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Recording The Sound of Yesterday Today!

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My first experience in a studio was at my Dad’s place in Farmington N.H. back in 1972. I knew I  liked recording from a very early age. Things were pretty cool back in them days for a 13 year old guitarist. Dick Wagner was slamming out guitar licks on Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” and Richie Blackmore was laying down the quintessential guitar players anthem “Smoke On The Water.”

The 70′s had some ground breaking music indeed and that was a great time to be learning guitar. That trip to Dad’s studio left a big impression on this kid. I wanted…  I needed to own a studio someday. I started thinking of the importance of writing original music and the desire to hear it on tape.

I bought some studio time at Tom Rowe’s studio in Auburn, ME. Tom was the bassist for the internationally acclaimed “Schooner Fare” and he had a sweet little 8 track facility in his shed. That was where I recorded the first version of  my first original song “Better Years” when I was 16. I recall Tom suggesting a solo on acoustic before the big lead solo. Very seventy’s indeed and it was a great idea.

In 1979 while living in Kennewick, WA I recorded at the legendary Kaye Smith recording studio in Seattle. The two room studio had a pair of API consoles and a Studor 24 track tape machine. Heart recorded “Barracuda” on the same console we used in studio B. That was my first taste of the big time recording machines. The sound we got was incredible. The Ampex 2 inch tape was expensive as hell and we barely had enough money to record the 2 songs we wrote.

In the 80′s like most other musicians I had various 4 track cassette recorders. I spent endless hours noodling away with my guitar and my brain’s third hemisphere that old tape machine. I went through a lot of girlfriends back then they didn’t appreciate the competition for my time I guess?

1985 I signed a recording contract with Brighton Road Productions a small artist management company run by my good friend Russell Whitaker. Russell built a studio in Austin Texas and later moved it up to Dallas. He named it The “Dallas Sound Lab” and it is still there. The name has changed to “Media Tech Institute” and the facility doubles as a school for the recording arts and sciences.

Russell and I became great friends over the years and I recorded several albums at his studio. Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Pantera have all recorded there and the list goes on and on. Tim Kimsey engineered a lot of my music and his skill behind that SSL SL6056E console was an inspiration to me. In 1997 Russell asked me to come work as an engineer at the lab. How could I refuse what I had considered a dream come true. To work at a world class facility.

While working there I had the opportunity to do some fantastic and tough engineering jobs. Half time commentary with Pat Sommerall and me engineering in Dallas, producers in N.Y. and the game was in L. A. all live on a ISDN lines! Whether it was Reverend Horton Heat in studio A or Tiger Woods dad in studio D it was always something big. I remember Russ calling me after I had just left the studio and a long day of editing and saying “Get your ass back down here U2 will be here in 1 hour and your assistant engineer! Then there was the time we did ADR for a movie called Titanic.

Family obligations sent me packing and I had to move back to Maine. So I thought maybe it’s time to spend some money on a home studio? A real one that would be sonically and economically feasible. Bought a Mac G5 and Pro Tools. One of the best investments I have ever made. Been laying down tracks ever since and getting a decent sound like the big rooms.

Recording songs like “Oasis” and Waylon Jennings  “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” has been a blast. Add the fact that I can do it on my own time at home and relatively cheap. I have even had all my old 2 inch 24 track analog tapes and 24 track digital stuff converted to DVD’s so I can load em up in PT and have a modern go at them. A good example of this would be “The Cowboy Song” an old tune by The Amazing Rhythm Aces we recorded in Dallas. I used drums from 1987 and laid guitar and vocals in 2007 at home.

It’s fun recording the sound of yesterday today!

Pros and Cons of Pine

Arlo's Pinecaster2a
Pine conjures up an image in my head of a house frame. You know 2 x 4′s all nailed together forming the skeleton of a house under construction. Never in the 35 years I have been a guitarist did the term Pine give me any thoughts of building a guitar from this soft wood. I mean I literally buy bags of the stuff to use for kindling in the winter.

That was until a friend of mine Chris Hancock called me one day and said “Arlo have you seen this Glendale guitar site? The guy makes Telecaster body’s out of Pine!” Chris and I met on a forum. We were members of a WWII Submariners forum. We were posting about U-Boats and found out that each of us lived in Maine [The Pine Tree State]. Immediately the two of us hit it off and although never meeting face to face we talked almost daily on the phone. One day Chris mentioned that he played guitar and I proceeded to tell him that I did as well and from that day forward we were very good friends. We had a lot in common and we didn’t even know what each other looked like. Sound familiar?

Forums, what a cool invention indeed. They can be loaded with a wealth of knowledge and on the flip side of the coin a lot of stupidity. Forums are a strange unforgiving world of words. You post make friends, acquaintances, enemy’s, call some members, talk and learn from each other. Joining a good forum can be a serious eye opener. For me it was becoming a member of the TDPRI that opened up the world of guitar building and specificaly the use of Pine. At first I was bursting with questions about Pine. Was it too soft? Does it have good tone? How to paint it?

I found the TDPRI Googling for Pine Telecasters. Chris and I had made a bet to see who would be the first to own a Pine Telecaster. We were very competitive in many ways. Unfortunately my dear friend Chris died before either of us had the opportunity to actually meet face to face. Ironically it was an email from a friend of Chris’s that informed me of his death. This thing called the Internet is complex and yet so incredibly informative.

After joining the TDPRI and asking how to find a Pine body I was directed to a guy in upstate N. Y. by the name of Marty McClary. He had 3 completed Pine Telecaster body’s for sale at the time and all of them looked superb. So I bought em all. They were all Eastern Pine which is commonly found here in Maine and the North Eastern provinces. Two of them were straight grained and quarter sawn and both were one piece.  The third was a reclaimed barn Pine two piece and said to be over 100 years old. One of the quarter sawn body’s became my beloved Ol’ Piney.

Chris and I had a plan to have a Pine Telecaster with no finish. That is why Ol’ Piney never got a coat of paint. I simply used Howard’s Feed n Wax as a preservative. That guitar is fragrant like Pine to this day.

The Pros of building with Pine.

It is a very beautiful species of wood. It is from the same family as Spruce and has an elasticity that according to my good friend Bill Lawrence propagates sound waves very well. It can be finished in a number of ways. And probably one of the biggest reasons people like it is it’s weight is usually very light. This of course depends on the species. Not all Pine is created equally my friend.

The Cons of building with Pine
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It is soft and can dent very easily. There are some people who use wood hardener. I personally have never used a hardener. Ron Kirn has an ingenious method of removing a dent using a steam iron and cloth. Some species of Pine like Southern Yellow are very heavy. I have used a species from California called “Digger Pine” that is a heavy species. Excellent for a bass guitar with a long neck or a baritone guitar. The weight helps counter balance the long neck.

There is a certain stigma that follows the word Pine. Pine used to make me think of junk wood. You know like “If your going to build a tree house in the back yard for the kids you might as well use a cheap wood.” Cheap wood usually means Pine. Easy to see why it is not considered to be a superb wood for an electric guitar. But not everyone will agree with that line of thinking at least in some circles. I am not just a Pine believer I am convinced.




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