Recording Pedal Steel: Dave Holley

On 1st May I had the pleasure of recording Dave Holley and his pedal steel guitar. I had never recorded a pedal steel before let alone seen one in person so I was thrilled to get the chance to record. I have been mesmerised with the instrument ever since hearing it on the Ray LaMontagne track – New York City’s Killing Me and Queen of California by John Mayer,

I met Dave downstairs and helped carry his incredibly heavy kit up to the studio. I asked Dave to sign my waiver form and he promptly did so:

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We set up in the live room, and as Dave put his pedal steel together Daniel (my assistant and I) began miking the amp. We used an AKG 414 and a Neumann U87 along with an SM57. We placed the microphones off the centre of the the speaker cone so it produced more of a warm sound.

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As Dave was warming up we set the gain and listened carefully to the microphones. The condensers sounded a great deal better than the SM57 so I decided to abandon this mic as 3 microphones would have been too many anyway. But recording from two sources I could pan the tracks wide and make the pedal steel stereo. The different mics would provide a slightly different tone on either side which enhanced this stereo feel. After Dave had warmed up we began recording and the pedal steel sounded fantastic. I was captivated by the instrument and so were my colleagues, especially Robbie Caswell-Jones who had come just to watch Dave play!

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I explained to Dave that I wanted him to experiment with the tracks and attempt different things on each take. This was due to the fact I was able to comp the takes afterwards and use different arts for each section. I realised that this would be easy to do with the pedal steel as it was such a free flowing instrument with a wide dynamic range. Dave happily obliged and produced some great takes

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After each group of takes we listened through to make sure that I was happy with the takes and I asked each time in a non-confrontational way if Dave thought there was anything he didn’t like or felt he could improve on. For the most part I was already extremely happy with the original recordings but I only asked so I could get the best out of my artist. On one occasion with Wind In Our Sails Dave listened back after I asked him and believed he could achieve a better outro, so I looped this part and we were able to achieve a great take. I was pleased I was able to have a positive influence on the recording process whilst approaching the subject confidently and in an agreeing manner. Here is a clip of Dave playing on Mason-Dixon Line.

After the session was completed I received a lovely message from Dave that read:

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It was great to get this feedback from the session musicians and it was a sign that my project was going in the right direction and it displays that my project is becoming a great success.

Here is the recording sheet from this session:

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References:

John Mayer. (2012). John Mayer Queen Of California – Greg Leisz.Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K0t-jE9f5k. Last accessed 2/5/2015.

Ray Lamontagne VEVO. (2011). Ray Lamontagne – New York City’s Killing Me (Live on Letterman). Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I_7yzbp6Fo. Last accessed 27th March 2015.

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