, it just breaks up a bit. That’s kind of the vibe is right in between.

[guitar]

Warren: Alright, so you have a couple of extra inputs going here.

Clay: Right. So one thing I’ve learned kind of from these records that I loved so much was the bleed, and if you’re going for a sound like that 60’s — Anybody. Anybody at Abbey Road, The Stones, and kind of great 60’s band that all played together, it’s kind of tough to do that if you’re not playing it together. So a lot of guys that are maybe doing this on their own or doing this at home want to recreate something that’s similar, so what I do is I set all the mics up so my bass amp is going, my guitar amp is going, and so when I record the drums, I turn those mics on, so they get the bleed and vice versa.

So when I do the guitar and the bass, the drums are going to go. I mean, you’re going to have a lot of tracks, but you can find a way to make it work together, and you’re going to have that bleed. That’s kind of a lost art really. You’re kind of cheating it this way, but you still get the bleed. You know?

Warren: Absolutely. Shelley is all about that.

Clay: Oh, totally.

Warren: Shelley likes tracking everything in one room with everybody playing at low levels, and monitoring vocals in the room through monitors.

Clay: Oh yeah, no, that’s great. Well, all of the Motown stuff, they didn’t have headphones. That’s just how they did it.

Warren: Alright, so talk a little bit about the plugins that you’ve got going here.

Clay: I love this Waves J37 tape plugin. Just for saturation, it’s the best — it’s, in my opinion, the best studio tape delay, and the cool thing is if we’re at 15 ips here, so 15 ips is selected, you have 7.5 and 15. It’s going to do 15 ips echo by default, so you can sync it to your tempo, but the fact that you are going to be starting off right where — if you were going to do a tape echo in the 60’s or 70’s, it would be 15 ips. That’s the speed. Unless you’d figured out a way to speed the machine down and speed it up.

But this saturation thing is awesome. You can do — so if you get a bunch of them going all at once, that’s where you really here it. So you can do modeled tracks, so this gives you kind of a different version, or channel of a machine, you have tape formulas, and they do sound different. I prefer these early two, which I believe the 888 was the really early stuff that they used through the mid-60’s, then the 811 on into the late 60’s, then the 875 was the more modern tape they used, the last rendition of the EMI tape.

But I put this on everything, especially if I’m doing drums, I’m doing a band and I’m really wanting to go for this kind of sound, these things all together — and it has this great feature that locks your levels, so you can drive the tape machine, and it won’t affect your output, so it simultaneously changes your input and output.

You can choose your bias. I love it. And also, so here’s the REDD desk. So Adam was talking about the REDD 47 preamps, and this is the desk that came from, and Waves has done a nice job of modeling the desk, and you can choose between the classic — this right here, this EQ, they would actually have to take the cartridge out of the console and replace it. It was a whole different unit.

Warren: Classic being Classical.

Clay: Classical, exactly. It pops up. So Classical, basically, this is probably somewhere up around 10kHz or so, it’s a nice shelf, and the low is probably somewhere a bit lower, like 60 maybe.

I think Pop is — this is probably around 5kHz. It’s a high mid kind of low/high thing, and I think the lows may be around 100, but one fun thing to do if you’re at home and you’re experimenting with these plugins is to limit yourself to these plugins and try to get a mix out of using basically treble and bass. [laughs] And it’s fun!

Warren: Love it.

Clay: Then also, this is kind of emulating what they would’ve done at Abbey Roads. So you have all of these drum tracks going down to one mono channel. So this mono channel here, Geoff Emerick liked the Fairchild. Now, this is a UAD 660, which I’m very fond of. Especially because you can absolutely wham the thing, and you can — you have the mix knob, so that’s something you really can’t get.

Warren: You can’t do parallel on a real compressor. I mean obviously now, people are designing it, but back in those days, yeah.

Clay: This thing is just killer, and you know, if you hear a lot of those 60’s recordings that came out of Abbey Road, the kick drum sets it off. So the kick drum is making it move, and that’s why you hear that cymbal, [mimics cymbal], because it’s returning with the cymbal. Kick sets it off, and the cymbal is coming back, and it’s that big kind of woosh thing.

So what they also would’ve done in this era if we’re talking about the late 60’s is they would’ve been on the TG desk, which this is the 12345, which is an awesome plugin that emulates the TG desk, which had an onboard compressor/limiter, an EQ, and presence, and the really nice thing about this is you can choose your routing, so you can solo something and click through EQ first, EQ last, presence first, dynamics, and it is very different for some things, but these are great plugins. I think the J37, I would say this is a desert island plugin. If they go on sale, if you see Waves seeing them, buy them.

Warren: I’ve never used them, so now I want to.

Clay: They’re fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

Warren: Okay, so go to the link below, and you can go and watch the final recording of this that Clay is going to play and sing everything on.

So go and check that out, it’s going to be all of the settings, everything we talked about, you can make up your own minds, you can have a discussion there.

We can’t put it on YouTube, and we totally respect it, obviously, it’s a Beatles track, and we don’t want them to pull it down, and I’m respectful of that. It’s their music, it’s not ours.

So you can go and click below and go and watch it. Thank you ever so much, I really appreciate it. Have a marvelous time, of course, leave comments and questions below here, and go and check out the full recording.

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Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at producelikeapro.com.

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