Chet McCracken — Things I Love About Studio Guitarists

Guest Editorial by Chet McCracken

I've spent many hours in the studio, on both sides of the glass, and I have seen all too often how guitarists can make or break a successful session. Nothing to do with knobs and faders, but everything to do with music, saving time, and giving the clients their money's worth. Here are my two perspectives, from both sides of the glass.

Things I Love About Studio Guitarists

Side One-Beyond The Glass
As a studio drummer I am the "king of the rhythm section," and probably my favorite thing is having a guitarist play in the pocket, in the groove — it's a luxury I enjoy. It makes my job easier when everyone is laying down a big fat groove, and the client is likely to be happy, too. When someone is out of the pocket, things get very difficult.

I say it's a luxury because it seems rare to find a guitar player in the pocket. When those red recording lights come on, guitarists can be an excitable bunch, always pushing the groove, always rushing us into the chorus, generally playing on top of the beat. Ask any of them and they will tell you this is so! They know this to be true!

There's lots of room in the pocket, too. Check your pants pocket and you will find the center, left side, right side, top and bottom! Where do you fit in?

Here's a story about a pro asking me to find my spot in his groove. Joe Walsh hired me to be his drummer a few years back. At that time his band was a trio, Joe on guitar (duh!), Chocolate on bass and yours truly on drums. Joe said his band had a groove divided into three parts and I had to find my place and provide the glue to make the whole thing work. I soon realized at rehearsal that Joe was playing slightly ahead of the beat, Chocolate was on the beat, and my place would be slightly behind the beat, or "laying back" as we call it.

This formula made the band really groove, and Joe was a happy camper all year while out on the road. We took this same formula into the studio and recorded his album The Confessor.

So, in my humble opinion, we each need to find our respective place in the pocket and "groove baby, groove!" I can't resist this (drummer's revenge) joke: "I worked with a guitarist last night that was wearing two pairs of pants and he still couldn't find the pocket!!!"

Side Two-This Side Of The Glass
I'm lucky to have my own recording studio here at the house, as well as having been hired to engineer/produce in outside studios. Here are a couple of things I enjoy from this side of the glass: Guitarists playing in tune, and making do with a simple and clean rig!

Playing in tune sounds simple but it seems hard to do. My friend and frequent musical collaborator Chris Pinnick, former lead guitarist for the band Chicago, is always tuning while in the studio. It doesn't matter if he's playing acoustic or electric guitar, he tunes and re-tunes before and after every take, whether it's a scratch track or the real thing! He has even asked me if he's the one out of tune or if there is too much chorusing on the electric piano! He is not just concerned with his own instrument, what makes him a producer's best friend is that he always thinks about everyone being in tune.

When sessions are over and players gone, and we're listening back late at night to the day's work, it's disheartening to finally notice an out-of-tune track. During a session we wear many different hats and we can't always pay attention to every little detail, so using players that can be trusted to always be in tune can be beneficial, to say the least. We always call these players back for more work. More work equals more money for them! You can be the best guitarist on the planet but if you play out of tune we won't call you back.

Another enjoyable thing about guitarists is seeing them bring to the studio a simple and clean rig. Granted, some tunes call for exotic sounds coming from exotic rigs, but from my experience most recording sessions are successful with these simple things: An amp without a buzz, a cord that sends a clean signal, a guitar with strong pickups, and maybe a couple of gizmos with fresh batteries, ready to rock! (If you do find a buzz in the studio, check out Jon Bare's "Killing the Buzzzz..." in our Nov. 2002 issue.)

Finally, another joke? I thought you'd never ask! Q: What do you throw to a drowning guitar player? Answer 1: His amp! Answer 2: His amp still plugged in!! Ha! Hal More drummer's revenge! I love it!!

I'll catch you all later in the studio...and in the pocket, right?

Chet McCracken is a Los Angeles session musician (for a zillion years), studio owner/operator (Studio C&C) and recording engineer/producer.

Chet McCracken plays Pearl Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Remo Drum Heads, Regal Tip Jazz Drum Sticks
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