Bob Mould on Capturing Inspiration and Releasing 'Wild Tone'

Bob Mould’s guitar work has been resonating throughout Hüsker Dü, Sugar, and various solo albums for nearly 30 years. His latest release, District Line, exemplifies the raw and soulful guitar playing that has inspired countless bands. EQ caught up with the singer/ songwriter/mixer/producer to talk to him about his current guitar-recording techniques. 

What is your approach to recording electric guitar?
For the sake of expediency, I now record a lot of my guitars direct through a Line 6 Pod. I’ve found it’s easier to plug and play, because it allows me to capture an initial feeling. Then, if something needs tweaking, I can get the tone I’m looking for by miking the monitors, or running the signal back into an amp.

How do you go about miking your monitors? 
I have a pretty bright and reflective room. My monitors are set up about five feet apart, and I really like the way the room sounds when I’m sitting in that equilateral listener position. If a track needs more ambience—or better positioning in the mix—I’ll set up an AKG C 414 in cardioid mode right where my head would normally be. For most applications, I’ll use the preamp in the Joe Meek VC1 Studio Channel, because it adds some brashness. If something sounds too jagged, too edgy, or too digital, I’ll run it through my Tony Larkin tube pre/compressor to take the spike out of it. 

How do you choose and mic your amps? 
If I need a very fast and precise low-end, I’ll go to my Roland JC-120. If I need even more low-end, I’ll use my Top Hat Emplexador. If I want some screaming mids with harmonic over ring, I’ll go for the Fender Concert with the notch-able midrange boost. Typically, I’ll place a Sennheiser MD421 or a Shure SM57 up tight on the cones, and adjust the position until I find the right coherency spots. If I’m really cranking the amps up, I’ll run the mic through a Daking preamp, because it handles volume very well.

Do you ever use room mics?
I used to try multiple mics at different locations throughout the room, but I’ve strayed away from that. I’ve always played lots of drones with open strings, and when you play like that, and you get too far away from the source with your mic, there are too many harmonics that get cluttered and lost. 

You have some huge-sounding guitars on District Line. How do you achieve such mammoth tones?
I like a big Strat sound—especially on a chorus. I have a mid-’80s Fender American Strat that has been my primary guitar for 20 years, and I will usually double my parts. I’ll start with the humbucker in the lead setting, and when I want to overdub that part, I’ll switch to the middle pickup to prevent phase issues during processing. If I’m using the same pedal as I did during the original take, I’ll cool down the gain or the effect a bit to get a little more clarity out of the overdub track. The rest of the sound is dialed in at the mix.

What is your mixing method?
All of my processing is done using the track inserts, because I want to dedicate specific plug-ins to specific tracks. I address guitars individually, then go back and listen to the way they sound in the mix. 

Where do you usually begin?
I always start with EQ first. Even if I’ve cut lows while tracking, I will often cut them again to leave room for the bass and kick. Nothing will ruin a mix quicker than low-energy buildup. Next, I listen to the highs. If a guitar is too brash, I might do a slight high-end roll off. The object is to make it sound natural. Once I have a good basic tone to work with, I may highlight certain notes depending upon the part, and the key it’s in. For instance, if it’s in A, I might give a narrow boost around 2.2kHz to give the part a little color, and accentuate some of the overtones.

And where do you usually go from there?
The next thing I address is the temporal aspect. Again, as I use a lot of drone notes in my playing, I tend to stay away from reverbs, because they can muddy the sound. If I have a part that isn’t too busy, I may add a little plate reverb emulator, but, generally, I use delays 90 percent of the time. I like to stick with quarter-note and half-note delays that stay in time with the music. 

Do you ever add compression to your guitars?
Yes. I like to introduce some harmonic action by adding a bit of compression. I’ll start with a typical guitar preset, and then adjust the parameters until it fits the performance. Preset compression sounds can be way too aggravating, so I find myself backing the settings off by 40 to 50 percent, and working with a ratio of around 3:1 or 4:1. I don’t want to be able to hear the compression breathing. Finally, I’ll throw on a limiter with a super-fast attack, a super-fast release, and a –2dB threshold. If I push the limiter too hard, it starts to color the low mids around 200Hz, so I don’t want any more than –5dB attenuation. 

Are there any other plug-ins that make your guitars stand out in the mix?
If I have a mono guitar, I may use the DUY Wide Spatializer to spread them out further in the field. Also, the Chandler Abbey Road package emulates old Neve consoles/limiters, and I’ll use it to tighten up a track, and give it an older sound and feel.

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to record at home?
There’s something to be said about the purity of the first time you do something. You may make some sacrifices on sound because of that technique, but I find that the first time I do something is always the best—flaws and all.