His resume is one of the most impressive in rock. He brought the world Green Day and gave the word “Dookie” new meaning. His records have sold nearly 200 million copies and Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, My Chemical Romance, Kid Rock, Avril Lavigne, Fleetwood Mac, The Goo Goo Dolls, David Cook, Paramore, Hot Hot Heat, [...]
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Recording engineer/producer Eddie Kramer would earn a rightful place in the rock guitar hall of fame for his work on Jimi Hendrix’s groundbreaking Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold as Love, Electric Ladyland and Band of Gypsys albums alone. But those achievements are just the tip of the iceberg in a long and industrious career that includes work on numerous studio and live albums by Led Zeppelin, Kiss and the Rolling Stones, various recording projects featuring players like Jeff Beck, Tommy Bolin, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Ted Nugent, Todd Rundgren, Carlos Santana and Johnny Winter, and several of the best-selling live albums of all-time, including Kiss Alive!, Frampton Comes Alive! and the original soundtrack to Woodstock.
While Kramer is best known for his work with legendary classic rock artists, he has made significant contributions to modern classics as well. During the Eighties he produced Alcatrazz’s Disturbing the Peace album, which introduced Steve Vai to a mainstream hard rock audience before Vai went on to play with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, and he produced Anthrax’s influential thrash masterpiece Among the Living and their seminal metal/hip-hop hybrid track “I’m the Man.” Although his schedule is as busy as ever, he still finds time to work with up-and-coming artists like Indigenous (featuring guitarist Mato Nanji), Kid Rock guitarist Kenny Olson, and Matchbox 20 guitarist Kyle Cook.
Recently Kramer stepped out behind the mixing console to help Digitech develop two revolutionary signature series pedals—the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Brian May Red Special pedal. These products are designed using production modeling technology to duplicate several of the most famous guitar tones these players captured on tape. Kramer is also a consultant to companies like Shure, Line 6 and Waves. After the Hendrix family regained the rights to Jimi’s legacy in 1995, Kramer has worked almost non-stop on numerous posthumous Jimi Hendrix albums, including several acclaimed projects that were released from the Hendrix archives. This year he collaborated on the 5.1 surround mix for the Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music DVD and he worked extensively on Rhino’s upcoming Woodstock 40th Anniversary six-CD box set.
While Kramer has worked with some of the biggest names in the business, he’s very approachable and willing to offer advice to anyone who seeks his input. As a counselor in the Hollywood Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp (rockcamp.com), he gives unknown, unsigned guitarists and artists once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to record an original song at Capitol Studios while he produces and engineers the session.
“Here are individuals who have a dream and they’re trying to realize that dream,” says Kramer. “It’s really heartwarming for me to be in the studio with a bunch of people—kids, middle-aged people, really older guys. Some of participants are soldiers who were injured in the war and they were trying to get back something that they’d lost. It’s very touching. You’ve got to support that. The Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp provides me with a means to give something back to an industry that has given me so much.”
Guitar Center spent an afternoon with Eddie Kramer at the Hollywood store discussing his long and illustrious career, recording techniques and favorite tools of the trade.
What led to you becoming a recording engineer and producer?
I was born in South Africa and raised in a musical family. From an early age I showed some sort of attraction for the piano. In 1960 I moved to England. I wanted to do something with music and electronics. Finally I figured out that I should get a job in a recording studio, so I got job at London’s Advision Studios as a tea boy. I eventually learned how to record in mono and edit—just the basics of recording. It was very primitive in those days. On weekends I was able to bring in friends of mine who were jazz musicians and we would experiment. I learned how to put mics in the right place, how much gain and EQ to use, and what sounded good and what didn’t. I’m sure some of those recording sound bloody awful, but I was learning.
Then I got a job at Pye Studios, which was seriously cutting edge for the day. I jumped from mono to a three-track Ampex tape machine, a big German Neumann console, and great Neumann mics. Bob Auger, who was the most brilliant engineer I’ve ever worked with, was in charge of the studio. One day we’d go out with the Pye mobile, which was a portable three-track Ampex and three Neumann U47s, to record a 90-piece symphony orchestra. The next day we’d be back in the studio recording the Kinks, so we’d be going from the sublime to the ridiculous. We’d record Petula Clark, Sammy Davis Jr., and the Kenny Ball trad jazz band. It was the most amazing collection of different music coming in the door. Every day it was something different. Recording big orchestras really affected me because it gave me an idea of how to approach recording rock bands using classical recording techniques, which I still use today.
After Pye I decided to branch out on my own. In 1965 I had my own studio called KPS Sound Studios, which was in this tiny little room in Islington, north of London. I only had a two-track machine, which I borrowed, a couple of speakers, and a console. I recorded rock bands like John Mayall and the Kinks. We were bought out by Regent Sound. After six months I didn’t like working there any more.
