Garbage: Guitars!

This is a really huge guitar record for us,” says Butch Vig, producer, drummer and songwriter for Garbage. Vig put his name on the map when he produced Nirvana’s ground-breaking Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream.The new Garbage record — released in April 2005 — is called Bleed Like Me.

This release varies from the band’s past as an electronica-heavy act, but better represents what they’ve always sounded like live.

“This time around, we made a conscious decision to get in the room and turn the amps on so we could get some feedback, so that it resonates,” says Vig. “When the sound comes into the pickups, it just rings differently than if you’re sitting in a chair in the studio. We would run some of our guitar tracks into the Line 6 XT Pro Pod, and some into Matchless, Mesa Boogie, Marshall or Fender amps. We also used a German amp called the Diezel—they are great for the crunchy stuff.”

“We used the Littlelabs PCP Distro to split the guitar signals to the different heads and Pod,” explains engineer Billy Bush. “All of the amps were routed to the same old Marshall 4x12 slant that we have at the studio.”

“But if there was a secret weapon on the guitars, it was the Palmer Speaker Simulator that we used,” says Vig. “It’s designed so you can record in your house without an amp, but it sounds better than even a DI. It’s got some tonal controls and it sounds very much like the amp is right in your face.” They also used some Chandler TG-2 and Channel pre amps, and the Groove Tubes ViPRE, Focusrite 430, and Manley SLAM as preamps for guitar tracking.

The guitar tracks for Bleed Like Me were recorded using an assortment of mics — positioned carefully to satisfy Vig’s ears. “We tried to use good microphones: a Neumann FET47, the RODE NT2, and a Shure FM57,” he says. “We also used the Royer 121 ribbon mics and Coles ribbon microphones. We moved them back from the amp maybe six inches or so, and would line them up so we could get them all in phase.” They also used a Brauner KHE-VM1 as a room-ambience mic.

“I like to turn it up, put some headphones on, but then not have anyone play the guitar or any other signal coming through,” he says. “Then I’ll just listen to the different tones of the background hiss and move it around, so I can kind of balance the low with the high, bright, clear sound. And once we get those set up on a session, we’ll make sure they’re in phase so we can mix or match—or pick one—and that can take a while.”

They usually end up with four mics, plus the Pod and the Palmer. “Then we split between those and figure out what is best for the recording,” he adds.

“Now, as we work on a song, it kind of starts getting mixed as the song gets farther along,” says Vig. This process is enabled by the twin Pro Tools HD rigs that Vig has set up at Smart Studios and at his home studio.

“I’ll start putting in automation, EQing and balancing and panning things,” explains Vig. “I like the Massenberg EQ because it’s got a great high and low pass filter. When you’re recording a lot of big guitar tracks, sometimes you want to put in a high pass at 60 Hz or 80 Hz. That way, you still get the fundamental body, but it doesn’t have all the sub stuff making the song sound muddy.”

Some songs on Bleed Like Me have 60 or 70 tracks — but not all playing at the same time. “It might just be an extra texture on the chorus,” he says. “But most of them boil down to a riff or a chord progression that Duke and Steve would play. Then we would layer the electronic things underneath the guitars. But the electronic elements are still way secondary to the core of the record.”

“We wanted to turn the amps on,” says Vig, “and crank it up, versus just plugging in and doing the same four bars over and over a hundred times.”