|November 16, 2010 | Gear, Ibanez Iceman, Philosophy, White Zombie
( click-click for full size-size ) It’s been interesting that fully half of the email I’ve been getting is about the records I’ve been producing and my various curatorial pursuits, which is not really what I was expecting, but gratifying .. and, yes, the other half is all about that White Zombie guitar sound. The volume of this mail is becoming difficult to handle, so I’m going to try and spell most of it out here, and we’ll leave it at that. Let’s begin, shall we?
Above is a photo taken of my on-stage rig by my guitar tech ( the mighty Michael Kaye ) – this would be from around the middle of the Astro-Creep : 2000 slog, which I can tell by the guitar lineup here : left to right, we’ve got my custom shop black Iceman ( in the ” straight C# ” tuning, i.e., low to high, C#, F#, B, E, G#, C# – we started using this tuning for some of the between-album stuff, like Feed The Gods and our cover of Black Sabbath’s Children Of The Grave, and then for a bunch of the Astro-Creep tracks ), then my black factory-made-in-Japan neck-through Iceman ( in the ” Drop C# ” tuning, low to high, C#, G#, C#, F#, A#, D# ), which is the guitar I used to record the rhythm tracks for More Human Than Human, Creature Of The Wheel, and etc. and my main guitar for playing those tunes live– next is a factory bolt-on Iceman in drop C# tuning, which was a spare. I honestly don’t remember if I ever broke a string and actually played this one.
Next is my blue Robin Machete ( in the ” half-step down ” tuning, low to high, D#, G#, C#, F#, A#, D# ) – we recorded the La Sexorcisto LP in the standard EADGBE tuning ( entirely with the cheap but solid Charvel 6 [ often referred to by fans as the '666 guitar' ] that you see on the cover of that album ) – we were, as far as I can remember, dimly aware of tuning down at that point but hadn’t messed with it yet – then, sometime during the long, long ( long ) tour for that album, we started tuning down half a step ( it’s amazing what that relatively minor change does to expand the width and breadth of a band’s sound ) and we recorded the ” tuned-up ” tracks on Astro-Creep ( Electric Head, Part 2, Etc. ) in that tuning as well, all of which were done with the same blue Machete. Next to that is the Astro-Surf guitar, custom made for me by Schecter — as per my instructions, a modern twin-humbucker copy of the iconic 1960s Teisco Spectrum 5 with a fantastic ” holo-flake ” finish .. you’ll notice that in the following years Schecter followed my lead and made the Teisco headstock standard on most of their guitars. Finally, after that, we have the custom shop prototype of my signature model ( the ICJ100WZ, or ” star ” ) Ibanez Iceman in straight C# tuning. The guitars for the recording of tracks in this tuning on Astro-Creep were pretty much evenly split between the two custom shop Icemans on view here — later, when the first factory-made signature model showed up, I retired the black one. Ibanez really did do a fantastic job with the production version – there is virtually no difference with the prototype.
( click-click for full size-size ) On to the rig. On the left, there’s the rack gear – this seems like a giant, complex stack of stuff, but if you look closely, you can see that it’s actually not. Top-to-bottom, there’s a Furman power supply, a couple of different wireless units ( you can never be too careful ), Whirlwind Multi Selector, Mesa signal splitter ( a quality device, although these days, when I have to send a guitar signal to a bunch of amps, I use a Radial JD7 ) .. next, there’s a vintage MXR 31-band graphic EQ, then a drawer containing a couple of pedals, which I think at this point was just an Ibanez Tube Screamer and an old MXR Phase 90.
Okay, now I’m going to take a moment to answer a question I get asked constantly : how did I get that cool sound on Blur The Technicolor? Well, so, we know that in recording heavy, guitar-driven music, to create a truly big sound we generally want to double the guitar – that is, record two of the exact same rhythm guitar parts and pan them so that one’s all the way in the left speaker, the other all the way in the right. This is not easy, as the technique only works if those 2 guitar tracks are as exactly identical as humanly possible — but the paradoxical thing is that you can’t just take one guitar part and duplicate it on another track and try to shift it with a little delay or by a tiny increment of pitch. That sounds like what it is, which is one guitar with an effect on it. The key to doubling guitars is that they must be alike enough to fool the brain into perceiving the two parts as one big one, but with enough tiny, human differences to where the sound is perceived as stereo. That’s retarded, right? Well, yes, but it works. It’s very difficult. At one point during the recording of Astro-Creep, I was having a lot of trouble doubling a part and to encourage me, Terry Date – producer of Astro-Creep – told me about how recording the rhythm guitar parts for Pantera’s Walk ( which he also produced ) took something like three days, with Darryl growing so frustrated that he nearly put a fist through the wall .. but the results are pretty stellar. If You listen to walk, it sounds like one very large guitar.
Anyway, so, I wanted to use my MXR Phase 90 ( block logo, therefore manufactured sometime between 1977 and 1984 – I bought it for ten bucks from a kid in the building WZ lived in when we first moved to L.A. ), which I managed to set so that the rate and tone of the phase-sweep ( yes, I know the Phase 90 has only one knob, but there is an internal control as well ) accented the guitar riff in a cool way .. the trouble was, one guitar track wasn’t going to cut it, so the guitar needed to be doubled. There’s no way that two guitar tracks are going to sound like one when the two have a modulating effect such as phase, unless that effect can be in sync, and how would you do that? Terry’s assistant Ulrich Wild ( who is kind of a genius with things like this, which is one of the reasons he’s been able to go on to become a big-shot producer himself ) figured out that, while hitting the footswitch on the pedal started the phase at any random point in its sweep, physically plugging the guitar cord into the pedal’s input jack started the sweep from the exact same point every time — so what we had to do was, Terry operated the tape machine, ..
