Question about Stairway to Heaven

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by DogsoverLava, Feb 29, 2016.

  1. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    As an exercise I've been recording a N4N version of Stairway in my little home studio otherwise known as the spare bedroom that I keep all my gear in... And I've got a question about what I'm hearing with respect the the reverb on the acoustic guitar that opens up the song in the original Zeppelin mix.

    The intro begins with an acoustic guitar, panned right, and is then joined by the 4 recorder (woodwind) parts panned opposite -- the pans are pretty hard left to right, but what I "hear" in the beginning when it's just acoustic is the guitar w/ some verb on the right, and then just a faint "verb" only on the left at the same time. It would also seem that this "verb" only left panned guitar is a different verb entirely (almost a delay) - like so basically an separate effect send only panned opposite to the guitar track. Do you guys hear this? Am I interpreting what I hear correctly with this?
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Yes, DOL, you are indeed hearing a panning of the reverb to one side with the dominant guitar track on the other. This was a common engineering/mix style of the time, often because older recording/mixing consoles used at that time didn't have variable attenuating pan pots, but pan switches, which were select-able only by L-C-R only, as opposed to varying attenuating degrees of those channels. The method of panning of verbs and delays is still used by engineers today as well, ( I do it all the time) although now, we have greater control over the degrees of the direction.

    As far as the reverb(s) used on the song, there very well could be several types being incorporated. In those days,there were no Bricasti's, or Lexi's, or Yamaha Rev 7 digital verbs; so they relied a lot on plate and/or chamber reverb.

    ( "Spring" reverb was also used, but more-so with guitar amps and electric keyboards... which is not to say that it wasn't used for other things, too... but it wasn't nearly as commonly used as these other types mentioned).

    The other common form of reverb used, was natural reverberation - obtained from either recording an instrument or vocal in a reflective room or hall - or - similar to chamber reverb, by placing a speaker in a particular space, and then feeding the audio to the speaker that they wanted to add the reverb to, and, by then putting a mic ( or mics) in that space to capture the sound of the playback in that space, this natural reverb could then be added to the source tracks that they wanted to effect.
    The 'wet" signal would be routed back to the console, picked up by the mics in the space, where it would then be mixed-in accordingly, which included level, EQ, panning, etc.

    Now... pan pots were in existence by then, ( 1970) so it's entirely possible that Page simply liked that hard-panning style on the intro to the song; reminiscent of what was being done on earlier recordings just a few short years before, due to the technical limitations of consoles.

    The problem is that - unless we were able to ask Page, or the engineer ( I think it was Andy Johns, and if it was, he's gone now) - short of the composition details of the song, (which Plant has mentioned hundreds of times), and the most basic details of its recording and mixing - mainly that it was recorded at Island Recording ( Now SARM Recording) in West London in 1970 - there's actually very little technical information available on the actual recording gear and methods used for the recording and mixing of track; which is surprising, considering how huge the song became, and its now-classic status; which has achieved that of a cultural reference level. There's far more recording tech info available on other Zep tracks - like When The Levee Breaks, for example - than there is for Stairway.

    I'm not saying that this information isn't available - I'm sure there's some die-hard Zep fan somewhere, who could tell you anything you wanted to know about the band, or this song... but this info is not all that easy to locate by using basic key word /phrase search engine queries.
    Brien Holcombe likes this.
  3. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    Thanks Donny - I didn't know that about the pan switches - it brings into clarity why some old mixes sound the way they do. It was buffaloing my head a bit trying to figure out what I should do as I was thinking I had to do something specific with the output of the verb in the original track. I ended up panning the guitar with a verb then creating a send to another track (pre-fx) that I dumped a different verb on, dialing it back and panning to the other side. Got me pretty close. I'm going to experiment a bit with it to see if I can get a near exact sounding treatment.
  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i clip and pasted this stuff from wikipedia and

    "Island Studios were established by Chris Blackwell the founder of Island Records. They were built within an old church in Basing Street in London. In May 1969 the offices for Island Records were complete and in January 1970, Studio Two was finished. Studio One was built above this.

    Studio One had a Helios 28/16 . Studio Two, from '70 to '73, had the first of the Island Helios desks, a 20/16 . This was upgraded when they brought in the next model in late '73, early '74, it was 32 in and 16 out.

    (note from Kurt: tape machines were a 3M 24-track, 3M 16-track and an Ampex eight-track that was used to make transfers.)

