Numbskull Audio Production offers professional music production services, from pre-production to a finished album. Based in Cambridgeshire UK, we can record/mix/master your music, working closely with you with a welcoming and approachable service. We specialise in, but are in no way limited to, rock and metal production. We cater perfectly to the demands of the individual, right through to signed bands and corporate projects.
Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the first part in what is hopefully to become a series of sorts; a series in which I try to emulate guitar tones from our favourite players and albums through time, using only software utilities that are freely available, and then sharing my discoveries/settings/thoughts.
It’s a challenge and a half, but then again that’s the point.
I really enjoy the work-flow of recreating a tone I like, and what with all the direct tone-matching technology that exists now, I feel like people have given up on the fun part!
Today’s subject: Iced Earth!
I don’t think the adage “tone is in the hands, not in the gear” has ever been quite so bang-on as when referring to the rhythmic gallop goliath that is Jon Schaffer. The man’s rhythm chops are on another planet, especially considering the gear he uses.
I’ve never been the biggest Iced Earth fan, just a frequent dipper into their catalogue once in a while. So with that said, what I know about Schaffer’s tone is only very basic, but I do happen to know that he uses:
- Larry Amps (custom made in Germany. Very Marshall-like in essence)
- Marshall 1960 speaker cabinets (Celestion T75’s)
- Low-to-medium output pickups (this is a washy one, as he’s been witnessed with everything from EMG’s to BKP’s and everything in between) but generally speaking he now uses his signature WCR Pickups ‘Ice Bucker’ set.
- Gibson set-neck guitars – Les Pauls and Explorers mainly.
- Enormous strings! (13-56 in Eb standard!)
Now, as a lot of these are purely his preference based on picking style, we don’t need to be quite so pedantic. Not to mention, I’m not always going to have on-hand what the player in question uses! But we got lucky this time…
I used my mid-90’s Epiphone Flying V, equipped with Tonerider ‘Generator’ pickups. These are quite hot, but classically voiced, and tight. Much like those Schaffer uses, so we were off to a good start here!
ONTO THE PLUG-INS…
Schaffer’s tone, albeit not Marshall specifically since the first album (the aforementioned Larry Amps have been in use since ‘92), it still has that thrashy Marshall vibe going, so I thought a Marshall sim would be a good place to start.
Enter the LePou Hybrit: http://lepouplugins.blogspot.co.uk/2009/08/hybrit-series.html
This is an amp sim I’ve never found an application for in the past. Anybody who follows my musical endeavours or has been a client of mine will know that I usually favour amps from the 5150 series, Mesa Boogies, or Engl. That goes for both real amps and for amp-simulation. However, I was instantly taken back by just how Marshall-like it was (no shit, right?) and how instantly useable it was, especially with a little kick up the arse from TSE Plugin’s TSE808 (Tubescreamer sim) which is available here: http://www.tseaudio.com/software.html
Marshall 1960’s are very underrated and overlooked in modern metal. There isn’t an awful lot of love these days for the trusty ol’ Celestion G12T75 speaker. Once upon a time it was the metal speaker, especially for faster, thrashier genres. It’s got a really raspy bite, with a hollow and percussive quality. Perfect for that dry and grindy thrash/death vibe. These days it loses out to the V30 most of the time in a recording capacity, as 90% of metal seems to be down-tuned, and this is one area where the T75 doesn’t exactly excel…
It took me a while to find the right impulse(s) for the job. I really wanted to try and keep the amount I used down to a minimum for maximum ease of recreation. It wasn’t easy. I ended up with 3.
Mics and Placement
Oddly enough, I found that blending a trusty SM57 with an Audix D6 of all mics gave the perfect blend of what was required for the job. The Iced Earth tone we’re aiming for has a whopping great thump in the low end, as well as that typical hissy/airy top end I’m accustomed to with T75’s. I knew the Sm57 would put me in the ball park immediately, but it was missing a little bit of the girth and woof that the album tone has.
Putting a D6 directly on a speaker is going to bring you all manner of ice-picks in your ear! It’s a mic that was designed with the original purpose of getting a pre-EQ’d clicky kick drum right off the bat, so it’s EQ’d with a very deep mid-scoop, exaggerated sub-bass, and very boosted top-end. Finding a dark place on the speaker is going to be your best option with this mic. I chose an impulse that was placed directly on the cone, with none of the cap hiss caught up in there. We only want this mic in there for the low mids, down to the sub. The rest of the tone is coming from our 57 impulses.
Schaffer is a bastard for layering. His riffs are hard enough to play tight at the best of times, let alone getting multiple tracks of guitar perfectly aligned. I chose to stop at 4 (two 100% L, two 100% R) but I’ve heard from various sources that he does more. A lot more.
