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Techniques for eight track

Discussion in 'Vintage Analog Gear' started by Judgejeffrey, Aug 20, 2009.

  1. Judgejeffrey

    Judgejeffrey Guest

    I recently bought a mid seventies Ampex 1" eight track. I'm growing weary of endless options, and I want to take a step back from digital world, and make and commit to decisions during the tracking process. I'm curious about specific techniques that were used during the sixties and early seventies for recording drums in mono to a single track, as well as other ideas for comping instruments on single tracks. My studio won't be ready for several months, so I won't be able to work until then, but I want to start thinking about this.
  2. MadTiger3000

    MadTiger3000 Active Member

    "Clean your machine, and align your heads properly"--RemyPedia

    I hope she gives you more detail, but I know that is a minimum, from reading on here. If you want to get involved in the old-school equipment, you are going to have to invest time and/or money into it.

    Good news is that you have a few months to commit yourself to studying and saving some money for maintenance.
  3. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Remy and others will be along shortly to answer this no doubt. I didn't get into the game until the very tail end of reel tape multitracking.

    I'll just say that you traded endless digital options for endless analog maintenance. I think analog is great if you are up for learning to do the R&R on the gear. Other than that it is more of the same. Mic placement and gain staging and bouncing down to 1 or 2 tracks before adding more goodies to the mix.

    Good luck.
  4. iamfrobs

    iamfrobs Guest

    What model? (For my own gear lust)
    And also, you will need an oscilloscope, some alignment tape, a de-magnetizer, some spare 1" tape, a lot of time, and maybe some tech friends to walk you through it the first time or six.

    Lots of steps to explain, that I probably skip. But basically, make sure you demag the heads, clean them, run the alignment tape. Make adjustments to your azimuth and zenith and tons of other stuff.

    Not the easiest thing to do, but a good machine sounds good for quite a few hours.
  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I have found that the later 1970s machines had better sync playback response. This gave you the ability to bounce tracks with a higher degree of Fidelity found the older record heads & amplifiers offered. So with the old Ampex 440 series machines, only the latter series C machines, with the pushbutton winky buttons had better playback response in sync. The earlier machines such as the A serious with the small knobs and the B serious machines with the larger volume controls and a lot more noise & a crappy playback responds in sync. This was a big factor for me. While many recordings were made years earlier without a full frequency respondents playback sync capable machine, it can certainly made all the difference. For instance, when I was recording jingles for a huge advertising agency in the late 1970s, we would start with the basic tracking band. This was of course the drums, guitar, keyboard, electric bass. While I knew that the drums, bass guitar and possibly some other instruments might eventually end up on the same track, that's not how I recorded it. I would go ahead and assign the drums to their respective individual tracks, generally 4. Bass guitar, keyboard & guitar would go to their own respective tracks. Now we are to seven and we have the brass section coming in, the Woodlands coming in, the string section coming in and we can't forget about the lead singer & back up chorus. Oh but we only have 1 channel left. Well, we still have one-hour before the brass section comes in. So I think I'll mix down the drums to a single track. I'm going to put some gating on the bass drum, snare drum along with some limiting. Can't forget about the EQ. Good. Now I can erase those previous drum tracks. Now I still don't know what the end product needs to sound like? So I just have to envision what I want the end product to be.

    One of the things I also used to my advantage was that many 8 track machines were offered at 7.5/15 IPS while others were offered at 15/30 IPS. Because of what I was doing and how many generations down I knew I was going to go, I decided that 30 IPS was the only way to go. Tape noise and multigenerational losses in clarity were far better at 30. But you sure as heck couldn't fit more than 15 minutes on a 10 in. reel of tape. That's not even half of a vinyl album. In fact, recording and playing through the same head, with machines that are capable of that, produce better results than when mixing down through the playback head. Why? It's a little phenomenon called "gap scatter". Even though these are precision made heads, there poles are not all perfectly aligned between different heads. So if you're playing on the same head that you recorded upon, you will have less phase & timing problems. In other words, a better sounding recording.

