Recording Your Steel Guitar
by David J. Stewart | October 2011 | Updated August 2015
Home | About | C6th Tabs | Rickenbacher | Tunings | Brad's Page | HSGA | Jerry Byrd | Steel Guitar Videos | Song Tabs | How to Go to Heaven
Recording is as much an art as is playing a musical instrument. In fact, in some ways recording is more difficult to master, because a bad recording perpetuates.
I encourage everyone to make some recordings. In hindsight, I'm glad that I've made hundreds of recordings over the years. I've never recorded with a band, just playing along with rhythm tracks.
Unlike decades of the past, it is very easy to make home recordings these days. I am going to share with you some of the things that I have learned over the years about recording. It's easy to record yourself. I am no expert, so the best advice I can give you is to do a lot of reading online about tips on recording, because you'd be amazed at what we don't know (yes, I included myself). It's easy to become content with what we already know and how we presently recording, which means we might be missing out on some really great information. There's lots in the Steel Guitar Forum too, in the Recording section.
Ok, you're going to love what I'm about to share with you. Get MixCraft software, and then watch this video, which is where I learned about this. In MixCraft, the effect is called “iZotope Mastering Essentials.” Here is the first final recording that I made of I've Been Through Enough. Now here's what it sounds like after using “iZotope Mastering Essentials.” Really nice huh?
“It is the audience reaction that feeds your soul. Add to that the opportunity to play (and learn) all kinds of music and to to do it in a truly laid-back manner. ... And you learn as you go - no rehearsals. It is sung through one time, and they look at you. You play a chorus and “good luck”! Fun! I realized that it had always been work to me because of my drive for perfection. And here I was - I couldn't wait to go to “work” because we never knew what would happen next.” —Jerry Byrd, “It Was A Trip On Wings Of Music,” by Jerry Byrd (1920-2005); © 2003, p. 91.
Getting That Great Recording Tone
I love Lloyd Green and his music. What a cool guy! If you listen to his albums, Reflections and Revisited, they are clear, alive and bright. I have concluded that most of that great sound comes from not adding effects. Listen to my ukulele recording in MixCraft. I went direct into the Lexicon USB interface. Listen to how bright and clear the ukulele is! This proved to me that my MixCraft software was capable of recording upfront, clear and nice sounds. So why does my pedal steel sometimes sound muddled when I record live? It is mostly because of the the reverb and delay. I'm no expert on recording. When I am, I'll share with you my secret!
The key is to avoid excessive use of effects. Nothing ruins a steel guitar recordings more than too much effects. Set your reverb to about 3 to 5. If you use more reverb, you can compensate somewhat by raising your treble and presence. I'm still fudging with my Boss DD-3 delay after all these years.
I've noticed that Lloyd Green reaches over to his Lexicon effects unit (he once told me he uses an old PCM 60, or PCM 70, I can't recall) and adjusts it between fast and slow songs. In 1990 in Indianapolis while playing live, I believe Lloyd used a little chorus or something on a couple songs. I might be wrong on that, but I think he used a little effect. If Lloyd did use any effects, he did it so tastefully that I cannot make a definite determination, but it sounds awesome! I know Tommy White And Lloyd Green have used a combination Boss delay plus reverb pedal at times. Boss stopped making them. Tommy used to use a Boss DD-2 pedal. I use the newer DD-3 and even a DD-7 sometimes. I was standing next to Buddy Emmons in St. Louis in a long time ago at the International Steel Guitar Convention and his was buying a new Boss DD-3 delay pedal at Scotty's booth, because one of the knobs got broken off his old one. The rule is when using effects, the listener shouldn't know it (unless they're a musician).
I don't use a bunch of gadgets to boggle down my sound. I've read a lot of hype about the new STEEL GUITAR BLACK BOX, but it's not what it's cracked up to be. Everybody's trying to sell their unit to recoup the money they lost. If impedance matching gadgets were so great people wouldn't be trying to sell them so fast to get rid of them. No thanks, I'll pass. Good tone comes largely from good technique.