    The recording of "Stairway to Heaven" commenced in December 1970 at Island Records' new Basing Street Studios in London. The song was completed by the addition of lyrics by Plant during the sessions for Led Zeppelin IV at Headley Grange, Hampshire, in 1971. Page then returned to Island Studios to record his guitar solo

    The extended Jimmy Page guitar solo in the song's final section was played for the recording on a 1959 Fender Telecaster given to him by Jeff Beck (an instrument he used extensively with the Yardbirds) plugged into a Supro amplifier, although in an interview he gave to Guitar World magazine, Page also claimed, "It could have been a Marshall, but I can't remember". Three different improvised solos were recorded, with Page agonizing about deciding which to keep. Page later revealed, "I did have the first phrase worked out, and then there was the link phrase. I did check them out beforehand before the tape ran." The other guitar parts were played using a Harmony Sovereign H1260 acoustic guitar and a Fender Electric XII guitar (a 12-string guitar that was plugged directly to the soundboard); these can be heard on the left and right recording channels respectively. For live versions, Page switched to a Heritage Cherry Gibson EDS-1275 6/12 Doubleneck guitar. The final progression is a i-VII-VI (natural minor) progression (Am-G-F), a mainstay of rock music."
    DonnyThompson and Brien Holcombe like this.
  5. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Recreating songs/mixes can be a great exercise. It can be very educational in several areas; not the least of which is with arrangement- because until you start to actually strip a song down part by part musically, you don't really have the same appreciation for what went into recording it.

    Years ago, I decided I wanted to do Peter Gabriel's Red Rain in my solo act... of which I don't just play guitar and sing, but perform to backing tracks that I record myself. Recording that song was a wonderful exercise, because it was like an onion - it had so many sonic layers and textures, - often, a part would only happen one time, but it would be no less crucial to the overall sound. I learned quite a bit about arrangement and mixing from re-recording that song from scratch.

    Please post your version of Stairway when you can - and if you want. It's be neat to hear what you've done. :)

  6. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    Thanks again Donny - what you say is exactly what I'm doing. I'm already quite blown away at how educational the process has been. I hadn't played Stairway since I was around 14 - pretty much figured I knew the song backward and forward... well I was very wrong. I've been at it for two months now - eating and sleeping Stairway (in the car, at work, while I lay in bed...) -- I've probably got another month of tracking (I've maybe 2 weeks of scratch tracks left to put the cap on the arrangement, then maybe a couple weeks of keeper tracks tracks, followed by mixing... really using this as a learning module.... and the biggest surprise for me was after having laid down basic tracks at about 80% detail, I did a quick mix and the real Stairway peeked out at me from my tracks.... just a peek - but enough of a peek to tell me that I should reach higher with it. I was floored because at first I hadn't thought it sounding like Stairway from a production standpoint - the victory was going to be in getting it N4N - but suddenly, with a real basic mix treatment, some proper panning and application of Fx I knew that the goal of getting the recording itself to sound like Stairway was possible -- at least be something to shoot for.... that was awesome. It opened up a whole new level of learning on this one.
  7. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I've heard Stairway played incorrectly far more times than I've heard it actually played right. ;)

    Many, many guitar players - some of whom I've even considered to be very good, and who I have a great deal of respect for - have fudged their way through that song... more than just a few times over the years. ;)

    It's one of "those" songs that should be played right - or not played at all.

    IMO of course.
  8. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    The whole project came about over Christmas when my wife tuned to me and said - "You should do Stairway..." I just laughed at her and dismissed it... but she continued asking. I tried to explain the relationship we all have with the song - how it was probably the first song most guitar players tried to play, how it was the song every crappy player at every party I ever attended in jr high and high school tried to play or get me to play on some no-name guitar strung with fencing wire; how just about every guitarist played it wrong, that it alone accounted for 70% of all "hack" incidents in guitar history -- how it would be cruel to unleash another hacked version on the world - how most of us cringe when we even think about playing Stairway -- I laid it all out for her and she just kept saying "you should do this".... So like most bad decisions, i relented and said I'd start playing around with it ---- but only if I could do it note for note in an authentic album correct arrangement. I spent a month on drum programming, programming every measure by mouse click in my DAW (superior drummer) and pouring over drum scores and drum tutorials.... mapping out the tempos and the gradual tempo increases through the body of the song -- the signature fills --- and to my surprise it actually came together - I was shocked. Everything followed from there.