Not a huge amount, to be honest.
There is some light compression across the board, as well as a small amount of multiband compression to get some control over that 70-250hz thump on the fast palm mutes.
There’s your usual high-pass/low-pass at 90hz and 8Khz respectively. However, if you look closely on the D6 cab-impulse you will see that I have also low-passed at 10khz. This may seem pointless since we’re already globally hp/lp’ing the guitars at 90hz and 8k, but this impulse loader seems to have a more drastic roll-off. We only want a certain area of EQ from our D6 impulse, not the whole thing, so just rolling off that fizz lets the 57 do its job in the top end without getting blurred with the top end of the D6.
There is a slight nod to the 1.5Khz region on my guitar bus EQ, just for a boost of air and clarity, as well as a -3dB scoop @ 500hz to remove some boxiness and give it a little extra aggressive push.
ALL PLUGINS & SETTINGS:
- MSH 60 V30 57 -01 (from the ‘Sperimental Pack’ found here http://www.guitarampmodeling.com/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=2850)
- Marshall1960A-G12Ms-D6-Cone-5in (from RedWirez free Marshall 1960 impulse pack, found here http://www.redwirez.com/free1960g12m25s.jsp)
- Marshall G12t75 (Random impulse I had in my library, it’s very low in the blend but it has a squishy midrange-y quality I liked – https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/4128689/NumbSkull/Marshall%20G12t75.wav)
… and has been for a long time, actually, but we’re a little slow on the uptake!
First and foremost let’s get the ugly spam out the way – BUY IT HERE. SERIOUSLY. CLICK THIS AND JUST BUY IT.
After having a blast working with these dudes over the span of a month earlier this year, the fruits of our labour have paid off rather splendidly, I must say.
We hit the studio in June for drums, whilst guitar and bass DI’s were being self-recorded by the rest of the band. Editing and mixing then commenced over the following weeks, whilst reamping was being carried out over in the US by genius tone alchemist Greg Tomao @ The Tomato Farm Studio.
Finally, we revisited the studio for vocals, then it was onto mastering where the EP was finalised.
It’s been a great few months for the band since recording, gaining more widespread recognition in the death metal circuit, as well as getting some amazing support slots with bands like Napalm Death, and Anaal Nathrakh.
Obscene Entity and Numbskull Audio Production are to team up again in 2013 for their first full-length album. We’ll keep you posted!
Being a drum software advocate for many years now, I always get very excited when a new product hits the market! Toontrack’s EZX Metal Machine was no exception. Engineered by the master Andy Sneap, and with drumming legend John Tempesta behind the kit, it was surely a match made for metal.
After installing the library, I eagerly loaded the SD2.0 interface to have a play about. The first thing I noticed instantly was how great it sounded right out the box. Even on the default construct screen, with the default drums in front of you, all channels free from processing, and all default fader levels, it sounds incredible.
Something to note; some of you out there may see this default state as a negative. I know when SD2.0 was released people were somewhat uncomfortable with its level of pre-processing in relation to the first Superior Drummer and EZ Drummer, and their respective rawness. There is something a little more pleasing to a mix engineer when the files at hand, no matter what instrument, are as raw as possible.
With that said, I don’t feel that this level of processing is going to work against a mix in any sense, as the sounds on offer are still extremely pliable. I also believe that the fairly processed sound is due in part to masterful engineering, as opposed to applied processing, post-recording.
As with all Toontrack drum libraries, there is an array of beautifully engineered drums on offer. With previous releases though I’ve sometimes struggled to initially find a drum that fits my mix so readily, without some tweaking and/or pitch-shifting, as is to be expected. With Metal Machine I’ve almost got the opposite problem – every drum sounds so good that I’m spoilt for choice.
There’s a really great range of snares on offer, from John Tempesta’s personal collection. I’m very picky about snares personally, but there’s something for everyone here, from the snap and crack-laden thrashy snares, to the puffy big snares that seem to be in vogue at the minute with modern metalcore. Most of all they sound wonderfully natural whilst still retaining a professionally achieved level of consistency.
With only 3 kicks on offer (although double kicks enables you to mix and match, of course, like in previous versions) you are somewhat limited to your base sound. Having said that, these are definitely the most instantly usable kicks in any Toontrack library by far. I’ve often found kicks to be their weakness in previous releases, offering great blending options with external sampling, but not able to stand on their own in a dense metal mix. These certainly can do that, and bring forward a much more modern metal sound, with great punch and weight, as well as a great click-range that is very adaptable.