Steel guitar virtuoso Lloyd Green is very correct when he says that there are about 50 things that go into creating GOOD TONE (the guitar make, amplifier make and type, player skill, size of room, vibrato, pick attack pressure, direct or live recording, bar, technique, cables, temperature and humidity, wind, quality of effects, effect chain position, type and level of effects, picks, volume pedal, mica or wood guitar body/neck, speaker type and size, string brand and size, plain or wound strings, pedal linkage ratio, undercarriage mechanics, changer design, knee lever ratio, height of guitar, dexterity of player's hands and coordination, player's physical condition, attitude and determination, ankle speed on pedals, amp position, et cetera. Without good tone, your recordings will be mediocre at best. I've made plenty of those dead recordings in years past, in ignorance. The steel guitar sounded interesting, but the emotional tonal connection was just not there. Hence, people would not likely want to hear such recordings more than once. The best musical arrangement means absolutely nothing if the tone is lacking to connect with the heart of the listener. I'm still working on my tone, like most steel players.
Avoid Compressors Like The Black Plague
I learned that a compressor will brighten the recording, but it also kills the music at the same time by making the quiet parts louder and the louder parts quieter. In so doing compression kills the dynamic range (i.e., the total variance between the loudest and quietest parts of your music). Here's a great webpage to show you what I mean. I found this cool YouTube video that does a great job explaining the difference between normalization, compression and other audio processing options. I recommend always recording pure steel guitar from the amplifier. I recommend staying away from compressors, because they kill your music. I don't use compression, because it destroys the dynamic range. In other words, compression in recording makes the louder quiet and the quiet louder, which eliminates the emotional expression in music. For a steel guitar player this is a worst nightmare come true!!! Normalization simply raises the volume to match the loudest signal, but it DOESN'T change the dynamic range in any way.
You can add compression afterwards. Remember, you can always add effects afterwards, but you can never remove them if recorded with them. I like my reverb on about 4 or 5, unless it's a Hawaiian piece like Moon Of Manakoora and I want that dreamy large sound. And again, I can add that sound afterwards if I want. You have to experiment, because there is no acceptable one way to record music. Less reverb will make your recordings sound closer to the listener. Lloyd Green's Revisited is brilliantly recorded, sounding up close, because he uses just a little reverb. There's nothing worse in my opinion than a steel guitar recording that sounds like an arena, and the player's performance is drowned in effects. As a rule, less effects is better. You won't hear any delay repeats on Lloyd's Revisited album. It's just pure steel guitar, and you can hear his playing clearly.
Here's some basics on compression. Compression doesn't just make everything louder or normalize audio, it robs Peter to pay Paul.
On Some Recordings, I Use My MicroCube 'REC OUT' and a Computer Interface to Record
I'll tell you what I really like about the MicroCube amp... it has a 'REC OUT' 1/4" jack on the back for recording. I recorded E MAMA E with this 'REC OUT' jack, direct into the 'instrument' jack on the front of the Lexicon Alpha interface unit. Listen yourself in E MAMA E to the quality of sound of the steel guitar coming out of the MicroCube's 'REC OUT.'
This is far from the best way to record in my opinion, but it actually sounds fairly good if you like it. Ultimately that is what matters in your final recording mix... ARE YOU HAPPY WITH IT? DO YOU LIKE IT? The MicroCube recording set-up works nice, and at the time a couple years back I was pleased with it, but I don't use it anymore because I've gone to miking a live amp (which I think is so much better for tone).
Here's a Gospel recording that I recently made. I think it sounds pretty nice. I recorded direct into the MicroCube. It's called Then Came Jesus - 128 kbps (320 kbps) by The Marshall Family. Here's another song I recorded along with called Hello Vietnam. I enjoy adding my steel guitar playing to already recorded songs that originally didn't have a steel in it. People are so used to hearing popular songs, many of which don't have a steel guitar. It's interesting when they hear a steel guitar in there. With today's digital recording equipment, you can't even tell the difference using $100 setup as compared to a multi-million dollar studio.
