Off the record
Each month, LA session ace and Supertramp guitarist Carl Verheyen offers well- chosen words of wisdom on life as a guitarist. This issue, it’s all about ‘ Frank’!
I’ve been a session player in Los Angeles for 34 years, and in that time I’ve played on hundreds of records, jingles and television and movie soundtracks. I’ve also been a member of the British pop- prog band Supertramp since 1985. But my most creative and soul- satisfying career has been the CDs and performances I’ve done with my own band since 1988.
Through those many years in the studio and countless recording sessions I learned a lot about recording guitars, and I always try to incorporate those techniques into my own CDs. With the current state of the art in guitar records being much more about tones and textures than about shredding, my goal is to make records that bear repeated listening. I have to admit that although I buy those shredder records, I tend to check them out once and file them.
It’s the records that have depth and musicality that I play again and again, and that’s the record I always try to make for myself. I start with a few basic principles. The first one I call the ‘ Frank Sinatra principle’.
If your parents played Sinatra at home and you can recall any of those recordings, they sounded great. The big band comes storming in, in all its swinging glory. You get the impression nothing could be bigger, but when Frank comes in singing, he’s even more glorious! Frank is on top, always. So I determine which guitar and subsequent tone is going to be ‘ Frank’ on my track. I then designate all other guitar sounds as
Playing all your parts out of one amp won’t yield a rich harmonic texture, so try 6V6s or EL84s in the chorus and EL34s for the solo.
supportive. So the big tone, whether it’s a Strat, an ES - 335, a Les Paul or any of my other guitars, is given the ‘ big mic’ing treatment’. Close mic’ed and distance mic’ed with some delay and the right amount of reverb usually gets it done.
The important thing is to make sure the listener can tell who Frank is! If I need power chords for the chorus, but I don’t want to overpower Frank, I’ll get two small amps like a Fender tweed Deluxe and an old Gibson Falcon amp, crank them up and double the part. Small amps and doubled parts sound huge when panned left and right, while still giving Frank some breathing room.
Another idea I pay attention to is the harmonic properties of tubes. Output tube types all stack up their harmonics differently, so using EL34s for the lead tone sounds great if you don’t also use it for the rhythm tones. Playing all your parts out of one amp won’t yield a rich harmonic texture; so try amps with 6V6s or EL84s in the chorus and use amps having EL34s for the solo or melody. Then you can switch it around for the next song. You can also combine pickup types by using different instruments. Single- coils, Filter’Trons and humbuckers combine beautifully in a track. And the P- 90s on my 1954 Gold Top are a ‘ secret weapon’ that brings character to any part. I realise that after 40 years of collecting great- sounding guitars and amps, I have an advantage here. But if you adhere to this one rule, you will, too. The rule is: If it sounds good, don’t sell it! There are many wonderful tones to be layered and savoured for many years after your recording is finished. Carl tours the UK in September and October– see www. carlverheyen. com for info.