My favourite feature of all these drums though has to be the toms. With nothing more than a little scoop to the midrange and a nod to the highs, they sit right where I want them in any mix, metal or otherwise. They have a very solid midrange, and tend not to suffer from an over abundance of boom. Easily my favourite Toontrack toms thus far! However, there is a little bit of a velocity drop when going to the floor tom it seems, and even given the fact that they are a bigger and less present drum, they tend to not be as up front as they could be, compared to the rack toms.
This happens to be the first Toontrack library I’ve used with a separate ride mic, and I couldn’t be more pleased! I’ve often spoken to other users of the software and many times they have shared my frustration at not being able to bring the ride out in the mix without having to use general volume increasing in the construct. This brings around many problems, since the ride may sit nicely with one articulation but be too loud with another. Finally, with a separate ride mic, you now have total control over it and its articulation in the mix. Not to mention these are damn fine rides to begin with. Very chimey and dynamic, and are definitely above and beyond previous ride sampling in terms of realism.
The overheads in general are very nicely managed, well balanced, and varied. I found that blending them with a heavily compressed instance of the ambient room mic gives the entire kit (but especially the overheads) a feeling of great size and motion, whilst still retaining clarity and separation.
This is my only real qualm about this library.
MIDI velocities and their impact on the drum dynamics tend to differ from library to library, and in the case of Metal Machine, I find them to be quite peculiar, particularly on snares.
I tend to have my input velocity set to 120 as a default, which leaves 7 levels to reach the max (127) to play with harder hits on slower parts, and enough room for softer ones on fast parts and drum fills.
This is all fine for the most part, the drums sound great at 120, but the snares don’t have much variation in their harder/hardest hits until you actually reach 127. And then they make a different sound entirely. They increase quite naturally right up to 126, but at 127 they just sound like a different snare, with an almighty crack and ping that pokes right out. I feel that there needs to be more of a gradient between 120 and 127, or perhaps more variation of hits between 125 and 127.
In a mix
So here is my mix test with the drums. There is very little to comment really, other than the time it took to mix it – which was practically zero. Once levels were set it was just so easy to shave off a freqeuncy here and there, boost another here and there… Without making it sound like the work is done for you, it really couldn’t be more mix-ready.
This was mixed completely “in the box” – i.e. none of the channels within the Toontrack interface were brought out into my DAW. It was mixed purely using the Toontrack SD2.0 mixer and plugins.
- Incredibly easy to mix, even beginner hobbyists could get to grips in minutes
- Pliable samples
- Separate ride mic
- Massive choice on snares
- Punchier kicks than in previous releases
- Sounds great out of the box
- Priced well.
- The almost mix-ready feel may be too much for some
- Stiff dynamics in the upper velocities – hardest hit sounds out of place, also.
- Low choice of kick drums compared to snares
At this price point you don’t have an excuse to not grab a copy. So do it. Now.
To download the preset of the drums heard in the mix test, please click here. Please make sure to place the preset in the following place: my documents/toontrack/superior2/presetsEZX/EZXMetalMachine/Combined
To load the preset go to Load/Save > Combined Preset > User Presets > Numbskull, as seen in this image
- Matt Crawford
You may know Alex already from his band Threat Signal, but our paths crossed earlier this week when I was approached to mix the drums he tracked in this video. Here you can witness him knocking out a ridiculously tight performance to our old and dear friends Midnight Realm’s track ‘Requiem’, from their début EP ‘Polarissima’, which was mixed and mastered here at Numbskull Audio Production.
We are somewhat elated to bring the news that, at the end of May, pre-production will commence on Bury St.Edmonds-based death metal trio Obscene Entity‘s debut EP! This has been a long time coming, and is finally reaching go-time!
From pre-production we move straight onto drum tracking in early June, while guitars and bass will be handled by the band themselves, then passed back to N.A.P for mixing and mastering.
Follow Obscene Entity on:
More updates to follow!
We’re happy to announce that after much work and deliberation, the boys in Midnight Realm have finally released their début ‘Polarissima’.
The EP can be streamed here – http://midnightrealm.bandcamp.com/ – where you will also find links to purchase it (both digital and physical copies).
It was fun working with the guys over the mixing and mastering process of this fantastic body of work, and we wish them all the best for the future. Here’s to the next release!
The long-awaited Fred Brum album has finally arrived! Mixed and mastered here at Numbskull Audio Production, Fred’s ideas have come together in this staggeringly well composed piece of instrumental shred guitar.
Hear the track “Flying Adventure Bus” on our media player
You can purchase Fred’s album Atonement from following links;
For the last few months Midnight Realm have been putting the finishing touches to their début EP, which is being mixed and mastered here at Numbskull Audio Production.
This is the first track they have released titled ‘Solaris’, which we finished mixing last week.
To hear more from the band please visit their Facebook