Q&A with Kevin Churko
If there’s one thing you learn in the business
of recording, it’s the importance of having an
open mind and a diverse skill set. Engineer
and producer Kevin Churko is a perfect
example of that. A drummer at heart, the
Canadian-born multiple Juno Award winner
has a credit list that runs the gamut from
Shania Twain and Ringo Starr to Five Finger
Death Punch and Ozzy Osbourne. I recently
caught up with him to talk about mics, working with Mutt Lange, and some of the best
ways to get guitar tones on tape.
probably play any rig and sound like Zakk, but
by the time he comes in and sets up his amp,
literally all I have to do is put a 57 in front and
it sounds great. He makes it easy on me.
Do you use plug-ins on the guitar chain?
On both the Black Rain album with Zakk and
the new Ozzy album with Gus G on guitars,
the only plug-in was just a Sonnox EQ. I didn’t
have to use too much of it, either. Maybe
some dipping at 3K and some boost at 8K if it
was a Marshall. I’d also take some off the bot-
tom. I tend to get as much done on the way
in as I can. But even when I’m working with
use stereo mics and put them a little further
back. But if it’s a typical rock or metal guitar,
I’ve tried everything from using six mics and
mic’ing the back of the cab and the room,
but by the time I get to the mix I’ve gone
back to the 57.
You worked with Mutt Lange in Switzerland
for years. What did you pick up working
I think the biggest thing I learned working
with Mutt is relevant not only to guitar record-
ing but to all areas of recording and produc-
tion—or life, for that matter. It’s deceptively
simple: There are no rules—and, of course,
The simpler the better—always.
someone like Zakk, my methodology is to do
as little to screw it up as I possibly can. Just try
to get the most you can from the amp.
Do you have a preferred chain for
Yes, but it’s not very sexy. With recording, the
simpler the better—always. That’s not necessarily the case in mixing, though, because
sometimes you have to get pretty complicated. But as far as recording signals and
guitars, it’s so easy to get a great guitar tone
at home now with the gear that’s available. It
takes a $100 Shure SM57 and maybe some
other mics, like a Sennheiser 421. You do want
a good preamp, though. I’ll use a Neve pre or
even something like a Focusrite ISA 428. They
sound great and are not that much money. The
other thing is that I don’t put a lot of the preamp on guitars, especially rock guitars. They
already have so much going into and coming
out that it will alter their tone too much.
Of course, I’ve found that with the better
players—the guys that already have a handle
on their sound—I don’t have to do a lot.
Place the mic right, go through a good preamp, and it’s done.
What about acoustic guitars?
That’s a little different. On the new Ozzy
album, Gus actually played an acoustic intro
to a song. I used a lot of room sound, in
addition to a Neumann M49 as the close
mic. A little further back, I had a couple of
Cole 4038s. Most of the sound I used was
from the stereo mic setup, which was just
a very simple X/Y pattern—but that gave it
width. In this case, it was just the guitar, so
it could be very wide, very fat, and it didn’t
really have to poke through anything in the
mix. So, I used a combination of those three
mics, with just a small bit of compression,
again doing as little as possible. The Coles
were going through two GML preamps and
SSL X-Rack EQ and compression. The M49
was going through a Neve 1076 pre and a
Universal Audio LA-2A compressor.
use your ears. We’ve all set up enough mics
on guitar cabs to know what we prefer. My
preference is usually that simpler is better.
However, there can be magic to setting up
eight mics and blending them all into a single
tone characterized by interesting phasing
incoherencies. Many great tones and sounds
have been created by mistake, or by folks who
don’t necessarily know what they’re doing. It’s
important to study and understand our art,
but it’s more important not to become a slave
to it. It’s all about the end result.
I’ve been lucky to work with an extreme variety of artists with completely different ideas
of good and bad. There is no right or wrong,
just differences. And one should embrace
them all. Is an amp always better? Can a
plug-in or box work instead of the amp?
Should the plug-in be fed back to the amp?
A purist can only refine what has already
been accomplished in the past. An audio outlaw can redefine and shape the future.
So no compression?
I don’t use any compression. If a guy’s already
going through a cab and has tons of gain
going, you can’t really compress anything like
that unless you’re doing it multiband, but I
find it generally gets in the way. It only works
with a great player. With someone like Zakk
Wylde, you don’t want to record him and
make him sound like someone else. He can
Do you record room sounds on electrics?
If it’s sort of an organic clean sound, I’ll want
some more room tone and I will probably
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked
with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie. A
lifelong guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround
Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery
Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.