EQ Interview Extras: Jake Shimabukuro
By Jack Britton
The February issue of EQ profiled Jake Shimabukuro’s Peace Love Ukelele. Here, read more from engineer Milan Bertosa about working with Shimabukuro.
Bertosa: Jake and I started working together about three years ago and we’ve worked on three or four things that ended up in Japan plus the  live album.
Most of the new album [Peace Love Ukulele] was done at a studio on Oahu outside of Honolulu called Avex. It’s a really nice built in the mid- to late ’90s, with a couple of SSL control rooms, a good sized room for drums and various booths. It’s a good space. I usually bring in my own pre’s and Pro Tools rig, so basically we use the SSL for monitoring. Kanye West was downstairs recording while we working at Avex. A couple of things were done at Sony Studio A in Tokyo on a Neve board, using those pre’s.
Almost everything was recorded live in the studio. A lot of the tunes were first take—like “Go for Broke,” and “Bring Your Adz” was probably a first or second take with some punches in. So, it would be Jake and [bassist] Dean Taba and [drummer] Noel Okimoto, who tour with hi. We tried to capture the performances, His players are great and making stuff too stylized doesn’t really get you anywhere so I try not to change the sound of the instruments. The ukulele is pretty amazing as it is, and so is the stuff he does on there. Basically, if you capture what’s coming off his hands it’s a ‘win.’
EQ: Is recording Jake different than recording another great uke player, like Troy Fernandez?
Well, Jake is incredibly meticulous about what he wants to hear out of his instrument, more than anyone else I’ve worked with. Troy Fernandez and I worked a lot together. The sound of him playing the uke is the sound of the uke struggling to stay in one piece, because he’s this huge, monstrous guy who was pummeling the life out of it, and playing Eddie Van Halen licks while he’s doing it. [Laughs] Jake is a very finessed guy—he can go from whisper-soft stuff to extremely loud stuff and we’ve figured out a miking scheme that gives us the best of all those worlds.
Was it hard to find space for the uke in a full electric band?
No, that was not a problem. The guys in the group are very aware of what Jake’s instrument sounds like, so everyone leaves room. The first cut on the album [“143 (Kelly’s Song)”] is incredibly dense, with strings and electric guitar, but because everyone plays with reference to each other, there’s lots of room for Jake on there. It’s a pretty simple process.
Do you use any outboard gear on the uke?
Using multiple mics give us the opportunity to go for certain tones, if we want, instead of messing around with EQs. I used a Fairchild on “Bohemian Rhapsody” [ recorded in Japan]; on everything else we used a little bit of optical ADL [Anthony Demaria Labs] 1500 compression, but very little.
Do you use any plug-ins in general?
I use some Sound Toys stuff—a lot of little delays things here and there; subtly. I don’t go crazy. McDSP compressors are great—you can really dial ’em. And Steven Massey makes ridiculously good stuff for almost no money.