1. Keep it Mono
Back in the day, having more than four tracks was a luxury. Things like doubling the same part or recording one take with multiple microphones for a stereo effect were reserved for only the most important aspects of a song (vocals, solos). For that retro sound, try keeping all of your parts as single-take mono tracks. Yes, that means reverbs too. A cool trick is to create an entire song with mono tracks panned to the center, then use LCR panning at the very end for some old school stereo width.
2. Spring Reverb
If you want that retro guitar sound, only one type of reverb will do – spring reverb. Built into to almost every classic amp, spring reverb is an essential component of any vintage tone. Even a little bit goes a long way towards retro-ville. Experiment with various amounts of verb to turn your average retro licks into anything from surf rock leads to psychedelic solos to sweet soul riffs. But don’t forget Tip 1 – keep it mono.
3. Single Coil Pick Ups
Most vintage axes were equipped with single coil pickups. Although “humbuckers” have a huge place in guitar history, it’s things like P-90s, Golf-foils and Lipstick pick ups that have the guitar world in a frenzied quest for tone with a capital “T.” But you don’t need collectible or obscure for a retro sound – any old single coil pick up will do. These puppies will “pick up” the dynamics and character in your playing – all of the good, the bad and the ugly. And if you’re going for retro, you need the bad and the ugly.
4. The Right Effects
Certain guitar effects evoke certain time periods and genres. To nail a retro guitar sound, it helps to be a little historically accurate with your pedal use. For a pre-1980’s tone, it’s a good idea to steer clear of any stereo modulation effects like wide Flangers, Phasers, Choruses and modulating Delays or Reverbs. But, these same effects in their mono infancy can be really handy in creating some out-there vintage tones. Start small with the basics – Tremolo, Fuzz, Wah, Echo, and Spring Verb – then try adding some mind-altering, swirling goodness to taste. Remember, if anything you do starts to sound like Joe Satriani, immediately turn off your amp and start over.
5. Record an Amp with a Microphone
In the day of bedroom studios and at home recording, this is an inconvenient yet guaranteed Tone creating technique most folks don’t want to hear: record with an amp. It’s that simple – use a real microphone in a real room and record actual sound coming from an amplifier as you play it. No plug ins needed. The very mention of this concept opens up many cans of worms, but for the sake of this article I’ll say recording an amp is great because it all but guarantees Tips 1-4. You’ll be recording a mono signal, hopefully with some actual spring reverb, capitalizing on all that single coil character, and throwing in some vintage styled effects for good measure. Grab an SM57 and an amp and I think you’ll like what you hear.
When crafting the Sample Magic “Retro Guitars” pack, we used a 1965 Ampeg Gemini II amplifier and a variety of guitars, effects and microphones to bring the most authentic vintage vibes to your productions.
Bonus Tip: Try adding some noise to your guitar stems – tape hiss, vinyl noise, room tone, air, etc. This is a sure fire way to amp up the old school – try Sample Magic’s “Analogue Noise” for a start.
Tips provided by Justin Lucas