Engineer Wyn Davis Talks Hard Rock Basic Tracking Techniques

Wyn Davis on Bobby Owsinski's Production BlogBest known for his work the hard rock bands Dio, Dokken, Foreigner, Bad Company and Great White, engineer Wyn Davis style in that genre is as unmistakable as it is masterful. From his Total Access Recording studio in Redondo Beach, California, Wyn’s work typifies old-school engineering coupled with the best of modern techniques. Here’s an excerpt from the 4th edition of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook where Wyn describes his basic tracks setup.

Bobby: What’s your drum setup?
Wyn: I’ll tell you what my overall approach to drums is. I feel that the drums are sort of like an orchestra in the sense that there are a lot of instruments, so I don’t make any attempt to isolate drums from one another or to do anything that would take away from the overall sound. For instance, if you hit the snare, the whole drum kit rings and vibrates. In my opinion, that’s a part of the sound of the set that you want to keep, so I don’t make any attempt to narrowly focus mics, or baffle things off or anything like that. I just use the mics that I like and don’t do any gating or a lot of compression while tracking. I try just to capture the sound of the drums as close as possible to what they are in the room.

I use 87s on the toms and generally a dynamic mic on the snare. Over the years I’ve taken to using a couple of C12s as overheads. Depending on the kick drum I sometimes will use two mics; a D12 and either an RE-20 or a 421. The D12 has a scooped out response and the RE-20 or 421 will sort of fill that in a little bit.

Do you use the overheads as cymbal mics or to capture the kit?
I use the overheads to capture the whole kit but with an emphasis to the top end of the set, meaning all the cymbals, hi-hat and accent cymbals. I basically use C12’s almost over the toms and not directly facing the cymbals. I put them off axis from each other a bit, so that the two C12’s are looking in the opposite directions a little bit. They’re sort of close together, maybe a foot or 18 inches apart looking in two different directions back towards the mic stands.

If the intention is for the drum sound to be real ambient, which is the case in a lot of rock situations, I usually put the overheads about 2 feet above the cymbals so they’re capturing a fairly wide angle.

How about the bass? Do you usually just go direct or do you use an amp as well?
Always both direct and with an amp if the bass player has an amp that he wants to use. I put a 67 about a foot away from the cabinet.

How do you get your guitar sounds?
It’s just a process of guitars, amps and the players. It’s trite to say, but so much of it is really in the fingers of the player, so I really work with them and try to find out what it is that they’re doing and what it is that they want to capture. On hard rock guitar with screaming Marshalls, the one thing I try to avoid is placing the mic straight on to the speaker. I usually try to be off axis a little bit so that I can avoid the build up of that 1k to 2k screaming, tear-your-face-off sound.

I have the mic back about 2 or 3 inches depending upon how loud it is. Lately I’ve been favoring this Royer mic (the R-121) for guitar. That mic takes EQ so well after the fact. It automatically shaves off some of that 1k to 2k brittle Marshall thing that really builds up after 4 or 5 tracks of guitar.

Are you using just the one mic on the cabinet?
Yeah, I usually use just one mic close up. I haven’t had a lot of luck introducing much ambience into multitracked, layered guitars. It just creates a mess. With more minimalist stuff it’s really cool though. I usually end up asking the guitar players to turn whatever tone control they have on their guitars back a hair. It takes just little bit of the edge off. At first they’re a little bit hesitant, but there’s usually plenty there to go around. It makes it sound a little bigger, especially if you’re layering 3 or 4 guitars on top of one another.

When you’re layering guitars, are you changing the mic or the mic placement at all?
No, just pretty much changing the guitar. I generally try to use different guitars and different pickups, but I use the same input path for multiple guitar passes.

Do you have any mic preamps that you like in combination with specific microphones?
Yeah I do. Back when Dean Jensen was alive, I bought 12 of those Boulder mic pres that he made. They never really caught on, but I really like them. The only problem is that some consoles can’t handle their output on a loud source even when they’re turned all the way down, so I’ve made some passive in-line pads that I can put on those guys. I use Dean’s stuff on things with a lot of low end content like bass, toms and kick because of the linear nature of the low end coming out of those things.

I like the old Neve stuff on guitars. The overheads and guitars I’ll usually put through a pair of 1073’s.”

For more from Wyn, check out Episode #40 of my Inner Circle Podcast.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

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