    Of course proper tape recorder alignment is an important factor here. You will need a playback calibration tape for each speed. You will need a tape head demagnetizer. And he will have to know that you do not, that is do not adjust low-frequency play back equalization from the test tape. You will adjust low-frequency play back equalization when recording 30 hertz and observing playback in real-time. The low-frequency tones on the tape only work for a full width playback head. And you won't find too many 1 in. single track playback heads. Those low-frequency tones are there as a basic reference not as a tweak to reference as the higher frequencies are. This comes from a similar phenomenon that one gets with directional microphones known as proximity effect. Low frequencies are enhanced when you get closer to the microphone. In a similar vein, the playback head will see those low frequencies beyond its track width known as "fringing effect". So you can only use it as an approximate playback reference. Going into the scope of full recorder alignment is beyond the scope of this article. Most manuals include some kind of setup and alignment procedures. Many of which are confusing at best but that's why we're here. And when you tweak a tape recorder well, your gunna' love it. If you should have any further questions, don't hesitate to drop me a line.

    There's lots more we could talk about lots more.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
    (former Ampex certified repair technician)
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    ya got to love these old class act, cats here. Right on the money Jack.
    We love our Remy and I bet this post made her day brighter.

    Remy, no no no PM's on this one. Don't forget us here, share the goods cause there will be a day we go back in history for the tape years info/references.

    I think we should actually start a forum about vintage machines and the tools. I know its been done here and there re vintage gear, however I think its really important to get some history on it before its lost.

    hmm, I'm thinking and that can be good or not so good. hmmm :-?
  7. song4gabriel

    song4gabriel Active Member

    people really used to record on tape? i thought tapes were only for playing in your car!
  8. MadTiger3000

    MadTiger3000 Active Member

    Heh, heh.

    Yep. Stone Age tech.

    An exhaustive list of recording media over the ages is actually quite interesting:

    Wire, etc.
  9. song4gabriel

    song4gabriel Active Member

    i happen to agree-so interesting-

    i have a victrola that was from th early 1900's. and to realize that a needle picking up grooves on a disc sends vibrations to a piece of tin that is attached to a hollow arm can reproduce sound (and music) still blows my mind.

    and just think that barely 100 years ago nobody in history had ever heard anything but live music.
  10. Judgejeffrey

    Judgejeffrey Guest

    Thanks for the tips. The machine is an MM1100. It kills me that it's sitting in a storage room! My girlfriend is of the opinion that I currently have enough stuff in the house. Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more questions in the near future.
  11. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Love the preamps in that piece of junk.... 8) :wink:
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Well that is just a great old machine. It will work well with even the latest formula hot tape. But even that eight track machine weighs about 300 lbs.. That machine came out at the beginning of the audio for video era. It was more convenient than the MM 1000 since it was 500 lbs. lighter. LOL. Tell your wife that.

    Typical problems with those machines were motor drive amplifiers. Output transistors will short and apply full voltage to any motor it's connected to. There was a few DB of signal to noise ratio improvement in the later MM 1200. But those electronics were some of the finest sounding to record with. Playback preamp's were also classic with the Beyer playback head transformer. Those had great sync response. Infect it was even recommended to mix down through the record head. You used the playback head just for calibration purposes. Sweet.

    You've got to go for it
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  13. cruisemates

    cruisemates Active Member

    I had a ton of standard 8-trk techniques. here is on trick, remember that you cannot ping-pong to adjacent tracks, but I would often do a mixdown of six tracks to two? How? just make sure the instrument you have on track six will be panned full right, then when you put tracks 7 & 8 in record, trk 6 is going to 8, not to 7, therefore you are not going adjacent tracks.

    I would generally record all drums to two tracks and then put bass & 2 guits on all sep tracks (usually five tracks used by now) . Solos would usually go vocals tracks when vocals stop. An easy way to mix this is to bus the tape trck to two different mixer channels, and then have the vocal running (in mix) and then when solo came up just must one channel and switch on the other. That way it is perfectly mixed at the switch of a button. If we ever had to "pre-mix" it would be all the instrument tracks and open up 6 tracks for vox, BG vox, stereo keyboards, etc.

    Over the years I got to the point where I rarely had to mix anything, everything I recorded would be on tape at the level I wanted it. I would always monitor through the tape recorder playback going into the mixing board, so the song was essentially mixed while we were recording. That way I always had an idea of how I wanted to tracks to sound, and I would feed the same mix to the headsets in the studio. We always knew where the song was going "soundwise" but the tape recording was always "clean". If someone wanted more treble or echo on their voice we did it in the mix. That way we also always knew what the singer was hearing in the cans.