( oh, let me point something else out here : Astro-Creep is an analog album. There was no pro-tools yet, per se — a lot of the loops were running on a primitive DAW that was synced up to tape, but the album was recorded and mixed on three 24-track Studer machines chained together. People assume that the ‘human’ instruments were chopped, diced, fixed, edited in a computer, the way anyone can do today – this is not the case. The guitar, bass, and drums on the album are as they were played, by people, in real time, working very hard. An odd fact is that the previous LP, La Sexorcisto, is a actually a digital album – producer Andy Wallace had access to a Sony 48-track digital tape machine, which was a pretty big deal at that point [ 48 tracks! You'll notice that I got really overdub-happy on that album. Because I could. ] but fell out of favor soon afterward. )
.. and Ulrich sat on the floor with the Phase 90 in hand and plugged the guitar cord into the pedal right before the part started, at exactly the same time on both takes, so that the phase effect would be in time with itself. A team effort which took all day to get right, but it sure was worth it.
Okay, back to the rack. Next, there’s the MXR Flanger/ Doubler. Notice that in the top photo, which is from later than the lower one, I’ve covered up both MXR rackmount units with black tape. I did this because people were always sniffing around, trying to figure out how I got my sound – and that’s, of course, ironic, because I 100% stole the Flanger/ Doubler idea from Darryl from Pantera. And he didn’t care at all, thought it was funny. Next, there’s a bunch of Rocktron stuff : Intellifex, Guitar Silencer noise gates, Rocktron-Bradshaw switching system. You can also see the foot controller for the switching system on top of the rack in both photos. The only pedal I had out on stage was my Dunlop 535Q wah ( although later I replaced that with a Dunlop remote wah ), and my guitar tech actually operated the pedals in the drawer, and the big stereo delays from the Intellifex, and channel switching, by hand with the foot controller. If you look at live footage from the period, you’ll see me stomping around a lot. Some of that was just stomping ( rarrrrrr !! ), but a lot of the time it was actually me signaling for a switch to be hit. Another backwards-ass thing I used to do is with the Tube Screamer – I did use it as my ” a little bit more ” boost pedal for solos, as is commonly done ( that’s the great thing about that pedal, is that it doesn’t actually sound like you’ve stepped on a pedal when you turn it on ), but I used a lot of controlled feedback in my playing, and I would set the Screamer to overpower the noise gates, which were necessary to make rhythm work sound tight through a massive-gain amp setup.
Let’s move on to the amps in the middle. Two Mesa-Boogie Triple Rectifiers, and two Randall Century 200s, each head feeding two Mesa standard Rectifier cabs, so that’s 4 stacks, two for each side of the stage, in stereo. Sean had an SVT 8X10 cab on each side of the drums as well — so we were, you know, loud, and we could hear everything wherever we were on stage. The idea behind this particular amp setup is that, yes, I was quite influenced by Darryl’s setup, feeding the Flanger/ Doubler into the Randalls, and I wanted to use aspects of that sound ( it’s a really weird sound, when you think about it ), but not have it sound exactly like Pantera — so I started running the Randalls through the Mesa cabs instead of the Randall Jaguar-loaded cabs ( which I liked a lot ), which resulted in a very different but cool sound, and I started running the more-normal-sounding Triple Recs alongside the Randalls, although set to ‘silicone diode’, not ‘tube’.
The setup in the studio for Astro-Creep was a little different. I wasn’t carrying a camera around at that point, and to my knowledge there aren’t any photos of what was going on, which is too bad. The setup for the album was the rack of gear you see in the photos and four half-stacks : A Randall Century 200 head through a Randall Jaguar cabinet, a Randall Century 200 head through a Mesa cabinet, a Mesa Triple Rec through a Mesa cabinet, and a Marshall Valvestate ( I was in love with that crazy transistor-metal sound that Tommy from Prong had ) through .. I don’t remember, either a Randall or a Mesa. These were all going at once, but each cab was miced with only a single Shure SM57, and then the four signals were summed in the console and sent to one track on tape. I was determined to achieve the sound I had in my head, and I was quite picky ( and a little bratty ) about the tones we were getting : there was quite a bit of moving the mics around, and I made Terry and Ulrich do quite a lot of radical EQing. I didn’t understand much about recording at this point, so I didn’t grasp that the general practice when recording most sound sources, especially electric guitars, is to use EQ as little as possible so as to leave room for EQing if it needs to be done during mixdown .. and that it’s a point of pride with recording engineers to attain a desired sound by selecting the proper microphones and positioning them correctly, which is a big deal, because when a mic is jammed right up in an amp’s speaker cone, moving it just half an inch can change the sound drastically.
Not that I would have given a fuck if I had understood any of that at the time. I was making a big-budget major label album, and I knew that this might be the one and only time in my life that a major corporation would pay for me to work at one of the best recording studios in the world, with the best engineers, and keep paying for it until it was done. My mantra was ” There is no reason for this to not be PERFECT “.
Later, when I dropped in at mix sessions for the Deftones’ Around The Fur album, Terry played me a track and said, ” Hear that? That guitar has NO EQ on it! ” .. and it did sound really good, and I just smiled and thought, ” Well, who cares? My record’s awesome! “. That’s a very good feeling.
P.S. I did not become interested in the Iceman because of Kiss, as is widely assumed. It was because of this guy right here :
.. And this other guy, seen here on the back cover of the first record I ever bought, might have had something to do with it too.