Brian Tarquin Pro/File: Tunes From the Jungle Room


Brian Tarquin

Photo: Ricky Restiano

Home Base: New York

Primary multitrack: Ampex MM1200 2-inch 24-track; Digidesign Pro Tools

Favored guitars: Gibson Les Pauls


Emmy-winning guitarist, composer and producer Brian Tarquin divides his time between making music for the screen (his credits include All My Children, MTV's Road Rules and the Keanu Reeves feature The Watcher, among others) and producing albums for his label, BHP Music Inc.

Over a career dating back to the 1980s, he's had success with both solo albums and compilations featuring such masters of the fretboard as Jeff Beck, Zakk Wylde, and Billy Sheehan. On Tarquin's latest project, Fretworx (BHP, 2009), he teamed up with guest musicians Steve Morse, Frank Gambale, Sheehan, Chuck Loeb, Max Middleton and others. The release combines the diversity of a compilation with the personal statement of a solo album. “I always wanted to work with all the cats that were on the record,” Tarquin says. “I had a certain guy in mind for each song.”

When it was feasible, Tarquin brought musicians into his home studio, The Jungle Room, located about 30 minutes north of New York City. Middleton, Morse and Gambale were not in the area, so Tarquin sent them tracks. “They sent me back their solos, which I flew in with [Digidesign] Pro Tools,” he says. “I mixed from Pro Tools to ½-inch tape.”

That use of Pro Tools was the exception, not the rule. “I'm a real analog guy,” Tarquin admits. “I have a Trident mixer from the late 1970s/early '80s; an Ampex MM1200 2-inch 24-track [equipped with Dolby A noise reduction]; a Sony 5003 ½-inch 2-track for mixdown; and an Otari MPR 10 ¼-inch for slapback echo. The Trident desk has two Tri consoles patched together. The stereo bus section has been modified with old Neve Marinair transformers.”

A self-described “Les Paul guy,” Tarquin designed his studio to provide quick access to a wide range of amp tones. “This is a real guitar studio,” he says. “Ampeg amp switchers allow me to switch eight amp heads to eight speakers or cabinets. I can plug into a [Marshall] JTM-45 through a 2×12 Marshall or a Legacy Cabinet; or I can run my Seymour Duncan Convertible though a Fender or Marshall cabinet. I used a different amp on every song.”

Tarquin miked the cabs with a beyerdynamic M-160 ribbon (close and slightly off-axis), often with a Neumann M 149 positioned about five feet away for ambience. In some cases, he paired a Sennheiser MD-421 with the M-160. He sometimes used two different amps, panned hard-left and -right, to create a bigger sound. “I always print everything dry,” he says. “I try not to compress when going to tape; the guitar compresses itself anyway. When I come back to mix, I add the effects. I don't want to be married to anything.”

As for splitting his time between the roles of producer, engineer, mixer and guitarist, Tarquin prefers to concentrate on one at a time. “I don't want to go play guitar after the whole session is over,” he says. “I leave it for a day or two, come back fresh and then start laying down my parts. Generally, by the time the guest players came in, all my guitar melodies and solos were done.”

Part of Fretworx's appeal is the sense of spontaneity in the performances — a quality that's increasingly rare in an era of hundreds of virtual tracks and note-by-note comps. “I believe in the first two takes,” Tarquin says. “After that, it gets worse and worse, and I've seen guys take a hundred takes — and they go back to the first two or three.”