I am not an expert by any means in recording. There are a hundred things to consider when recording, depending on whether indoor or outdoor, open mic or closed system recording... many, many things to consider. On this page I would just like to share some of my own experiences with you. To begin, listen to how nice my recording of E Mama E came out. I made the backing track with Band-in-a-Box and you are welcome to download it and share the MP3 with others, or use it to record your own songs. I also tabbed out the song for you so that you can learn to play what I played. It's played in the captivating E9th tuning. I also explain how to play that distinctive Hawaiian sounding riff in the song, which is unmistakable.
My recording setup on the previous recording is as follows:
Steel Guitar -> Volume Pedal -> Roland MicroCube "INPUT" -> Roland MicroCube "REC OUT" -> Lexicon Alpha Computer Interface -> USB Port -> MixCraft 5.1 recording software.
I record my Band-in-a-Box tracks first and save them as MP3's. When I get the chance, I import the BIAB track and record along with it in MixCraft. Note that an MP3 must be loaded into MixCraft on an "Audio Track," and not on tracks 1 or 2 (which are instrument tracks only for MIDI channels). So any audio tracks, such as MP3's and your new audio recordings, must use tracks 3 or higher. This only applies to the MixCraft program. I really like it and the price is reasonable for $79. The pro version is $149 and has all the reverb and assignable effects. Since I only use reverb, I just use the reverb of the MicroCube. However, I cannot go back later and remove the reverb from the recording; but you could with assignable effects in the pro version. It's a matter of preference.
I recorded my 2001 Hawaiian album by miking the amp, using Cakewalk recording software. I actually used a Line 6 digital amp, which I no longer have and never really liked. I hate digital amps! I like solid state. I love tube amps! Now I record directly into the computer as shown in the above setup.
How to Get Better Tone
I recently decided to start using a condenser microphone to record a live amplifier. I like the sound quality, but if you drop a condenser mike it will break inside and no longer work. It's this fragility that makes this kind of mike sensitive and provide a great recording. In the following song, I've Been Through Enough, I miked a Nashville 112 amplifier. It has one 12" speaker cone. I used a DD-3 Boss delay. The level is only set to about 3 o'clock. The feedback is set to one repeat. The delay time is set to the tempo of the song. I use an 800ms delay. I used a Lexicon (Alpha model) USB interface. Here's the same song, but with added compression afterwards to the master mix. I used MixCraft audio software to record the song. I'm using a Rittenberry S-10 steel.
Although there are dozens of factors to consider, in a word, I'd recommend "vibrato." Very few players ever learn to use vibrato to enhance their individuality in playing. Jimmy Day used vibrato at just the right places, having one of the most unique and individual styles in steel guitar history on pedal steel. There was only one Jimmy Day. His pedal steel style was studied by many, but emulated by no one. However, on the non-pedal steel, Jimmy was rivaled by many and didn't shine as much as he did on pedal steel. This is my humble opinion of course. Please don't misunderstand, Jimmy was a fantastic non-pedal player, tops all the way; but he didn't have a style as rare and different as he did on the pedal steel.
Listen to my video of WEAR A LEI and see how I use a little vibrato to enhance my playing. Tone is formed by the steel bar making contact with the steel string. Get accustomed to using vibrato on single notes, kind of like you'd use the eraser end of a pencil. Many players begin playing, like I did, by always keeping the bar flat. The proper technique is to tilt the bar upward, so that only the tip or front end of the bar makes contact with the applicable strings. It does have an influence over tone, because playing vibrato on one string is more personal and effective than playing vibrato across 6 strings.
One of the most overlooked and easiest ways to get better tone is by simply using vibrato. It is common for newer players to get into a bad rut of playing without using any vibrato. The reason is simply because people get lazy, we all do, and it takes more work to perform some vibrato and do some of the techniques that have all but faded away into oblivion from decades ago.
Watch some free YouTube videos of Buddy Merrill, Alvino Rey, Kayton Roberts, Sol Hoopii and many other old time steel players and you'll find that they all shared one thing in common... they were energetic! Lloyd Green (my favorite pedal steel artist) is about as energetic as one can be, sitting at attention at his guitar, paying meticulous attention to every note he plays, being very aware of everything he is doing. It makes my neck hurt just thinking about it (I have peripheral neuropathy and constant neck pain. Doing anything makes my neck hurt worse).
