Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Stone Me

When I moved in to this studio six years ago, there were a few bits and bobs I bought from the previous owner like the plate reverb and the big studio monitors and a bunch of stuff that looked like junk. So I had seen this little compressor knocking about usually buried under a pile of other broken things waiting to get fixed by Big Al. I often asked him about this particular unit because it looks well old and wonky and usually they are my favorite sounding things. But Al always said it was a piece of junk and anyway there were always more important things to fix so I forgot about it

A few days ago I was clearing through the huge junk pile that was in the small live room while I've been doing the refurb, and saw the compressor again and thought I would google the make and model just to see if it is worth fixing. So I put in "Audio and Design F600 limiter / compressor" which returned some very interesting results. Firstly it seems these compressors were not rubbish but in fact good enough to be put inside the legendary Helios consoles in the late 60s, early 70s. So far so good. Then I found an even more interesting article on a fab website about classic seventies recording studios. It describes the history of the Rolling Stones mobile studio, and in particular the recording of the legendary drum track on Led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks. At this point i want to say that John Bonham is my favorite drummer of all time. Here is an excerpt from that article:

John Bonham had just received a new drum kit from the Ludwig factory. He was keen to try it out but the recording room was being used for guitars so a roadie set the kit up at the bottom of the Stairwell in the large entrance hall of the house

The height of the three story stairwell combined with the diffuse wood surfaces of the large hallway provided a fantastic natural reverberation. The sound of the Ludwig kit being hit by one of the most powerful drummers ever, enhanced by this wonderful acoustic, created magic

On hearing this, engineer Andy Johns realised that they had something special here. This was the place to record Bonham. Two Beyerdynamic M160 microphones were hung down the stairwell from the second floor, fed out into the mobile's Helios desk and heavily compressed with an Audio and Design F600 Compressor

OK, so now we are getting somewhere! I'm going to go back to Big Al and tell him that this wonky old compressor IS worth fixing, lets hear what it sounds like ASAP! So yesterday I told Al about all this and the fact that the A&D F600 was used on Bonham, and guess what he said? "But this actual unit came from the Stones mobile recording studio!" Kuma (the previous studio owner and the person I bought it from) got a job lot of stuff from the mobile recording truck back in the day - he played bass with Mick Taylor and knew the Stones crew and never bothered to fix the damn compressor either (Big Al was his tech too)

So there you have it - pretty anecdotal, I know, but damn - COULD THIS BE THE ACTUAL COMPRESSOR USED BY BONZO ON THAT DRUM TRACK!?!?!?! I know there is some debate over the specifics of the Led Zep recording process (eg, here), and it seems no one can much agree on anything ("...too stoned back then to remember" Big Al) but anyway, I'm saying that this IS that legendary unit, at least for a little while

1 comment:

  1. A quick look at the stairwell: