For this first article, I will layout the details of the recording chain used to create the audio in my videos. The entire chain is kept as simple as possible, using presets that I have created where ever possible. Once the guitar audio is captured, no further processing is done - I will go more in depth on this in a moment. Let’s begin.
The Gear - Guitar to Recording
Most sensible place to start would be the gear. Here is a description of the recording chain from guitars to DAW.
The cable I use has extremely low capacitance - I have never heard a more clear projecting instrument cable. Best ever!
This is the 2014 reissue version of the amp. I imagine it isn’t as grand as an original vintage, but I have painstakingly upgraded all of the signal capacitors throughout with Sozo Next Generation caps. They make a huge difference by adding some of that magic fairy dust into the signal path!
Link: Marshall JTM45 Reissue
The JTM45 is directly connected to the RockCrusher and setup as a load box so that I can use a cabinet simulation unit. I wanted to use a tube amplifier and the huge bonus to using a cabinet simulator is (other than the obvious benefits of volume and late night recordings) in having less potential of mechanical failure in which the remedy would completely change the sound. Additionally, my space is rather small, so not having a mic to accidentally bump into was a bonus!
Link: Rivera RockCrusher
Two Notes CAB M
Critically important to this chain because there is no mic to bump, no speaker wearing out, and it sounds the same day to day thanks to the fact that this unit allows user created presets to be saved. The cab profile used in the recordings is the Tanger Fat which is an IR profile of an Orange cab loaded with Celestion G12H-55Hz Greenbacks - which are what I use in the real world. This preset is setup utilising two sm57’s, again something I’d do real world.
Universal Audio UAD Apollo / The Neve Unison Preamp
Direct from the CAB M line out to a line in on the Apollo where I have setup a preset for the Neve Unison Preamp - Keeps the preamp level exactly the same from day to day.
Pro Tools 2020.3
Once the signal is recorded into Pro Tools, I export the files directly from the edit window, no bouncing required. Exported files are the original mono recorded 24bit 48kHz audio.
The Process - Audio to Video
Next is getting that recorded audio in to the video editor. After the guitar audio, and dialog (which is also captured in Pro Tools), is exported out of Pro Tools, all files, including captured video, are imported to my iMac. At this point, the audio files are not enhanced or EQ’ed in any way. Here is more the software side of things:
Logic Pro X
Once dialog audio, guitar tracks, and video files are dumped into the appropriate folders on the iMac, all audio (guitar tracks, dialog audio) are imported into Logic Pro X. The guitar audio remains at unity gain while the dialog audio is fed through some processing. The master bus has a plugin called Loudness Penalty - this is an AU that checks the level of audio leaving the master and can determine if, or how much, YouTube’s (and other services) algorithm will limit the level of audio. My levels are setup so that they should not incur any of this limiting, or if so - a minimal amount.
From here all audio files undergo the standard Logic Pro X bounce function and both dialog and guitar tracks (though still at unity gain) are now bounced out as stereo tracks. The entire process the audio files have remained at their native 24bit 48kHz format.
Final Cut Pro X
Guitar audio, dialog audio, and video are imported into Final Cut Pro X and synchronised where they will undergo their editing for final output. Again, the guitar audio is not touched or processed in any way.
As of video #5 From Simply Special to Truly Badass, I began to compress the videos using Apple’s Compressor. Once the video is fully edited it is processed by Compressor with a YouTube friendly algorithm and uploaded to YouTube.
Is This Recording Chain Scientific?
No. Perhaps if I were using a digital amplifier and a set of magical mechanical arms to ensure the exact same playing for each video then we could discuss the possibilities of it being somewhat scientific. But the fact is that there are a few analog variables. But I believe it to be very much close enough to determine if component upgrades are successful or not.
As I stated in the Establishing a Baseline for Guitar Upgrades video, I created four presets on my JTM45 - I painstakingly went through all settings on all intended guitars to ensure that the settings would sound okay for all guitars. So each sound on each guitar will more than likely not be perfect for that guitar - but they sound good. The thing here is that for each video I have to manually set the tone controls on each sound - and while I try to line up the knobs to the truest position, my hands are one of those analog variables I mentioned earlier. There could be a microfibre of difference from one video to the next.