Crafters of Tennessee TN Flattop: A pre-war D18 copy. This is most of the acoustic tracks on the album — it’s perfect with a pick. Not so great for fingerstyle, but it records as beautifully as it sounds in person, with piano-like separation between the notes and none of the muted feel of a real Martin. It’s held the same role every album of mine since Hard Times.
Larrivee D-05: A koa model that isn’t made anymore. This is all the fingerpicking on every album I’ve done. It was a guitar that I picked up, played for 5 minutes, and have loved ever since. It’s probably my favorite instrument that I have ever owned.
The DonQuixotecaster: The Stratele me and my dad put together. The pickups are John Benson’s 50s Strat set. It’s my main live electric but it’s not always my favorite thing to track with.
Red Tele: A modified semi-hollow American ash Fender Telecaster. The pickups are a Kinman set with a telecaster neck pickup in the neck, and a broadcaster set in the middle and bridge. It’s got a pretty wide range of sounds in it, but the two neck pickups together are an extremely clean, bright sound that’s my favorite clean tone for recording. This is also the guitar that kind of got me to revive Midway Fair in 2007 and finish writing the album that became Fireworks at the Carnival.
Sheraton 50th Anniversary: I did a blog post about this guitar; it’s very useful for when I want something to sound very midrangy and bluesy, or when there’s a lot of distortion needed.
Epiphone Viola Bass: The pickups were rewound by John Benson, and I redid the wiring to something more useful that can do series or parallel switching.
Roland FP-5: It works but I need to do a lot of post processing to get it to sound even remotely real.
Weber Bitterroot: A pretty nice F-style mandolin.
Some 1950s German violin: This was the mandolin I got right before I went to Texas. It’s barely audible on the first track. Someday I might be able to play this thing.
Deering Goodtime: This is the last set of recordings that will use this instrument at all. I traded it in to House of Musical Traditions and got a far, far better sounding Gold Tone open back banjo, which is very close to the one Rick uses on the track “Riddles” but with a larger head. This thing had tuning and neck stability issues that I was never able to correct, but I did get some parts on it upgraded to make it sound a little better than stock.
A shaker: Accept no substitutes.
Logic’s Drummer: I don’t play drums (and wouldn’t be able to due to neighbors anyway), but the various kits are useful, and the midi programming is often a decent starting point. I’m pretty meticulous about programming them even with the time crunch of FAWM.
Interface, Amps, and Preamps.
Fireface 400: I replaced my Scarlett in December (I was fed up with its poor performance with outboard gear). I couldn’t be happier. It’s small, simple, and sounds great. The preamps are also extremely clinical, which was especially good for room mics and other things I wanted super clean.
Sakura: My modernized champ build. This is on every electric guitar and bass track done with a microphone.
FET + Ge Pre: The two-channel preamp I designed/hacked together. Jensen and Carnhill transformers. I prefer the Ge side on most things, but the FET side really came in handy when I wanted some distortion. I even chained them at one point.
ART Pro MPA II: An underrated budget piece of gear; it’s also the only thing in ART’s line that runs on actual plate voltage (though it’s half of what would be ideal for the 12AX7s in it). It has an impedance control that’s pretty neat for adjusting the top end with transformer mics, and a low-cut filter that was useful on a lot of vocal tracks.
Junco 47: My DIY 47-flavored FET mic build finished in January. It’s fairly mid-forward, which proved to be a problem in a couple instances because my room has a bit of resonance somewhere near 500Hz, but it also sounds “right” when doing my “country” voice, especially with a bit of saturation added. I found the omni mode surprisingly useful for vocals, and the figure 8 pattern was came in handy for getting a “vintage” sound from an acoustic guitar while rejecting the vocals. Somewhat predictably, it didn’t handle recording an acoustic in general very well.
D251: This is the tube mic I built late last year, based on the ELA251 but with one of the Chinese edge-terminated capsules. (Which sounds fine.) It’s a little brighter than some other options but still has some interesting color. It sounded great on almost everything I used it for, especially when singing in a lower register, really anything where I needed some extra cut. It also did a surprisingly great job on acoustic guitar and I probably would have trusted it to do a lot more tasks if I wasn’t experimenting with other things so much.
Sennheiser MK4: Still one of my favorites, but it didn’t get nearly as much use as last year (when it was on almost every track). I think it’s the best thing currently in my arsenal for getting a really clean and accurate acoustic guitar capture, and it was predictably still a good choice on vocals. It also won the shootout for Joe’s vocals.
RE-20: This thing is such a great fit for my voice that it’s now my main live microphone (the first Midway Fair album was recorded with the SM7, but when I went to buy one of my own, it turned out that the RE20 was the better fit), but I really only ended up using it for lead vocals on one track. It was a bit of a workhorse otherwise — close mic for the guitar amp when I wanted a bit more top than the ribbon could give me, and “chunky” sounding acoustic or mandolin tracks.
Austin Ribbon: The ribbon mic I built last year. Still awesome for close-micing the amp, but also useful for figure 8 stuff and natural sounding acoustic instruments.