    The variations (subtle) of the guitar parts are amazing - from the acoustic, to the electric & 12 string parts --- I've probably listened through the song approaching close to 1000 times since... in the car, on headphones at home, in the office ---- just focusing on each instrument in the field and following it through. I've actually written out the recorder parts (in 4 part) and am finishing drilling into the Wurlitzer parts ---- with every drill down you find something new -- some subtlety --- and the arrangement - how it all came together.... just some awesome stuff. I'll definitely share my results. My scratch version right now sounds better than I ever though my final version would be but I'm still working out the arrangement and drilling deeper into some of the parts. I'll also be asking for help when I mix too as the mixing is as important to the authenticity of the song as any instrument...
  9. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    love the Zep! not so wild about the song writing. good songs but they didn't write a lot of the ones they said they wrote. but Page can play. i love the first 8 bars of the solo. i still can't figure out that second lick. At times he was sloppy but his sense of syncopation and Bonham's power house playing was a great combination. too bad Bonham died. we can only wonder "what if?"
  10. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    I'm working on the solo now -- trying to commit it to muscle memory until I can play it in my sleep - that's going to take time. I don't know if I've ever seen anyone actually nail the solo 100% before - there's a few left turns when you want to turn right, and some real subtle timing idiosyncrasies there that often get overlooked.

    And I can't say enough about John Paul Jones and his contributions to this song - from the recorder to the amazing keyboards and bass track - the keyboards in particular just take the song to a different level. I'm only at about 70-80% with that arrangement right now - more work to do there for sure on my end.
  11. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    Its great that you would take on a clasic song with such complexity and be dedicated to the task to get it right. I commend you for taking on such a mammoth task.(y)

    Even the thought of playing this song makes me very nervous indeed...let alone attempting to get it laid down and musically correct.

    It would be great to hear it once you get it finished...what an amazing musical exercise you are undertaking...kudos.
  12. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Usually, it's the subtle stuff that turns out to be the most difficult to get right, or that so very often gets overlooked - timing, phrasing, grace notes, etc; those little nuances... and it's the "little" things that can add up... and fast, too. ;)

    I'm looking forward to hearing this very difficult - but very cool and very educational - exercise you've undertaken.... when it's finished.

    But don't rush. Take the time you need. You've been diligent about being authentic with everything up to this point, don't stop that discipline now.

    We're not going anywhere, we'll be here when you're finished. ;)
  13. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    no pressure though .......:LOL:
    Sean G likes this.
  14. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    Thanks guys - I look forward to sharing as I do the work.
  15. FlyBass

    FlyBass Active Member

    Hey DOL, I was lead to believe those "recorders" at the beginning were played by JPJ on a Mellotron in the flute setting.
  16. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    Only when done live - in the studio they are/were real recorders - 4 parts (Bass, Alto, Tenor, & Soprano). It's really apparent as the tuning on them drifts with the intensity of his breath and you can hear his articulations quite specifically. Plus I've also heard about 3 or 4 hours of session tapes where you can hear him working out the parts. JPJ was just an amazing musician all around. The more I listen to his stuff the more impressed I get.

    Right now I'm playing the Alto and Tenor on a mellotron VSTi, and the soprano on a proper vst recorder patch - the bass recorder on a substandard woodwind type patch. I'm looking at a few different samplers that have recorders right now - still trying to figure out the best strategy.

    The Vienna Symphonic Library has what appears to be a pretty good recorder library and was being advertised on Sweetwater for $109 -----but it also looks like you have to have purchased a hardware dongle so the idea of spending 109 USD for a digital download then more money (and time) waiting for a dongle just really strikes me as a bad business practice. I was so close to pushing the buy button the other night until I realized that I needed the hardware dongle -- that really cheesed me off because it lost the spontaneity of the purchase and now I'm looking for more and better bang for buck.

    I came across one other product that seemed reasonable that had recorders and I did not bookmark it and now can't remember how I found it --- using the word recorder basically makes google results useless.

    So I'm still looking for sure - thanks for thinking about me. I've actually send my tracks off to my vocalist now but am prepared to retrack the recorders.
  17. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    Or buy some real cheap recorder and build it up yourself - a shame UK schools don't make recorder lessons compulsory again.
  18. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    ...Just to add --- so far this has been an amazing project - way more so than I imagined. There was a point where I had all the tracks basically laid down N4N sounding good and I started rough mixing with an A/B to the real Stairway --- and I was amazed at how much the mix is "the song" as the instrumentation/performances --- the mix is like a whole instrument itself and it wasn't until I started dialing that in that the song became Stairway before my ears.

    I expect my vocalist will have the tracks for several weeks and when I get them back I will do some clean-ups and a mix then bring it all to the forum. I want to really take this through both a mixing but also a mastering process. I'm excited for sure as I've got lots of headroom and dynamics.
  19. DogsoverLava

    DogsoverLava Active Member

    I totally considered that --- on ebay you see stuff like this for about 300 --- all plastic but real enough. Very tempting.
  20. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    I'd not realised the US names were different - Bass, Tenor, Treble, Descant would be our names, bottom upwards.

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