How did you begin your working relationship with Jimi Hendrix?
I got a job at Olympic Studios in London, which was the cool independent studio. Olympic was one of the leading forces in independent recording studios. They were not tied to any major label, so it was easier for them to be edgier and try new techniques that nobody else was trying. Within a week or two of its opening we had Jimi Hendrix, the Stones, and on and on. Jimi came to Olympic because he had done some tracks like “Hey Joe” and “Stone Free” at another studio, and he and Chas Chandler were unhappy with the sound.
Somehow or other we hit it off right from the beginning, maybe because I was non-judgmental about his music. I had a very open mind about it. I was able to interpret what he wanted. If he came up with a sound on the floor of the studio I’d run into the control room, twiddle some knobs, put some reverb, EQ and compression on it, and he’d come into the studio and go, “Wow! That sounds nice.” Then he’d run back out into the studio and say, “Watch this!” We’d try to top each other. It was this mad competition to make it sound the very best that we could. He would always laugh when I’d do wacky stuff like panning.
Jimi was a man who thought very carefully about what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. Electric Ladyland was a very adventurous album. It gave me the feeling that I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. Jimi said, “Go for it. Let’s get as many crazy sounds as we can.” And we did. We experimented a lot—slowing down the tapes, phasing, reverse. We went nuts and it worked because we were creating these sound paintings.
Everyone talks at length about the bold new sounds Jimi created on Electric Ladyland, but you also captured some incredible straightforward guitar tones and performances from him, like on “Voodoo Chile.”
I remember that Jimi played a white Fender Stratocaster on that song. Surprisingly, the amp he used on that song was not a Marshall stack. It was actually a Fender Showman top with a huge cabinet with eight 10-inch speakers in it. You can hear it rumbling around on the floor of the Record Plant when you listen to the beginning of the song. He’s standing right in front of the amp and singing into the microphone, which was a Beyer M160—a ribbon mic that I always used on him. It’s a live recording. You can hear the sound reverberating all around in the room.
You’ve worked with many of the world’s greatest guitarists. Who were your favorite players to record?
I love them all for their various eccentricities and craziness. Each artist brings a different vibe to the table. Let’s say you took the two Jimmys—Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix—and you tried to analyze which of the two guys was doing something radically different. They both are. Jimmy Page comes from British folk, rock, pop and blues. He’s a very well trained and schooled musician. He came up through the ranks and put this band together that was unstoppable.
Then you look at Jimi Hendrix, who is probably the world’s greatest guitar player. Hendrix came from this school of discipline. He grew up in Seattle where his dad was really tough on him, he was put into the army where he got more discipline, then he came out of the army and went on the road on the chitlin circuit, working with Little Richard and the Isley Brothers. With those guys, if you put one foot wrong on stage they’d fine you five dollars. He had to break away from that, so he came to New York and tried to figure out who he was and where he was going. He had all of these ideas in his head about sounds that he couldn’t really express. If he tried to do that with Little Richard he’d be thrown off the stage or fired. That’s exactly what happened to him. Little Richard didn’t want Jimi to steal any of his thunder.
You look at these two giants and they both have something very individual to say. But they both came from this idea of discipline—learning your instrument and knowing it intimately, knowing the boundaries and beyond. Jimi used to sleep with his guitar. He played it eight hours a day. The guitar was like a toy in his hands.
What mic techniques do you think are the best for recording guitar?
I like to use multiple mics on the guitar amp. I may pick just one mic that I like, or three or two. Some people like close miking. Some like distance miking. Some like a combination of the two. Some people like ribbon mics and others like dynamic mics or condensers. I put all of them up. Each microphone has its own individual sound. I use different mics to give me different tone qualities from the guitar amp, although the Shure SM57 is my main go-to mic for guitar amps. You could do an entire session with just SM57s if you were smart, and I can’t do a session without one. A lot of the recorded sound has to do with the amp itself. The guitar player matters too. How is he hitting those chords? Does he execute cleanly?
What are some of your favorite mics for recording vocals and other instruments?
Let’s start with the Shure SM58. We never could have recorded Woodstock without that mic. You can hammer nails with the damn thing. It’s indestructible. They drop test their mics from a height of 10 feet onto concrete six times and the mic has to work perfectly after that.
The Shure Beta 52 is another essential item. Shure wanted to develop a mic that could handle the impact of a bass drum and low frequency signals like a bass amp, and they came up with this very robust dynamic mic called the Beta 52. It doesn’t overload, and it has this angle bracket so you can point it exactly where you want inside the bass drum head. I use the Beta 52 in combination with an SM91 and a KSM44 on the outside of the bass drum.
