11 Jan A Collaboration: AC/DC’s “Hells Bells”, Featuring Jaiminho Pagina & SoloDallas
Well, I love collaborations. Not that I did many to tell the truth 😛 This is my second one, and my second one with André. I like working with André.
We worked hard – the both of us – on as many aspects we could on this as it was possible to us. But let me introduce you to the video performance first, chatter later.
Fil’s parts: Angus’ Rhythm and solo, backing track re-editing & mixing
Description of the process
I have never worked for so long and so intensely on any cover I think. André knows it, I think I worked on this (to get it right, that is) for 4 days 7 hours a day (with in and outs due to business and family). I re-recorded my parts probably 30 times. The solo came right away, as I had rehearsed it well during the summer (I was planning on doing this cover last August, but then I quit for other things such as site development). So when André proposed, I was excited. I really wanted to do this one. André played two versions of his part, and sent me the first one I think two months ago. But I asked him to please re-play it, as I thought that it needed more of Malcolm’s timing on it to make it work. He did again, and sent me the replayed parts some time ago. I was busy with other things and asked him to wait a while. Then it came my moment, so I started working on it. I realized that the verse riff wasn’t at all like I used to play it. That is, notes were the same, but the timing approach was much different. So I studied the album version – the plan was to try and make the parts like on the album, but with sped up tempo to adapt it to the live multitracks of the 1991 Donnington recordings. It’s a gently played, subtle laid back way of playing here. At the same time, it’s determined as hell (meaning, gently playing doesn’t imply lack of concentration: you lose concentration for less than a second and you’re out of tempo!). I found myself grasping for air at each take end (when I made it to the end without mistakes on the main part). You need the verse to be extremely fluent and grooving, still powerfully rhythmic without being “heavy”, it’s like a powerful engine working underneath. And it’s all timing related. The chorus and main arpeggio too was a lot more difficult (to me) than I thought. Even there, it’s apparently laid back, notes HAVE to fall a bit behind or you lose all of the ominous feeling it was intended to have.But despite what you hear – that is, a laid back arpeggio that is – to get it like that with precision requires (well, it required me) an incredible amount of concentration, care and practice. The sped up tempo of this version didn’t help either, as some chord changes – despite the fact that the chords are simple and don’t involve hard fingering positions – were hard to play in a groovy manner. Also the sound – tone – was definitely a challenge. I wanted it to be close to the original recording as much as possible (and I didn’t make it). I am still fighting with Back in Black (album) studio sound. MAYBE I got closer yesterday (after this one was finished and was being edited) but this is another matter.
I started with the solo, that was my first take I think. I looked for a sound similar to the one on the album. At first it sounds almost clean, but that was due to the fact that Angus was plucking gently (but precisely) the first notes. Then, as he goes deeper in, it becomes more overdriven. A lot more, apparently. What I did with the solo – soundwise – was the same approach I had with the rhythm parts: drive the amp a lot (I used the 2204 for all parts here), both master volume and pre-amp were at 8 and I lowered the volume control on the guitar. I think I brought it down as low as 6 or 7. I wanted a creamier tone, just as it is on all Back in Black and it seems to me that the only way to achieve this is to drive the amp for both lead and solo and lower one or both volume and tone controls on the guitar.
Then, when you strike harder the strings, you should be able to re-gain a tad of punch in the sound. This requires practice, a lot of listening, miking placement experiments (placing the mic on or off axis, close or far from the speaker changes dramatically the brightness of the recorded sound). The 2204 has a characteristic of getting muddy very soon (with some guitars, not so with others!) at 8 and below on the guitar volume control, regaining some clarity at around 5. So one has to be careful (not the same with the 1959 model, which retains a lot more clarity when rolling off). I used the 2204 actually just for this reason: I wanted to experiment the creamy side of it (I don’t think a 2204 was used at all on Back in Black). I also ended up raising presence to 10, treble to 10, mids to 7 and bass to 8. Pretty overloaded. Another reason for I used the 2204 was that we all know Angus used to use – even in the studio, back then – a wireless system that had control over his output, contributing to overdriving the amp. Since I didn’t want to use a pedal to simulate this, I used the 2204, that has the pre-amp knob to add overdrive. Once you do experiment with these settings however, you feel like you learn a lot. The guitar also reacts differently to your touch, and your playing has to reflect this somehow.
I think I probably happened to drive it too much in the end, both in the solo and on the rhythm, but I did excuse myself for this because the live version was pretty driven, not less than how I drove my own guitar at least (André’s guitar was almost clean on Malcolm’s part). When I was at lower guitar volume settings (5) for the rhythm parts, I found that the arpeggio wasn’t coming out clearly enough (too muddy, not punchy enough), so I had to raise it a bit higher.
I only used one mic here, since when I realized I wasn’t cutting the album tone, I felt as I could settle to a more live tone.
I also remixed completely all of the levels of the original multitrack. Snare drum was set higher than on the live album, so was the bass drum. The bass is king here: I really raised it a lot higher and boosted its frequencies. I wanted to have a rhythm section powerhouse.
Guitars used were three in total, the 1968 “blackie” Standard for the solo, the 1969 Custom (now with cream pickguard replica) for the main rhythm parts and the 1961 Standard for the middle part in the centre of the stereo position (a classic for AC/DC studio albums) and for the solo bits at the end. The reasons for I used these specific guitars were:
– the 1969 Custom has a Di Marzio PU in the bridge position, which is rather hot (high output). I wanted a hot pickup, to get a fat and defined sound for the rhythm parts. Plus the guitar is really playable, low action, easy to play.
– the 1968 “blackie” Standard was used on the contrary because its bridge t-top is rather weak sounding, and I wanted the solo sound to reflect this. Also, it is extremely resonant and a joy to play (easy, again).