But that's why all those great steel players of the past, and Lloyd stand out head and shoulders above the rest. They gave it their best. You have to try new ideas, work on the techniques that made the older steelers so great. It's all technique... which means that there's a specific way (method) of doing things. Great playing doesn't just happen by accident. There's a method. There's a specific way of playing each technique, and combining techniques to form some great playing.
Having said that, there's some young guys today (and older) who can razzle-dazzle the strings, burning down the barn because they can play so fast; but they don't have the heart-touching tone that some of the older generation does. Musicians become seasoned with time. They say that you can't play the blues until you've lived it. There's a lot of truth to that I think. Great joy only comes after great sorrow and heartache. A musician with a brokenheart can play music like no other if he or she sets their heart to it. What is tone? It is what ultimately reaches the listeners ears. Jerry Byrd taught his students to "Play from the heart." That is where true tone begins.
GOOD TONE COMES MOSTLY FROM GOOD TECHNIQUE! This is in my opinion the most important factor in shaping tone. I compare the Jersey Lightning lap steel with the Jerry Byrd Frypan on my Buying a steel guitar page.
I'd say the second most important thing is your guitar. You WON'T get a superb tone from anything imported from China. You just won't, because it's all cost-produced, mass-marketed, garbage. I promote the Jersey-Lightning, which is made in China, because you can't beat the price for the quality you get. But please keep in mind that it's a great deal for a $200 guitar. That doesn't make it a great instrument! There's a big difference!
Beyond a good steel guitar and good technique, there are dozens of factors that affect tone. There's nothing worse than a scratchy volume pedal. Buy the new 500 K High Life Pots from GOODRICH and you'll be good to go. I've had to rebuild quite a few volume pedals because the old pots were terrible and only lasted 6 months if that.
I hear a lot of hype about cables and signal loss, prompting many players to buy impedance-matching devices like the GOODRICH Match Box and the Sarno STEEL GUITAR BLACK BOX. My opinion is that they are a waste of money. As the late great Jeff Newman used to say, "You can't replace 5-years of experience on the steel guitar with a gimmick!" And as Jerry Byrd used to say, "There are no shortcuts!" The only way to learn to play the steel guitar is by determination and hard work.
Amps have an affect on tone, without a doubt; BUT the biggest setback that I've noticed is that most players don't know how to use an amplifier and don't get the tone from it that they good. In short, you'll get a better tone if you play louder and lay into your volume pedal. Amps sound better, especially tube amps, when you crank them up! The best way I can explain it is to just say that, "I like to 'feel' my music." I like to feel the amp's speaker vibrating, cutting through the air. Read more on my Amplifiers page.
Lloyd Green stated concerning tone in a 2001 interview...
“I never quit thinking about the instrument; I never quit trying to strive for new ideas. I felt like it was important to keep forging ahead. If I stopped, there would be no reason to keep continue playing. It’s an endless adventure playing the steel guitar;, you’re only limited by your imagination. As long as you got a good brain, you can think and play anything on the instrument. It’s an endless journey.” —Lloyd Green, interview 2001, Steel Guitar Rag magazine
Lloyd once told me that a lot of what the listener hears on his albums is an allusion to the ears. That is an amazing concept perfectly demonstrated in Lloyd's awesome timing techniques, that are unprecedented in the world of steel guitar. Lloyd has pioneered a whole new style which is truly majestic. I've learned that Lloyd never just plays something, he carefully articulates every movement he makes. It is amazing how certain sounds are produced on the steel guitar. Lloyd has perfected executing elaborate pieces of music that require impeccable timing and bar slanting skills; but once the techniques are learned and one's timing skills mastered, a whole new world of opportunities open up on the steel guitar. Lloyd states...
