ses­sion shenani­gans

The stu­dio gui­tarist’s guide to hap­pi­ness and per­sonal ful­fil­ment, as re­lated to us by Mitch Dal­ton This month: “What’s a record­ing ses­sion, Daddy?”

Guitar Techniques - - INTRO -

Ja­son - a tal­ented, in­tel­li­gent, well-mean­ing in­di­vid­ual who should know bet­ter re­cently sug­gested a num­ber of top­ics that I might like to dis­cuss in fu­ture ar­ti­cles within this au­thor­i­ta­tive jour­nal. In­deed, I found my­self im­pressed both by the breadth of his imag­i­na­tion and the re­sult­ing length of po­ten­tial monthly me­an­der­ings from which to sweep pick.

One re­quest in par­tic­u­lar caught my eye, if not my un­bri­dled en­thu­si­asm. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s a per­fectly rea­son­able topic - stu­dio ses­sions and how to sur­vive them. Fact is, this par­tic­u­lar chest­nut can be filed along­side ques­tions like “How long is a piece of string?”, “How do you get a lute to stay in tune?” or even, “How many Mex­i­cans does it take to pay for a wall?”

Nev­er­the­less, af­ter hours of al­ter­nat­ing head scratch­ing and navel gaz­ing, I have fi­nally come up with this handy cut-out-and-weep guide: my very own Ses­sion Suc­cess For Dum­mies, if you will. Read on and money, women and fame will be yours as surely as Gla­dys Knight fol­lows Marvin Gaye*. (*Quan­ti­ties strictly lim­ited. Terms and Con­di­tions ap­ply.)

The bru­tal re­al­ity is that the idea of a one-size-fits-all de­scrip­tion of a record­ing ses­sion is but an il­lu­sion in it­self. And there­fore the skill set re­quired to cope with the prob­lems (er, sorry....”chal­lenges”) that may be lobbed in your di­rec­tion will vary ac­cord­ingly. But be­fore I clas­sify these cat­e­gories like a lat­ter-day Dig­i­tal Darwin, there are a num­ber of com­mon threads that unite all ac­tiv­i­ties that fea­ture the use of a malev­o­lent mi­cro­phone placed un­for­giv­ingly ad­ja­cent to your amp or axe. I would sug­gest that this recipe for tasty tone re­quires the following in­gre­di­ents.

In pass­ing, you may no­tice that I’m a sim­ple kinda guy. And sim­ple is good. As is min­i­mal. Trust me. First off, you’ll need cou­ple of elec­tric gui­tars. One should be a Fender Stra­to­caster-based in­stru­ment, or heaven for­fend, a Strat it­self. There are ap­prox­i­mately one zil­lion dif­fer­ent mod­els out there vy­ing for the af­fec­tions of your plat­inum en­riched card, but all you re­quire is one that cov­ers the char­ac­ter­is­tic sounds that we know and love at the flick of a five-po­si­tion pickup se­lec­tor switch.

Gui­tar two could then be equipped with hum­buck­ing pick­ups for heav­ier rock-based noises and act as a com­ple­ment to Gui­tar One. Think Gib­son or equiv­a­lent, Les Paul, 335 etc. The lat­ter is an in­ter­est­ing choice be­cause it’s em­i­nently ca­pa­ble of fit­ting into jazz based ar­range­ments and re­duces the ne­ces­sity to ac­quire (and schlep) yet an­other ded­i­cated in­stru­ment.

As for ef­fects, you are free to build your­self a pedal con­do­minium with enough on­board tech to fill a space shut­tle and fire it to Jupiter, if that’s your 5p bag.

Just bear in mind that on fre­quent oc­ca­sions you’ll need to pro­duce that killer sound that lurks some­where within your rig (or head) on de­mand and not on Tues­day. Time is money. And the money is theirs, who­ever they are. Re­mem­ber also that for 95% of the time, the bot­tom line of pedal pro­to­col is a de­cent over­drive, a warm cho­rus, a dig­i­tal de­lay, a vol­ume pedal and an ana­logue foot with which to er...boot them. If you have a com­pres­sor and a wah pedal in the vicin­ity, so much the bet­ter. And if you hap­pen to be plugged into a Fender amp, there’s your re­verb and tremolo, built in. No mat­ter that Leo de­cided to dis­guise the lat­ter as ‘Vi­brato’. What did the guy know about sound, any­way?

Next, you’ll need posh steel­string acous­tic and, ide­ally, Span­ish ny­lon-string gui­tars. Even if you have care­lessly ne­glected to ac­quire a ser­vice­able fin­ger-style tech­nique along life’s Rock road, now is a very good time to start. Four joy­ous hours a day for about a year should crack it. Mean­while, use a pick and at­tempt to sim­u­late a suit­ably mel­liflu­ous tone for those sen­si­tive gut-string wrench­ing dit­ties that lie in wait, in­evitably at the very end of the ses­sion.

It goes with­out say­ing (so I’ll say it) that your in­stru­ments must be set up pro­fes­sion­ally. Buzzes, rat­tles and squeaks ren­der your per­for­mance un­us­able and your fu­ture em­ploy­ment prospects neg­li­gi­ble. As do in­to­na­tion is­sues.

And valves that go bang on the night. And jack ca­bles that fail the in­stant the light glows red. Per­son­ally, I am per­fectly ca­pa­ble of mak­ing my own mis­takes with­out hav­ing my gear do it for me. So, best to pro up, eh? And thus pre­pared, we walk a tad ner­vously through the stu­dio door in next month’s grip­ping se­quel...

the re­al­ity is that a one size Fits all de­scrip­tion oF a record­ing ses­sion is but an il­lu­sion

Mitch: on the ba­sics for be­com­ing a fine ses­sion mu­si­cian

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