I worked with Shure to develop the KSM44, which has a double capsule and lets you switch between cardioid, omni and figure of eight patterns. It also has expanded top and bottom end, three bottom-end roll-off positions, and a -15dB pad. It’s relatively inexpensive. I’ve used them for years on overheads and vocals and as a room mic. The KSM32 is the junior version of the KSM44, and is has only a fixed cardioid pattern. I use the KSM32 on bass guitar.
I love vintage Neumann tube mics like the U47 and U67, but their new models are very good. I know the U87A very well. It’s my standard do-anything mic—horns, trumpets, strings, overheads, vocals. The Telefunken 251 tube mic is an amazing vocal mic. I’ve heard the Soundelux Elux 251 mic in the studio and it’s very close to the original Telefunken model. It’s made with modern technology and has a large diameter capsule.
What are some of your favorite guitar rigs?
There are a lot of great combinations—a Les Paul with a Marshall, a Strat with a Marshall, there’s the Boogie amp and the Budda, which I love. The thing with Les Pauls and Marshalls is there’s a nice interaction. Marshalls are a little edgy and the Les Paul is pretty damn chunky. There is something quite visceral and in your face when you play a big meaty chord on a Les Paul through a Marshall amp.
Vintage Fender tweed amps and the Deluxe are also great. Jimmy Page used to love working with those and things like little Vox and Silvertone amps. His use of small Vox and Fender amps just to get a biting tone that would stick out in the mix was genius. Keith Richards gets a ratty tone that’s amazing. Peter Frampton gets this glorious golden tone. Hendrix would use a single cab instead of a double cabinet in the studio. If he used a double cabinet he would split it in stereo. Jimi would often use two Uni-Vibes and we’d record them in stereo. We’d get a y-cord from his guitar and split the signal to two Uni Vibes going into two Marshall stacks to get a stereo effect of the sound bouncing back and forth.
There is an infinite palette to choose from. It’s a matter of personal taste. Every guitar player is going to come into the studio with his or her own specific amps—Orange, Marshall, Boogie, Budda, whatever. They’re all different and they all have their own particular tone qualities. You hope and pray that the guitar is in tune and that the guitarist can actually play the instrument. If the amp isn’t trashed and the neck is okay then you’ve got at least half of the battle done.
You’ve used a wide variety of gear over the years. How do you prefer to record music today?
I like to use a combination of the best of the analog world and the best of the digital world. I found a way to integrate those two worlds seamlessly. I still like to record to 2-inch 24-track tape with Dolby SR if we can afford it. Once I’ve got the basic tracks on multitrack I transfer it from the analog world into the digital world by going into Pro Tools at 24-bits and 96kHz. I use the best of what Pro Tools and plug-ins can give me in terms of editing and shaping and doing subtle changes. The sonic quality of Waves plug-ins is unbeatable. I could not have done the Woodstock remixes without Waves plug-ins, which allowed me to surgically remove pops, clicks and bangs, and twist, turn and manipulate the sound in ways that I couldn’t do before. Having said that, I still need my analog sound. I still need my Pultecs, Fairchild limiters and my Neve preamps.
One I’ve done all of the manipulation, I mix everything through an analog console—either an API or a Neve, with automation—back onto ½-inch tape, so I’m going analog to digital and back to analog. Then I’ll put the analog ½-inch tape through a Burl Audio converter back into Pro Tools. It sounds really good and I’m very happy with it.
What advice do you offer aspiring guitarists and recording artists?
I really hope that the next generation of artists is going to pay attention to the craft of songwriting. It’s the same as learning to play an instrument. It is a craft that you practice, and you have to work at it. Unfortunately I’m not so sure that most songwriting today is as good as it could be. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great songs out there or there aren’t great bands out there. Maybe it’s because 30 or 40 years ago there were less bands and now there are so many. It’s mind boggling how many bands are out there with their own spaces on the internet and you have to sort out which one is which.
What is the key to your own success?
Success comes from an ability to listen and to have an open mind. Listen to what the artist is trying to say and try to interpret it. Artists come to us in the studio and are entrusting us—the engineers and the producers—with their pride and joy. It is their creation. When I’m in the studio with an artist, I focus on his or her needs. How do I make them sound better? How do I take what they’re giving me—sound-wise, song-wise, creatively—and make it sound better? How do I make them feel comfortable? That’s my mindset. I’m being asked to take their creation out of their hands and make it into something that the general public can listen to. If I’ve done that then I’ve done my job. I was so lucky. I was in the right place at the right time and I had some talent. I’m still working in the business. I feel so thankful to be able to do this.