– the 1961 Standard was mostly there for “color” (yep 😛 ). It is an excellent guitar as well.
The mic position was another thing I spent a lot of time on, and I did try several positions. I am convinced that on the studio album, much of the sound I love of those guitars come from an off-axis, off-center microphone position. We must keep in mind that Tony Platt’s technique for microphoning involved two microphones per cabinet, and summarizing his several descriptions of this, it was one off centered on the border (circa) of the cone, probably on-axis, and the other one circa 6 inches away facing roughly another speaker. It is with this latter microphone position I think that he captured much of the cabinet (and room) nuances that I strive to get to. Still to this day, I haven’t found the trick that does it.
Since I was using only one microphone, I put mine off center but on axis, since I needed the punch (bass and treble) typical of this position, otherwise my guitars would be too undefined.
Please keep in mind – once again – that microphoning techniques are tantamount for capturing great tone, probably even more so than the amp’s settings, guitars used and all. The microphone, its characteristics (specifications) and its placement are super-important. Please refer to this excellent article here and read, read and read on.
Once all the parts were down, I added equalization and a bit of reverb to them all. Finding the right levels between my right-most rhythm part, André’s left-most Malcolm part and the other parts was time consuming as well. I also equalized André’s Malcolm part to reflect a bit the equalization on the other guitars and try and blend a bit the sounds.
The equalization curve (using Sonnox Equalization Plugin) wasn’t easy to setup. [equalization curve images to be added[.
Once all of this was done, I “mastered” the track with a iZiotope plugin for mastering. The Mastering phase is also extremely important for the sound of a recording. All professional recordings are always mastered once they come out of the main mixing phase.
André’s Parts: Malcolm, Angus on final solo/jingle, video editing
I originally recorded my parts for this collaboration some months ago. I used my 2007 Gibson SG Standard for all of them. They didn’t come out really well (tuning issues, timing issues…).
Then, after a while, I was able to make my second try. This time, for Malcolm’s part, I used a 2009 Gibson Les Paul Standard 1958 Reissue (with Burstbuckers 1 and 2) to get a “fatter” and “woodier” tone (well…. I don’t have a Gretsch Jet Firebird. So this was the best I could do :P).
At this point, my SG had brand new pickups installed (an Angus Young Signature on the bridge and a Classic ’57 on the neck), so I decideed to re-record Angus’ parts as well.
I used the “JUMP” patch and the “Control Room” from Guitar Rig 4 for all of the parts, but I changed the settings slightly for each of them.
I don’t really have the “REAL” gear to play AC/DC, so I concentrated more on the “playing” than on the “recording” itself. (Sorry about my camera angle. I didn’t pay much attention to it and now it’s impossible to see what I’m doing with my right hand)
I tried to really “feel” the song. So I just closed my eyes and “grooved” along. The faster tempo was a real challenge. Just one milisecond of distraction and… BANG… another failed take.
I found out that the best way to keep everything in place was to move my body: stomp my feet, headbang and sing the notes I played (kind of Kossoff style – :P). One of the things that I learned with Fil is that playing isn’t just about the hands. You have to really throw yourself into it, really “dig it”. Your mind, your heart and your instincts have to be in harmony with what you are doing. The other things: dynamics, timing and the groove will come naturally, but only if you really “FEEL IT!“
It took a while, and finally I got some “decent” takes. I listened to them one last time to make sure everything was alright and sent them to Fil.
Fil “treated” my parts so they could cut better through the mix (and they really sound A LOT BETTER now! :P)
After a little chat, we decided that we wouldn’t use my Angus’ parts: our original plan was to have the two of us playing the solos – like on “All Right Now” – but it didn’t work really well (the only part that worked was the final solo/jingle). So, the final mix only has Fil playing the main solo.
And then, it came to the video part. As this song has that kind of “heavy” and “dark” mood, my idea for this one is to recreate the very same feel with the background footage.
I found some nice images of lightnings in the nightsky, I thought that they could provide that “moody” surounding, a feel of “loss”, “mourning” and “uncertainty”, that I believe the band was feeling when the album was recorded. I thought it would be a good idea to make it a tribute to the band, especially to Bon (and I believe the song itself is about him, actually). So I added some photos, in a way that they would “tell the story” of the band.
Now, add our videos over the background was, perhaps, the hardest part. My video-editor (Pinnacle Studio 14) is really good. I can do many things with it. But it’s also really unreliable (and I think it needs to be reinstalled). I had a lot of troubles with the synch (in special with Fil’s videos – Pinnacle for some reason is muting MOV files, so I had to use use my eyes and ears to put everything in place). I’m used to the “bugs” and frequent “crashes” of this software, but I really had a headache to deal with them It seems that every time I make a video, it “decides” to come up with a new bug to annoy me. This was no exception: The “Advanced 2d effect” started failing on my clip: at the cuts, there was a huge “me” covering all the screen… I spent some time looking for a solution… The software crashed and shut down the whole computer. I waited until it was working again and I finally fixed the bug: the solution was to add a fast transition at the snd of my clips. Still, that shouldn’t be happening. Then, while trying to put Fil’s videos in synch, there was another “neat” surprise for me: While the begining of the video was in synch, the end was totally off!! :O
I spent a lot of time messing with the video, making cuts…. It crashed a couple of times…. Until I finally was able to make it work. I rendered the video and sent to Fil.
Then, we noticed that it wasn’t 100% good yet. So, the next day, I started fixing more problems: There were some parts where the synch was way off, there were some “gaps” at the end of Fil’s clips… Anyway… After more “crashes”, “bugs” and “headaches”, I finally managed to get a good video. Fil asked me to make it with a better resolution. So, I did it. And the final result is what you see at the top of this page