“The reason tone is so important is because I think ultimately that’s what is the emotional connection when you’re playing music to what people are hearing. If they hear good tone, there is something that strikes a resonant note in the soul. You can be playing the greatest stuff in the world, but if it doesn’t have good tone, there’s something that’s not making a connection. I think that’s what people really hear first.” —Lloyd Green, interview 2001, Steel Guitar Rag magazine
Computer Interface, Drivers and Software
I learned the hard way that you DON'T have to use the recording software that comes with your computer interface. If you are content with what you've been using to record, I'd recommend sticking with what you know and with what works.
There are other nice units as well besides the Lexicon that I use, like Tascam. I just chose Lexicon because I've always liked their products. Lexicon is famous for their lush quality reverbs. Lloyd Green used a Lexicon PCM 70 processing unit for many years (or was it a PCM 60? I can't remember what model he told me, but I know it was a PCM unit).
Anyway, I had problems with the cheaper $20 computer interfaces, like the GUITAR LINK brand, mainly because there are hardly any instructions. They assume that people know all this stuff, and like me, they don't. I need step-by-step instructions (in English). I loaded the drivers and had no idea what to do. The unit didn't work. This is why I recommend that you buy a better unit.
I'm using a 'Lexicon' Alpha computer interface (note: the crappy Steinberg CUBASE software that came with the Lexicon caused me a bunch of grief and headaches. I spent hours and couldn't get it to work. The tech support numbers didn't work. They wanted me to install another downloadable program just to register the program that came with the Lexicon. It's retarded how they do business these days! I honestly think that Steinberg deliberately makes it very difficult to get tech support on a trial version product, because they don't make any money off the deal.
No one would make a person download a program to register another program. That's insane! Why bother to promote your software with another company's product if you're not going to make registering easy and provide 24/7 tech support (where someone actually answers the phone and knows what they're talking about). I threw the Steinberg CUBASE recording software disk into the garbage. You only need the other Lexicon drivers disk. So after I uninstalled CUBASE, I finally got the Lexicon interface to work.
If you're not familiar with computer interfaces, let me help you a bit...
Any hardware device cannot think for itself nor communicate. So it needs software in the computer world to communicate with other devices. A driver is an interpreter, helping computers and related devices to communicate. A printer is a device which needs drivers in order to communicate with your computer, and also for the computer to communicate with the printer. All devices need drivers. Many devices are so popular that Windows or Mac already have the drivers included with your operating system. Some devices have their own drivers built-in onboard. And of course, many times the user is required to load some drivers for the device. Most computer interface devices come with a driver disk to install. My Lexicon came with a disk of drivers, which I loaded.
Now once you've loaded the drivers, you need to open the program that you're going to record with. I use MixCraft. Some people like Real Band, or Cakewalk, or Acid loops, or uggg, CUBASE. Regardless of what recording software that you are using, open it. Now add a new audio track if one hasn't already been created for you. There should be a way of "arming" the track to record. My tracks each say "ARM." I click on it and it turns red to let me know I'm armed to record, all set to go! MixCraft has a little drop-down menu on each instrument or audio track (instrument tracks are for MIDI in MixCraft, and audio are for MP3's and WAV files, et cetera). The little drop-down menu shows the Lexicon drivers (I also have Real Tek Audio (because that is my computer's sound system... yours will likely be different).
What I am saying is that when you load the drivers for your new computer interface device, those drivers will be found in your recording software program. You need to look for those drivers and select them in order for your device to work properly. Each program is different. Each individual track needs to have a way to "arm" it, and that's where you'll find options for which drivers to use. When I first loaded my computer interface drivers, I had no idea what to do and my device wasn't working. So I went and got a better unit from Lexicon, which explained that I need to go into the recording program and find the drivers. I learned something. This is why I recommend that you spend the extra money and get a nicer computer interface. They're under $100, most around $50. Stay away from cheap garbage.
Under "File," "Preferences" in MixCraft, I use WAVE drivers instead of ASIO.
Saving Your Music
As the years pass and you get older, it is easy to lose your recordings. In this digital generation it is becoming increasingly easy to forever lose data on your computer. I mean, if all your recordings were made on your computer and saved as WAV or MP3 files, you're life in music is all stored digitally on something that can crash, be stolen, wear out, blow-up... lol.
