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ARSCLIST  November 2014

ARSCLIST November 2014

Subject:

Chet Atkins' home studio - a deep dive

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 3 Nov 2014 11:08:31 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (92 lines)

I tried posting this last night but it never came through ...

OK, I couldn't let this topic go, so I did a bunch of sleuthing. Here's what I found out:

1. sources included articles published in Radio-Electronics 11/66 and Recording Today (exact date
unknown but it's circa 1980s), the covers and liner notes for "Chet Atkins At Home" and "Chet Atkins
Workshop" LPs, and the book "Chet Atkins - Me And My Guitars" (2003). I also did a bit of sleuthing
around the interwebs, but didn't find out much beyond the printed sources.

2. Chet Atkins built a house outside Niashville in 1957 and purpose-built a basement
workshop/studio. Soon after, he was named director of A&R and recording for RCA in Nashville. In the
function, he played on a lot of sessions beyond his own albums. According to his own words in
interviews, he preferred to record everything except his guitar tracks at RCA Studios in Nashville,
then take his time perfecting his own tracks in the comfort of his home studio. This makes sense in
the context of his duties as A&R Director. He had to listen to what everyone else was doing, and
thus couldn't concentrate 100% on his own parts.

3. the earliest iteration of the studio is shown on the cover of "Chet Atkins At Home" (RCA mono LP,
1957). See:
http://tinyurl.com/kww5lwc
I recognize an Ampex 401 (foreground), Ampex 350 in the "knee-breaker" console and another tape
machine which I can't identify (in the rack). At this time, Atkins was apparently doing tape-on-tape
stuff along the lines of what Les Paul did.

4. a later iteration is pictured on the cover of "Chet Atkins' Workshop":
http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7435/13081999665_5dde1ae154_b.jpg
There's an Ampex 300-3 tape deck next to Chet's elbow (note the 1/2" reel and the extra-high
capstan), an RCA monophonic broadcast mixer (I incorrectly said Collins in a previous post), what
looks like a Cinema Engineering passive high-low-pass filter set in the rack, what might be a
Langevin 128 power amp in the rack, a Hickok tube multi-meter, and an oscilloscope on top of what's
probably an Altec 604 speaker. There's also a Heathkit portable volts/amps/ohms-meter on top of the
mixer and an old Weller pistol-style soldering iron. In this time period, according to Atkins' words
in interviews and his autobiography, he would record rhythm tracks at RCA Studo B on 2 of the 3
tracks, then come home and put his guitar parts on the third track. This album sounds like it was
recorded that way.

5. in the 1966 interview, Atkins mentions essentially the same setup pictured on "Chet Atkins'
Workshop album cover, but bigger:
Q: "Tell me more about your studio at home."
A: "Well, it's just a little room in the basement. I have a couple of Ampex tape recorders, a
three-channel for stereo and a full-track mono. I have some equalizers I built. I use a couple of
big Altec-Lansing theater speakers [maybe A-7's but more likely 604's]. And I have some VU meters,
tape erasers, and vtvms [vacuum tube volt meters, like the Hickok pictured on the album cover] and
test equipment of various kinds - a distortion analyzer and audio generators. I have a lot of fun
down there."
He goes on to say ...
"I have an echo room at home, too. It works very well, but not as good as our echoes here at the
studio [the interview was conducted at RCA Studios Nashville]. So if I record anything at home I
just bring it here and remix it and add the echo here. My room could be mellowed to give a good
echo, but my wife's always putting a chair in there or something ... When we built the house, we had
this vacant space in the full basement. So I said, 'Plaster that, and varnish it, smooth it down
real smooth.' Turned out to be a pretty good echo room" ... "about 14 by 16" ... "but it's square,
and it shouldn't be for a good echo chamber."

6. I don't have any information on how the studio evolved from the tube era to the 24-track
solid-state facility described in the Recording Today article. Atkins was certainly active in
recording and A&R work throughout, so a steady evolution likely occurred. In the Recording Today
article, Atkins said: "I started out with mono, then went to 3-track, and it finally evolved to
24-track. In the 60s, when I was recording about 30 different acts for RCA, I'd record the basic
tracks at RCA studios. Then at night, I'd bring the tapes home and put on my guitar parts here."

7. By the time of the Recording Today article, the studio was equipped with a "Neotek Series III
28-in, 24-out console," a 24-track MCI tape machine, a Studer B67 2-track, Tannoy SRM 10B near-field
monitors, "McIntosh 200" amplifiers, an AMS RMX-16 reverb system, Harmonizer H910, Orban parametric
equalizer, Omnicraft GT4 Noise Gate, Lexicon PCM-41 and PCM-42 digital delay units, an EMT plate
reverb and two Teletronix LA-2A limiters. The studio area is described as 25' by 15', and the
control room as 18' by 12'.
Atkins: "This is a very dead room ... I've deadened half the walls. Part of the wall is pine, and
I've padd about half of it with fiberglass and burlap. I put carpet on the floor and ceiling so
there nothing to reflect against."

8. The photos for "Chet Atkins - Me And My Guitars" were taken around 2001 (the copyright on the
book is 2001 and 2003). None of them show the full studio. However, there is a nice detailed
full-page shot of Atkins' workbench, with the old Hickok mult-meter and Heathkit volts/amps/ohms
meter still there and still being used. The shots taken in the studio are meant to feature the
guitars propped up against various equipment, but they show enough other stuff to offer some details
of the studio at that time. The console shown appears to be the same Neotek described in the
Recording Today article. Also the same Tannoy monitors. The 24-track tape machine shown is an Otari
MTR-90. By this time, Atkins had two outboard racks. Remaining from the Recording Today article's
time are a Teletronix LA-2A limiter, the Harmonizer, the Orban equalizer, the Omnicraft GT4 and one
of the Lexicon reverbs Added are a Pultec EQP-1A equalizer, a pair of Fred Cameron mic preamps, a
Digitech stereo reverb/effects processor, a Yamaha SPX90 digital effects processor, a Yamaha REV 7
digital reverb system, and a pair of UREI LA-3 limiters. Also shown in the racks are a Sony
auto-reverse cassette deck, an unidentified turntable, a Tascam DA-30 DAT machine, a Furman power
conditioner and a Sony digital mastering system which may be DAT based or may be magneto-optical (I
just can't tell from the photo). It's not U-Matic based. Chet Atkins passed soon after these photos
were taken (June, 2001), so I assume this was the last version of his studio. An album of song
recorded at the studio was released posthumously:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solo_Sessions_%28Chet_Atkins_album%29

-- Tom Fine

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