Stax-era vocal distortion

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inverseroom
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Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by inverseroom » Fri May 30, 2003 6:28 am

So I was listening to some old Stax stuff and noticed that on every other song, the vocals were distorting, in a very appealing and musical way. Of course I wondered how I might get some of that old black magic at home, and immediately realized that I did not have:

1) fantastic vintage preamps/limiters,
2) zillion-dollar Telefunken and Neumann microphones,
or 3) an amazing singing voice.

Still, I wonder if any of you have had some luck with expressive vocal distortion at home or in your studio--I don't mean your standard lo-fi-ization but subtler stuff.

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by friendlybunny » Fri May 30, 2003 8:26 am

A long time ago, when I was the performer in a college recording class, there was a dirty hippy kid who just slammed everything he recorded. All of the levels were really hot and everything was distorted. It sounded great. I'm not sure if it was the tape that was distorting, or the board. Everything had some distortion on it, but everyone in the class liked it.

I was shocked to see all of the meters pegged out, but the kid didn't care. I think he didn't realize he could just turn up the monitors if he wanted to hear stuff at a higher volume instead of cranking all of the preamps.

After that... I wasn't afraid to slam things in the studio.

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by luckybastard » Fri May 30, 2003 9:08 am

probably not what you looking for but still very useful info about that stax sound.

http://www.sl-prokeys.com/stax/stax-session.htm

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by Oliver Straus/Mission » Fri May 30, 2003 9:08 am

Pedals pedals pedals.

Take the vocal off a buss or a send so you can pad down the input to the pedal and go nuts. I really like the boss CS 3 compressor and a distortion +.
I bring it back to a channel and EQ the shit out of it.... Cool.

I saw Chad Blake bring a vocal back to the Mic in of a Neve... Great transistor distortion.

It's funny that we spend most of our lives trying to avoid distortion and find ourselves at a loss as to how to produce it... Overload something!!

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by bigtoe » Fri May 30, 2003 9:48 am

amen - overload something! i sometimes go from aux to line in in on the mackie and blend - just set the line in (or distoriton in) as "just about to break up" so when otis wails - it just tickles the grit...that's what's cool about those soul vocals to me - when the voice goes nuts - so does the gear. i mean wilson pickett on that "i found a love" song? sweet jesus h. santa claus and the easter bunny.

check out wcsb on the web this afternoon for an amazing soul show...
Mike

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by daveaux » Fri May 30, 2003 9:55 am

Definitely driving the pre and tape hard is the ticket, outboard gain devices, limiters, etc.....all that.

I believe the Motown and/or Stax studios used tube pre's made by GE. I could be wrong but remember reading that somewhere - they weren't used by most of the other labels' studios as they were considered 'inferior' to the other brands (RCA/Ampex/EMI/etc).

OH -
Tchad Blake uses lots of pedals when he mixes, so who knows what a well-placed SansAmp would do for you? Or sending the track to an amp or overdriven speaker and re-miked...(insert malevolent laugh)..in other words, you don't have to automatically reach for that plug-in.
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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by trashy » Fri May 30, 2003 9:56 am

A little tape saturation never hurt anything.

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by penrithmatt » Fri May 30, 2003 10:32 am

i agree with all the ideas above,but have a couple of things to add.........in general i like to get a decent level set with the pre and then go "one louder",turn it up another click.it just seems to add a little grit,not out and out distortion,just a little extra something.
as for slamming tape,it can work really well,especially for things like the bass,but i often find that things come back smaller if you hit the tape too hard.this is especially true of drums.tape compression is great,but like too much compression in general,it can make things smaller.i usually print drums fairly low,that way you don't loose the transients......
i know that on a lot of mowtown records the vocal is split up two channels,one of which is left pretty natural,with manual compression (the tried and trusted fader ride) and the other of which is eq-ed and compressed to hell.blend to taste.it really helps the voice to cut through,without obviously being distorted.
i've been lucky enough to work with quite a few guys who were making records in the sixties,arif mardin,mike ross,bruce botnik,and in talking to them i started to form an opinion about "the analogue sound" of that era.yeah,we all know about tubes and tape and all that...i think a lot of what people call the analogue sound is due to the reduction mixes that had to take place to get the maximum use out of four track machines.that warm and fuzzy sound coming from distortion built up over a number of bounces,that booming bass sound,'cos as anyone who's bounced on a four track knows,the bass gets lost after a few bounces,so it has to be super loud to stay present......i think this is kinda where the secret to that kinda subtle distortion lies.......
If it's not distorted,what's the point??

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inverseroom
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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by inverseroom » Fri May 30, 2003 1:34 pm

All right! This is all good info, thanks y'all. I will begin slamming. I work with a DAW but have a tube preamp--maybe I'll experiment with tracking to a 4-track hot and cleaning it up to digital.

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by beezleborf » Sat May 31, 2003 4:50 am

Z-Vex makes a pedal called the Super Hard-On. It's job is to emulate the distortion on 60's era boards. Kind or like when Jagger would yell into the mic and you hear it break up a little for a second. Might be worth checking out.

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by luckybastard » Mon Jun 02, 2003 9:54 am

ok....so i was listening to old soul stuff this morning and thought about this thread. in wilson pickett's version of hey jude(the one with duane allman on lead), he has the epitome of that stax vocal distortion that i love. someone mentioned GE tube preamps earlier. would the one below be compatible with a modern mixer?

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?Vi ... egory=3278

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by Rodgre » Mon Jun 02, 2003 10:01 am

beezleborf wrote:Z-Vex makes a pedal called the Super Hard-On. It's job is to emulate the distortion on 60's era boards. Kind or like when Jagger would yell into the mic and you hear it break up a little for a second. Might be worth checking out.
Well it isn't really a distortion emulator or anything like that. It's a fantastic preamp. makes a guitar sound like someone all of a sudden took the blanket off your amp. I love that thing.

I've never tried it on a vocal track, but I find sick amounts of compression blended in parallel with a cleaner vocal track can get some cool vintage sounding distortion...not your modern NIN type, but more like a Motown thang....

And of course, clipping your preamp is cool. Cheaper solid state pres like those in a Mackie board can be cool, but a little fizzy.

Roger

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by joel hamilton » Tue Jun 03, 2003 9:51 pm

Stax had an auditronics console for years.....

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by Liv Pooleside » Sat Jun 07, 2003 9:22 am

luckybastard wrote:probably not what you looking for but still very useful info about that stax sound.

http://www.sl-prokeys.com/stax/stax-session.htm
Thanks everysomuch for this link- this is a must read. Gravity- yeah, that's it!
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Where I shall have my music for nothing

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Re: Stax-era vocal distortion

Post by beezleborf » Sat Jun 07, 2003 1:11 pm

Have you tried a Sans amp? Kind of cool vocal over drive.

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