    These are just tricks you learn as you go along. It isn't much different from Protools now, but you had to think about it back them and set up that way.

    I also almost always ran 15 IPS and if you are very careful about levels you will be shocked how little noise there is - if the recorder is properly calibrated. I have many 8-trak recordings I had bounced to ProTools and I cannot believe how quiet they are.
  14. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Oh. Thats a great sounding machine.

    Can you say Led Zep?

    I hope you are having no second thoughts about this piece. If you have a studio for hire then I dont know that a lot of clients are going to want to spend their time and money using it no matter how delicious it sounds. The ONE very important thing I learned when I moved away from tape and into a stand-alone digital machine was the WORKFLOW was much quicker.

    No rewind time and no lossy issues with multiple passes over the playback heads.

    That being said I miss the smell of 456 in the morning.....it smelled like victory....

    There was always that little oxide odor in the air when the machines were running....like a factory....

    As an effect and for special projects, you cannot replace that sound with anything else. Hopefully you are marrying it up with some decent outboard.

    As was said.....spend your time learning the Zen of Tape Machine Maintainence.
  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I was just surprised to see another reply on this thread. 8 track 1 inch is a great format. Here are some of the techniques I used.

    If the machine is capable, I relied on 30 IPS. The only problem with 30 IPS was with some machines (all the American ones) there is a slight loss of extreme low-frequency response. The rolloff starts at 60 Hz and is fairly nonexistent by the time it gets to 30 Hz. But this problem called "head bump" only has to do with the playback head. This can actually work in your favor since most energy below 60 Hz really doesn't get you far. While folks might be aware that bouncing to adjacent channels is not possible. Well, it actually is. The problem occurs when you try to maintain or increase levels. If the level is lower, bouncing to adjacent channels is doable.

    One must understand that in analog multichannel recording, you're playing back through the recording head. In older times, the record had had a wider gap than the playback head. This was important for recording purposes but degraded the playback performance. In the later 1970s, demand for improved "sel-sync" response resulted in record heads that were identical in performance to the playback heads. These full response record heads allowed for wonderful sounding bounces. Whereas the older machines sounded pretty awful when playing back through the record head. And with those later 70s machines mix downs through the record heads could actually be slightly better than the playback head when the recording originated from a single machine. That was due to what was called " gap scatter". While each track should be in line with the other tracks above and below it, there are minute mechanical differences causing very small time delay differentials. So playing back through the record head could provide for a more phase accurate mix than the playback head could.

    Now when I started tracking, I would record the drums multitrack. 4 to 5 tracks. Bass guitar, guitar on their own tracks and a scratch vocal. Okay, now you've filled up 7 to perhaps even 8 tracks and you have a lot more to go. What to do next? Since I was able to multitrack the drums, I can now mix the drums down to 1 or even 2 tracks. And because I was able to isolate drum tracks, I could selectively saturate particular drum tracks, without affecting the rest. I could also noise gate the drums individually. This would give me a super drum mix which would get bounced down to a single or pair of tracks. At 30 IPS, the resolution is far superior to 15 IPS. Noise is also weighted differently and is more pink in nature than white. This makes for less obtrusive noise. Now, given a single 8 track machine, you can safely bounce tracks up to 4 to 6 times before the signal degrades to unacceptable levels. So I bounced the drums to get the drum mix I want, I can then take the bounced drums and also mix the bass guitar & rhythm guitar parts into a stereo bounce mix with the drums. Now we have our entire rhythm tracking session, mixed into stereo, on to 2 tracks. Then you can add more stuff and repeat this bouncing process. The trick that really comes into play is the ability to mix with the ability to perceive what you want the finished product to sound like before you ever get there. You have to be a freaking fortune teller. You have to see the song in your head. That actually takes some talent. In the end, I had some fabulous recordings that included 2 passes with a six piece horn section. 2 passes with a woodwind section. 2 passes with a full string section. Not including the background and harmony vocals, lead vocal. By the time that master jingle mix was completed, there were numerous components up to 8 generations down! And I was mixing more than 24 different components. This was only possible because I utilized an additional 2 track stereo machine in the process. The stereo machine actually allowed me to do some serious multitrack overdubs. The overdubs were actually done on separate pieces of 1 inch 8-track tape. Those tracks in turn were bounced down back to the stereo machine which was in turn bounced back up to 1 track at a time to the 8-track machine. No synchronizers was used. No SMPTE. Ah but I was also using DC servo driven capstan motors with controlled torque (tension) on both take up and supply reels. I would manually mash sync by hitting the playback button on the intro countdown and dragging my finger (if necessary) on the reel flange. Thankfully, the final product did not include that fabulous flange effect you heard in green tambourine because I wasn't syncing to the source reference track. So with numerous bounces and numerous layups, I did a 24 track mix from 8 tracks. These mixes were always intended to be mono music mix channel 1 and mono vocal mix channel 2. They were never intended to be released in stereo. But of course and like the Beatles, I had the request from the president of the advertising agency for some stereo mixes. I'm glad I recorded with that thought in mind. I was able to generate some fabulous stereo mixes. Of course I took a shortcut by utilizing mono vocals. Well, they picked up on that and asked me if I could make the vocals stereo as well? I knew this would require me to literally destroy the original music 8 track master. Oh well. So I did. I would have to stick stereo vocals on two tracks instead of the 1 I had utilized.