Line Audio OM1: I got a pair of these last year; this is often my room microphone now. Incredibly natural sounding and flat through the entire audio spectrum. Even though my room is small and doesn’t sound great (not saying it’s bad, just not great), it still adds something you just can’t duplicate with digital reverbs. It was nicer when I was in the living room/dining room due to the extra space, but I do get less noise overall when using it now.
Strymon El Capistan: Almost every guitar delay track on the album used this.
Bearhug Compressor: The build with the Hundred Acre wood on it; it’s version 2 but before the trimpot version. This is on every electric guitar track, and most of the bass tracks.
Snow Day OD: I used this in one or two places for some distortion.
Winnie the Pooh and Some Bees: This is a 7-knob Fuzz Face derivative build for me by Luke from Luck Duck Pedals (before I could make such things for myself). It had a passive boost in it before, which I’ve since swapped out for a modified MOSFET booster. This was the only fuzz I used this year.
Tap Tempo Cardinal Harmonic Tremolo: The one on the “Things I Make” page that lives on my gigging board. It’s all the electric guitar tremolo effects on the album.
Sugar Blues Wah: A Madbean Weener wah I built with a yellow Fasel inductor and a rotary for the frequency switch. It’s got a FET booster in it as well, but I think I left that off. Used on one song.
Ernie Ball Volume Pedal: Responsible for all the swell effects.
Moss Press: My build of Ray Ring’s Mosfet compressor. I was never been able to duplicate this pedal, and it makes for some super thick sounding bass lines. Definitely not for when I want to be able to hear the bass, but for more upright-sounding bass lines, it gets very close to not needing any post-processing when I use this thing.
Logic Compressor: Mostly the “Studio FET” model, which I believe is modeled on the revision F 1176; sometimes the vintage FET (definitely a revision D); and sometimes the vintage optical (an LA-2A approximation).
Klanghelm MJUC: A vari-mu compressor emulator. It’s a really simple plug and play compressor with just two knobs. It consistently sounds excellent on almost every vocal I throw it on, with just the right amount of magic.
Logic Channel and Linear Phase EQ: Channel EQ on most tracks to control the low-end and linear phase EQ on the master tracks for very small adjustments between compression stages. Last year I was able to do basically the whole album without much EQ at all, but being in a smaller room this year, and sometimes being a little less careful with placement and proximity, meant that I had to do a lot more high-passing. But getting better with EQ is a bit reason the tracks this year sounded much cleaner and clearer than previously.
Logic Adaptive Limiter: Much improved from previous versions. The intersample peak detection and optimum lookahead make it do exactly what it’s supposed to. (In fact, I compared it with numerous other well-regarded free limiters and it’s the only one that didn’t distort.)
Tokyo Dawn’s Kotelnikov Compressor: A brilliant bus compressor. You can push things pretty hard with it and hardly hear it working, and it excels at low-ratio settings with the bass relaxation on. And it’s free.
Tokyo Dawn Slick EQ: Useful for a couple simple EQ procedures, but the big one is that it can add saturation easily to a single band. I used it for smoothing out the nasally vocals on the country songs (which ironically involved pushing the midrange at 1KHz to get some distortion there and sort of “smear” it).
Tokyo Dawn Proximity: An usual plugin designed to alter the distance of a track. However, it’s also a fader with some color to it. I used it on the “Touch of Vinyl” setting in the final mix chain to take a little of the edge off sometimes.
Logic Tape Delay: It’s a well-known secret that this can be set to 0mS and used as a tape simulator. I’d prefer something nicer sounding but in low doses this does what I want.
Logic Multipressor: I will probably replace this with the Toyko Dawn dynamic EQ, but it does what I want it for: Compress the lows some while leaving the midrange intact before everything hits the mastering compressors.
Melda MStereoExpander: Melda has a package of cool free plugins. This one does fun things with the stereo image on a final mix, much better than Logic’s native version of this tool. I’m pretty heavy handed with it, but probably because I’m fairly tame with the reverbs on the main track for better mono compatibility.
Logic Multimeter: Much better in the latest version. I have to do a lot of track referencing and double checking visually because I’m forced to mix primarily on headphones, and this does a pretty decent job of RMS metering.
BlueCat FreqAnalyst: A very very good and fast meter with memory. It’s great for checking consistency throughout a track and across multiple tracks, as well as matching profiles to reference tracks. I was able to get much much closer to what I wanted the final mixes to sound like after I started using this.
Logic Rotary: It’s got enough parameters to sound reasonably convincing in a mix on an organ or guitar.
Logic Tremolo: Used in a couple places when I needed tremolo on something other than an electric guitar.
Logic Pitchshifter: Does what I needed, so I don’t see any need for something better.
Space Designer: Without paying for a reverb, this is about as good as it gets. Tons of different sounds, though I do find that they all need some tweaking and some EQ on the bus. The ones I used the most were probably “Nice Room” (something like that) and a small hall, probably nothing longer than 1.5s on the entire album.
Final mix/”Mastering” chain: Exciter (usually off), Proximity; Tape Delay (0ms setting); Multipressor; Kotelnikov; Linear EQ; MStereoExpander; Compressor (FET mode); iZotope Vinyl (only on certain songs); and Adaptive Limiter.