Steve Albini got it right when it came to recording guitar – and you can too

Steve Albini got it right when it came to recording guitar – and you can too

It’s impossible to properly sum up the impact of the loss of Steve Albini. The man who recorded the 90s, writing vitriolic screeds against a completely fucked music industry as he did so, while also honing his “band in a room” style that let countless awesome underground acts put a noisy live sound to tape. So, really, I won’t. What I do want to add to the chorus of tributes is a highlight of the times Albini has put his gear and recording wisdom out there, for free.

READ MORE: Steve Albini, legendary recording engineer and Shellac guitarist, has died at 61

The Electrical Audio YouTube channel is not the biggest part of Albini’s legacy, not by a long stretch. But, in our little corner of the internet where we talk about guitars, it’s absolutely worth discussing. Across the YouTube channel’s output Steve, and a handful of other Electrical Audio engineers, give in-depth and well-presented tutorials on recording techniques – for free. In a sea of YouTube tutorials given by whoever, the actual Steve Albini can be found joking around as he talks microphone placement.

The Electrical Audio video on recording guitar cabinets is 20 minutes long, and pretty much tells you everything you need to know about placing a mic in front of an amp in that time. Albini lays out the basic mechanics of why different mic placements sound like they do, explains his own preferences and gives enough audio examples for you to get the general idea. Lots of YouTube videos are designed to get you to keep watching – this one made me want to immediately turn my computer off and start recording my guitar.
Most of his choices are informed by that philosophy he stuck to for his whole career: the job of a recording engineer is to capture the sound of a band in a room. This is also exemplified in the video on recording acoustic stringed instruments: in 40 minutes expert-level wisdom is given about how mic placement and pickup pattern can make an acoustic recording sound natural, and still offer a clear, mix-ready sound. It’s a wonderful example of what having an extensive knowledge of gear is for.

Albini had a reputation as being curmudgeonly anti-digital – and in terms of audio, he was. But not so when it came to sharing his skills and experience. Yes, there’s only a couple of hours of free Electrical Audio tutorials out there, but given the wealth of experience shared within, those couple of hours are utterly invaluable. If you’re wondering how to pay tribute to the man beyond just blasting 1000 Hurts: sit down, watch them, and learn something about recording from one of the most legendary engineers to ever do it.
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