    This is where a lot of people found Dolby A & DBX noise reduction quite helpful. I didn't use either. What I had at my disposal was 2 "KEPEX's". Noise gates or downward expanders can be extremely worthy. But you really have to know how to adjust those with a fine hand. I'm still very proud of those sessions. I was doing things with analog tape in the 1970s akin to what you heard about those 4 track Beatles sessions a few years earlier. George Martin was duly impressed. No joke. I'm serious. You can't joke about something like that. He offered me a maintenance engineer position in Montserrat. I was young, stupid, in love, making a good union living at NBC and turned him down. He looked surprised. I wonder why? Is everybody yelling STUPID!!! at me simultaneously???

    Maybe next lifetime?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  16. cruisemates

    cruisemates Active Member

    Rather than relying on noise gates we had a practise of just cleaning up tracks when we were done. We actually would do "spot erasing" where we would mark a tight spot we wanted to erase with grease pencil. Then we would take the tape out of the tension sensor and put the machine in record and move it slowly past the erase head.

    Another thing we got very good at was tape editing - good old splicing blocks and razor blades. Invaluable back then.

    As far as aligning, where I worked (Producer's Workshop in L.A.) we had a process they called "rocks biasing" where they would record a 10 Hz signal (too low to hear) onto the recorder and listen to the playback. What you heard was the output of the machine recording a tone, and we would manually adjust the bias for the lowest anount of audible noise - it was called "rocks" because the noise sounded like rocks hitting a wall or car - short sporadic bumps. This was a completely different way of normally adjusting bias where you would record a very high freq signal and adjust the bias for peak (or sometimes overbias by a certain amount of dB, usually 2 or 3).

    One thing that was very different about the early days of mixing (speaking of my hero, George Martin) is that he was not afraid to record drums on mono (unthinkable today) and pan them hard right or left in the mix. In fact - today an average mix has a static stereo backdrop and different solo instruments (vocal, lead solos, etc) pop up in the middle as needed. But back them you might have a lead vocal hard left and a guitar solo hard right. I'm not even sure the early Abbey Road mixer had pan pots. I think you had a choice of left, right or center. He always said they recorded with mono in mind and the Stereo mix was always an afterthought (AM radio days). So they would spend a lot of time on the mono mix and for the stereo mix they would just say "well, put the drums on the right, bass in the middle and vocal on the left."

    They rarely had a hard kick sound on early Beatles records or a bottom-heavy bass, so it wasn't crucial to put both in the middle to avoid over-cut (a wide excursion in the mastering process where the groove affected a neighboring groove) which always standard once stereo mixes and FM radio became the dominant formats.

    I still have a great 30-minute show that came on PBS back in the 80s called "The recording of Sgt Pepper" and it just features George Martin in a studio with the master tape and a mixer. He opens one track at a time on several songs and tells us what is happening. Just fascinating. I know there is another show of the same name with the Beatles in it - but it is not the same show.
  17. stevesmith

    stevesmith Active Member

    Track bass guitar on channel 1 and kick on channel 2.

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