“It was quite a process of experimentation and discovery,” says Timmons, who, in addition to his careers as a solo artist and session player, is also Olivia Newton-John’s music director and guitarist. “Resolution was the first record I’ve ever approached as a strictly trio record, with the guitar stripped down to a single performance. Steve Vai [who owns the Favored Nations label] inspired the approach when he was listening to some tracks on my previous record, That Was Then, This Is Now. Two of the songs had sections that were solely trio-based, and Steve said, ‘I love hearing your fingers on the frets, and all your picking dynamics.’ After he said that, I knew I wanted to try making an entire album that way. I also knew it would be a major challenge.”
Of course, recording a tremendous guitar tone was key, as one sonically stark track would be what listeners’ would hear. So here’s the “Timmons Method” for crafting the stunning, stand-alone guitar tones that grace Resolution.
Timmons chose a stereo signal path with a ’68 plexi Marshall Super Lead panned hard to one side, and a ’79 Marshall master-volume JMP panned opposite. The speaker cabinets were 2x12 and 4x12 Mesa/Boogie Recto models loaded with Celestion Vintage 30s.
“I’d typically run the amps clean,” he says, “and get most of the distortion from an old Tube Works Tube Driver or an Ibanez Tube Screamer. I also used a Maestro EP3 tape echo, a Fulltone Tube Tape Echo, a Chandler Digital Echo, an old Octavia on “Hellipad,” and, for “Resolution,” I simultaneously recorded the Marshall and a direct line that I later re-amped through a Leslie 122 cabinet to get a bit of a Hendrix-y effect. We didn’t change things up too much, and most of the songs were done with the same rig.”
Trust What Works
Although many producers and engineers develop unique miking applications involving a plethora of microphones, it’s not always the expensive tube condensers or arcane microphone placement that captures the heaviest guitar sounds.
“I used Shure SM57s for recording the guitar,” he says. “We tried all kinds of different mics and miking techniques, but we always came back to the tried and true SM57.”
One of the most surprising aspects of the recording process for Resolution was that Timmons and co-producer (and bassist) Mike Daane did not use any EQ on the guitar during tracking and mixing. Daane wanted to go for a more natural and organic sound, and the duo employed mic-placement techniques to refine the guitar tones.
“Mike was a major component on this record,” says Timmons. “He has a great ear for music, and we are able to push and pull each other to get the best result. Once the basic guitar tone was agreed upon, we simply moved the mics until we discovered the position that produced the perfect sound for whatever we were going for on a particular track.”
Love Your Baby
Timmons didn’t assemble an armory of vintage and varied guitars to record Resolution. He mostly relied on his Ibanez signature model, the AT300, which is armed with jumbo frets, a Wilkinson tremolo, DiMarzio Cruiser neck and middle single-coils, and a DiMarzio AT Custom bridge humbucker. This was the perfect choice for realizing the performances on Resolution, as he knew the instrument inside and out, he designed it to accommodate his individual approach, and he has played it on stage and in the studio for years. The tip here is that an intimate familiarity with your main guitar can help you focus on your performance chops — a good thing when one guitar track must communicate everything you wish to say.
Work at the Pace that Fires Your Creativity
Timmons and Daane employed technology as needed to produce the coolest sounds and optimize the process. The basic drum and bass tracks were recorded on 2" analog tape through an old Neve console to produce some funky tape coloration and a vintage vibe. These tracks were bounced to Pro Tools, and then Logic to allow Timmons the freedom to develop his parts at a pace that accommodated his work schedule and creativity. (In fact, some of the basics on Resolution are a year or more old.) When all the guitars were tracked, the audio files were bounced to Pro Tools for the final mix.