Session Guitar: Setting Up Your Recording Studio for Maximum Efficiency and Creativity

by Ron Zabrocki
Posted Jun 6, 2014 at 2:00pm

Hi, gang!

I'm gonna get right to it today with two words: ergonomics and templates. My entire studio life lives and dies with these two words.

Ergonomics is how my gear is setup around me in the studio — for minimum movement. Can I reach everything from my seated position in the sweet spot of the control room? Templates are how I set my gear for maximum usage and flexibility, where sound is concerned.

I must preface this column by telling you how much I hate plugging in and unplugging cables and power chords. This was the reason behind my thought process. It's such a waste of time.

Let's dig right in with ergonomics. From my seated position during the time I spend playing my studio (Yes, playing my studio), I like everything to be an arm's length or short roll from the best listening position. We call this the sweet spot. The monitoring position. On my hard left is a mixing board used for routing and controlling my sources of sound. All my mics, modelers, keys and special effects are routed through here. I also keep my beloved Line 6 HD500 at arm's reach. I do not keep it on the floor. I rarely use the wah or volume, so I prefer it at arm's reach from where I sit. On my front side left are my mic pre-amps and compressors. SSL, UA, Neve, PreSonus, DBX and Summit. The rack also holds my converters.

On my right side is MIDI central. My MIDI router and all my keyboard modules and keys live here. I do a ton of work on keyboards so I need a large setup. I am NOT a keyboardist, per se. However, I have a decent knowledge and use these mods and keys for drum sounds, samplers, pads, doubles, etc. I like sounds.

I have these keyboards loaded with my favorite samples and settings so I can know where to go for my ultimate drum and keyboard sounds quickly.

In my front position is my monitor and computers. Speaker monitors are also here. I use Genelec and Events. It gives a nice balance to switch between. My computer not only records but houses my UAD cards, which I can't live without. The 1176, LA2A and Cambridge EQ are just a few of the powered plugins on every song I track. EVERY song.

Templates. I keep a Marshall 1960 B cab mic'd up with an SM57 and a Royer R-121. I also have a Laney 30-watt amp with Celestion Greenbacks that I keep handy if I need an open-back 2/12 sound. These are my go-to cabinets. They stay in the studio booth. In the control room, I keep several different heads handy for various sounds. A Carvin. Peavey and Line 6 are the main ones. I simply switch between heads till I'm happy. All three are quite flexible and reliable. Most are used for rhythm, but sometimes solos.

My main guitar device is my Line 6 HD500. The thing I want to stress about the HD is you need to spend serious time with it. Make it your own. I get asked weekly if I can share my settings. I always say I don't really have many settings and they change constantly from not only song to song but part to part!

I have four main templates. They are all meant to emulate a popular amp or use. My main rhythm setting is in Patch 1. I have a dual Treadplate amp setup. I'm constantly adjusting the drive/gain on both sides, depending on which guitar or which model guitar in the JTV-89 I use. It is usually either full up or almost off. I like extremes. My second patch is setup for clean to semi-dirty. Use the BF Double. It is basically a Fender Twin emulation.

Patch 3 is set for leads and has Lead Divide 9/15 in the amp position. Finally, in the fourth patch, I keep a Brit P-75. It is a Marshall emulation. As far as the rest of the settings, a noise gate is always first. Compressor second. Third is my overdrive or distortion area. It is always a tube drive or overdrive. I rarely use the Tube Screamer or others. After the amp, I keep a digital delay and a reverb.

Now you know! I find these give me 99 percent of all I need on most songs for most clients! For my own songs too. These settings are easily molded and adjusted to fit most popular styles of music, and they keep me hearing the guitar the way I want to hear it!

I hope this helps you rethink your studio setup for maximum efficiency to keep you in the creative mode for years to come.

Till next time…

Ron Zabrocki is a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. Says Ron: "I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just thought everyone started that way. I could sight read anything within a few years, and that helped me become a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could find and had some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played several jingle sessions (and have written a few along the way). I’ve “ghosted” for a few people who shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I get the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.