I not only backup my recordings in umpteen places, but I also save them on DVD's and put them in boxes in a cool, dry, storage area. I also upload them and share them online, which preserves the recordings in case my place goes up in flames. I give disks to others, but this is not a reliable method of preserving your recordings (because for all you know they threw them into the garbage). You don't know... not everyone thinks about steel guitar in the middle of the night. I do! I thank God for the steel guitar. What a beautiful instrument! I pray that I'll always be able to play the instrument in this life until the Lord calls me home to glory; getting old isn't fun.
My neck surgeries in 2009 and 2010 really messed me up. I have chronic peripheral neuropathy (burning, tingling, puffiness, pain, et cetera in my arms, and to a lesser degree my legs). I praise God that I'm still able to play at all, although I cannot play as long as I'd like oftentimes times. Most of the time I simply don't feel like doing anything, let alone playing my steel guitars. God is good. I so much look forward to receiving my glorified body in eternity and playing steel guitar in the presence of the angels. Hallelujah!
So my older recordings are increasingly special to me, especially the Hawaiian album that I recorded for my mom in 2001 before she passed away. I'm not as good as many other musicians, but then again, that's not what it's all about. It's about being happy with your own music and, I think, to a greater degree, making others happy with your music. As an artist I'm often not satisfied with my music, but people still enjoy it. I've heard myself play so much that I don't hear how beautiful it is sometimes. Other people DO hear it and come running! Even when I think I'm playing lousy, people enjoy hearing it. More than anything children say that I sound like 'Sponge Bob,' and then I slide the bar an octave (just like on Sponge Bob) and I make them smile with my steel guitar.
If you have never played publicly, you are missing out on a real blessing my friend. Even if you don't have a sandy beach with palm trees, take your lap steel and a MicroCube amp (don't forget the instrument patch cables) down to a nearby park. Nursing homes are great! Those elderly folks have been forgotten about. If you're a Christian, set a stack of Gospels of John on the table. You don't have to even mention God to them, they'll help themselves to the literature). That's just me. I think Christians ought to always share the gospel, but not shove it in people's faces (unless they request for me to play Tiny Bubbles... just kidding!)
Let me begin by saying a word about volume, because it's like salt when cooking, which can ruin a recipe faster than anything if you add too much. Balance is the key word here. Listen to the first recording I made of E Mama E and you'll hear that the steel guitar was good, but I though it could be a tad louder. You absolutely don't want your listener to have to work to hear your music. Hawaiian steel guitar is a laid-back instrument and should be recorded with the intent to relax the listener while they're kicking back around the house or yard, sipping an ice-cold tea or lemonade, and trying to forget their miseries and problems.
And then to make matters worse, my finished recordings sound different in the car stereo than they do on my home stereo. The recordings vary in sound from radio to radio, from computer to computer, et cetera. This is one reason why it is so difficult to save the final mix after you're done recording. It's all trial and error and there' no way around it. You can read books all day on how to record, but you're still going to have to learn like everybody else.. by hard work! Good things usually come to those who work hard. There's no magic in making music. Most people see someone playing a musical instrument and then they want the glamour of the popularity, but it's all for the wrong reasons they want to learn to play.
If you're heart is not in a particular instrument, I don't care what kind it is, then you won't have the required patience to learn to play. Learning to play a musical instrument requires character, desire and the discipline to make yourself stick with it. The music itself should be your motivation. When I don't feel like playing, I just listen to some Hawaiian steel guitar and that's all it takes (unless my peripheral neuropathy is acting up, and then nothing can cheer me up except 180 mg. of prescription Oxycontin per day and some rest). I have a damaged spinal cord in my neck, along with bones spurs, a partially herniated disk at C4-C5, et cetera. Surgeons aren't sure what's casin my pain and neck tension.
