Richie Kotzen on Recording 'Go Faster'

The title of Richie Kotzen’s latest solo album, Go Faster [Headroom], is apt, because the former Mr. Big and Poison guitarist likes to move fast. Real fast. Whether his fingers are zipping down the fretboard of his signature Fender Telecaster, or whether he’s whipping around his personal recording studio capturing guitar sounds, speed is always of the essence.

“I have an extreme lack of patience,” admits Kotzen. “When I’m inspired, I don’t want to screw around. I want to get my ideas recorded as quickly as possible. One reason why my studio is fully Pro Tools is because I can’t even wait for a tape machine to rewind anymore. That would send me right through the roof. I actually sold my analog 24-track deck a long time ago.”

Although the guitar tones on Go Faster range from absolutely raging to clean and chimey, Kotzen didn’t employ a number of cagey microphone strategies, or fire up a battalion of amps. He simply dialed in his signature Cornford RK100 amp (mated with a Cornford 4x12 cabinet loaded with Celestion 30 speakers), and set up one microphone.

“I would say 97 percent of the guitars were recorded with a single Shure SM57 positioned right on the speaker,” he says. “The signal chain is the SM57 into a Neve 1073 mic preamp and an Anthony DeMaria stereo compressor. The compression setting—and the EQ—depended on the part I was playing. Sometimes, I even went direct and just compressed the living hell out of the signal. The only other miking option I remember was when I played through my Mesa/Boogie Revolver rotating-speaker cabinet. Then, I just pulled one of the AKG C414s I was using as a room mic for the drums, and stuck it in front of the speaker.

“You see, I’m not sophisticated enough to deal with using multiple microphones and fancy mic positions. If I can just plop the SM57 in front of the speaker, and the guitar sounds awesome when I start playing, I stop right there. I’ve been on studio sessions where an engineer would place three or four microphones on a 4x12 cabinet, and then screw around for 20 minutes moving the faders around. After all that trouble, the guitar would sound good sometimes, and, other times, it would be the worst sound I ever heard in my life. That kind of hipped me to the fact that you may not need to spend a lot of time messing with microphones in order to get a good—or a bad—guitar sound.”

Kotzen’s casual approach to crafting guitar sounds obviously hasn’t hindered his ability to deliver thrilling performances, or vary his tones according to what he is trying to communicate. (He also manipulates the Volume and Tone controls on his guitar to get different sounds, as well as creates diverse tonal impacts by softly caressing or viciously pummeling his strings—depending upon the mood he wants to convey.) The reason is that Kotzen believes the recording process is secondary to the demands of a performer’s artistry.

“It seems to me that some people get so wrapped up in the intricacies of recording applications that they forget the object is to create music,” says Kotzen. “You must evoke an emotional response when someone listens to the music you create. The fact of the matter is that you can achieve that response by playing a song on an acoustic guitar, and recording it on a 2-track. On some level, the recording process depends on what you’re after, and how complicated the music is, but the end result should still be something affecting. If you get caught up in tweaking a piece of work that doesn’t resonate as something true—or if the song is basically crap—then all the recording tools and applications in the world aren’t going to mean squat. You need to ask yourself, ‘Am I creating something that is even worth recording in the first place?’

“This is why I think technology is a double-edged sword. There was a time when only the artists who were making records were record makers. But now we’ve gotten to a point where anybody can make a record—even if they don’t know how to play an instrument. If you don’t know how to play a blues progression on the guitar, it doesn’t matter. If you’re computer savvy, you can make a record. In some ways, this is cool, because more creative ideas and different artistic statements are being generated. But, at the same time, you also get a vast community of people who can claim to be music makers, but who really aren’t music makers.”