Friday, July 30, 2010

die without fear, die with rust

Soon I’ll post testimonials from a few of the underground’s heaviest maniacs about the construction of their classic left-field guitar tones. In preparation, I will now describe the components of my tone on the demo recordings of Ferrous Oxide and Hail Plankton.

First comes an Ibanez RX -170 deformed by 15 years of harsh environmental conditions on land, and especially on sea, where the wet salt air has caused massive corrosion. Since the day I picked it up it’s had a peculiar internal echo, as if from a tiny resonating chamber. The pickups are fucked: a couple hair’s breadths past the point of being fucked up just right. It takes a lot of frequency boost via Boss 7-band EQ to make up for the lack of bass in the incredibly rusty, disintegrating bridge pickup, but the pickup has also acquired a strange, almost flange-y brightness that adds to its bite. Meanwhile, switching to the other pickups induces mammoth fuzz tone.

People who know guitars better than me have remarked that mine sounds like a telecaster. I certainly appreciate its “twang,” as well as the extremely sensitive tremolo bridge. I exploit the loose responsiveness of the bridge all the time to add vibrato to individual notes, to create atmospheric effects with open strings, and especially to “shake” entire chords. Microtonal thrash; it’s the way of the new world…HYUH!

99% of my recording is direct-in. First in line is a Boss noise suppressor, then Boss GE-7 equalizer. Next comes a 2-in-1 tube preamp/tube compressor made by ART. This was a semi-futile purchase to compensate for the tinny awfulness of my portapotty – er, studio’s built-in effects.

I suspect that my ideal tone would simply be an enriched version of what I hear when playing the guitar unplugged. The ART unit helps. Striking a balance between warm gain and tube compression that “cleans up” this gain makes subtleties audible, and makes the processed signal feel more like a natural description of the playing. The most obvious benefits of the unit are added depth and surprisingly extreme sustain. However, the compression can be hit-or-miss in combination with the simulated amp distortion further down the line.

This would all be perfect if I were recording derrty Country Western type stuff, but alas it’s warlike mystical bedroom thrash for me. I’m in dubious battle with my Boss BR-8’s COSM amp-simulator like an emphysema patient hooked up to a defective iron lung. Well, it’s not that bad. I crank the simulated “volume knob” on the simulated “metal” amp head, and indulge in another stage of imaginary control via the 4-band EQ.

The BR-8, in addition to reverb, has some great stereo effects that can be applied before or after recording. The effect they named “DOUBL’N” is especially helpful for filling up the stereo field with big, immediate guitar presence. On the other hand, the machine’s low sampling rate guarantees that an ugly digital "grain" will be audible in every recording. I've got fatalism to compensate for that, though.

As a friend of mine often points out, it all is what it all is. Buut, am I the fiery part of metal, or the memory absorbed when the blade makes contact with the marrow?