I learned one day just how lacking my camcorder videos were in comparison, when I used a USB interface to record directly onto my computer. I've always liked the live sound of an amp (because of the audio ambience that you cannot get going directly into a computer), but it is DIFFICULT to get all the conditions just right to obtain a great recording. My computer recording came out much better! In a moment I'll let you hear the difference and you'll see what I mean, clearly. Music makes the world a better place.
You can hear the drastic difference for yourself as follows in a test comparison. I'm playing the Hawaiian song E Mama E. I made this nice backing track (you're welcome to share this MP3 and everything on my website with others) with Band-in-a-Box (which has improved greatly in quality since they came out with REAL tracks by actual musicians). Without further delay, here is E MAMA E recorded using the E9th lap steel tuning...
E MAMA E LIVE (recorded using a JVC EVERIO GZ-HM1SU model camcorder with an external battery-powered microphone. I played a Jerry Byrd S-6 long scale Frypan through a Peavey Session 400 amp with a 15" 1501 black widow external speaker cabinet. The Session 400 internal JBL speaker sounds nice too, but I use the speaker cabinet because I can move it around easier than the amp, which weighs over 50 lbs. I set the speaker 90 degrees from the camcorder, about 7 feet away. I played the backing track audibly through my computer speakers.
Although I was able to hear a nice quality bass coming from my computer speakers, the camcorder has a hard time recording the bass. I had the "WIND CUT" feature in the camcorder left on from when I was at the beach recording the other day, so that may have caused the camera not to detect the bass as much. I am going to try it again soon and see what happens with the "WIND CUT" turned off instead.
I may also try to move the speakers closer with a 12 foot long 1/8" stereo computer speaker extension cable. I made this comparison to bring attention to the IMPORTANCE of obtaining a good quality recording. Although you can't help but lose some of your quality while video recording, at the same time going directly into a recording unit misses all the possible dynamics of live recording.
E MAMA E DIRECT TO COMPUTER (lap steel recorded from the “REC OUT” 1/4" jack coming out of my Roland MicroCube, going through a Lexicon USB interface to my computer. I used MixCraft 5.2, basic version, to record the steel guitar. I played the Band-in-a-Box (BIAB) track and record it with another program.)
If you listened to both recordings, then you heard that the second recording directly into the computer has a much better bass and overall quality of sound. It's immediately noticeable. To me, the second recording sounds professional, which is a Band-in-a-Box track if you can believe that! BIAB is not the same as a real band, but it is a blessing to the home musician who doesn't have the opportunity to play in a band. Live recording has it's place, but if you have an option, I'd go with a recording unit or computer software if it's going to be something you want to share with others.
Listen to both E MAMA E recordings again, because they are subtle in volume changes; yet there is a distinct and noticeable difference. It's just my humble opinion, but I would rather have my steel guitar a little too loud than too faint. No one wants to hear the backing track, they want to hear the steel guitar, so let it lead the way. Now if there's a singer, then you want to reduce your volume, but not too much. Most steel players hog the set or session and compete with the singer instead of complimenting the singer. Jerry Byrd has said that backing up a singer is an entirely different way of playing.
Methods of Recording
There's a science to recording... A SCIENCE OF SOUND AND TECHNIQUES!!! It requires lots to trial and error, moving speakers and microphone around the room, trying different settings and equipment, et cetera. You don't lose any quality bass when you put your track directly into a software recording studio; but if you record with a camcorder, anything can happen. I have many thoughts on this subject.
First, camcorders are not a reliable method of recording your music because they are too sensitive to outside noises, like motorcycles, lawnmowers, airplanes and all kinds of noise interference. And your sound is going to be thin, lacking low end bass, and other ambient qualities of tone. Tone is everything and if the connection is not made with the heart of your listener, forget it. I'm not an expert on tone, but I'm learning as I go from listening to other musicians and experimenting on my own.
Second, miking the amp is a reliable way to record because most microphones today are built to ignore sounds further than a couple feet away. It's good to get a stand for your mic and position it perpendicular to one of the sides of the speaker cone of your amp. So you mic will rest at about 45 degrees to the amp face. I miked my entire 2001 Hawaiian album, using a LINE 6 digital amp. I used Cakewalk recording software on my computer to record this album, inputting my audio tracks (backing tracks) first into Cakewalk (version 8... a very old version), and then recording the steel guitar last. I only used Cakewalk because the program came free with my Sound Blaster card. Cakewalk did a great job. I used MixCraft now and like it a lot.
I also have a BOSS BR-600 digital multi-track recorder, which is what I used to record my 2008 Hawaiian album...Hawaiian Paradise | Little Brown Gal | Moon of Manakoora | My Yellow Ginger Lei | The Hukilau Song | Sweet Leilani | Bali Hai | Beautiful Kahana | Mapuana | Paradise Isle | Rainbows Over Paradise | Sand | Beyond the Reef | Lovely Hula Hands | Sophisticated Hula | I'll Weave a Lei of Stars | In the Garden | Song of Old Hawaii | Song of the Islands | Beyond the Reef
My Hawaiian Album 2008
Adventures in Paradise | Farewell My Tani |
Miking the amp givesyou the awesome sound of the amp, which is what made Jimmy Day's earlier recordings so so real. Lloyd Green miked his Fender Twin Reverb's single speaker cabinet in the Nashville studio where he made history for decades on over 7,000 albums. You can't argue with success, I've heard some recordings where Lloyd recorded directly into the board (computer) for a friend in Europe. Storms Never Last was one of the songs, and One Has My Name, The other Has My Heart was another song Lloyd recording using this method.
I could hear a night-and-day difference. Lloyd is MUCH better live. The reason is because he has mastered the tonal control over his amplifier and knows what he is doing, how to make it do what he wants it to do. Few people ever achieve that. Most musicians can play out of any amp and it really doesn't matter; but those few musicians who know what they want in tone must have a certain amplifier that suits their tastes.
To demonstrate the effect of the dynamics of using an amp for live recording, consider my recording of, PLEASE HELP ME I'M FALLING in the style of Jimmy Day. You can hear my chords moving the air, because I cranked up the volume. I'm using a Fender Princeton Reverb amp, which has 7 glowing tubes inside, a 1965 reissue. It's a great little 15 watt amp using a 10" Jensen speaker. The amp weighs only 32 lbs, which is why I bought it (because my neck is messed up and I can't be lifting heavy things). It's great for home or small gigs, but not for a large crowd in a noisy place with a band that likes to play loud. In sharp contrast to my E Mama E camcorder recording which didn't have any bass at all. It could be because I left the "WIND CUT" feature "ON" in the menu area of my camcorder, which reduces wind noise. I've had numerous recordings totally ruined by gusting winds while trying to record music. Yet, if left on at home it will kill all your bass, as you've heard in E mama E. So don't forget to turn such camcorder features off while indoors.
Still, camcorders weren't intended to record professional concerts performances with all the sound dynamics and subtleties of tonal integrity. You need a recording unit or software to do this, except in rare situation where you've experimented and know what works and what does not. Recording into a BOSS BR-600 is pretty much idiot proof, unless your guitar is not loud enough and the background is way too loud, or vise versa. So I am saying that if you want to play it safe with your time and work, then use a recording studio; but if you are willing to be patient and learn from trial and error, you can make some great live videos.
This video is of me playing SWEETNIN' was purely coincidence that I had the speaker at the proper distance from the camcorder, the right volume, the boom box playing my backing track at the right distance and volume, and everything was just right (in my opinion). I used a VOX battery-powered amp. It sure sounds good for a little amp. I checked the internet for tide charts so i could record when the waves were coming on at high tide. I planned it that way, because I wanted the sound of crashing waves behind me.
With MixCraft, if you can hear it played on your computer, you can record it. If not, run a jumper between the “line out” to the “microphone” 1/8" stereo jack on the back of your computer. Once you've got the BIAB track in MixCraft (or whatever audio recording software you prefer... Cakewalk, Acid Loops, Cubase, et cetera), then you can record your steel track (or other instruments).
There's MUCH MORE INFORMATION ON RECORDING WITH MIXCRAFT ON MY RHYTHM TRACKS PAGE.
Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to Heaven!