Miami Nice: Inside Yngwie Malmsteen's State-of-the-Art Home Studio
By Joe Lalaina, GUITAR WORLD, January 1996.
Tucked away in a back corner of the second floor of Yngwie Malmsteen's sprawling Miami home lies the Swedish guitarist's dream-come-true studio, tagged Studio 308 in honor of his treasured black Ferrari.
"It's not a 'home' studio, but studio that happens to be in my home," says Yngwie, reclining in the air-conditioned comfort of the control room. "This is a fully functional, four-room pro studio with all the best equipment. There's nothing this studio lacks."
Yngwie keeps his amps in the control room but has the speakers downstairs in a soundproofed room next to the garage. "The input panel on the garage wall can accommodate 16 microphones. I can easily set up a drum kit and record the drums in the garage, which has a concrete floor and a wooden roof. It's very live-sounding," notes Yngwie.
The guitarist planned to record his new album, Magnum Opus (Viceroy Music), at Studio 308, but the construction dragged on for six months--considerably longer than anticipated--so he wound up doing the album down the road at Miami's renowned Criteria Studios, birthplace of, among other classics, Derek & The Dominos' Layla. Yngwie was so eager to try his newly bought studio equipment that he had it wheeled in to Criteria to use on the album's recording.
"The heart of Yngwie's studio is a Studer A-827 24-track analog multitrack recorder," says Malmsteen's guitar tech Peter Rooth. "He also has two Tascam DA-88 digital recorders. All mic inputs are routed via tube preamps and tube compressors. The combination of using analog tape and tube outboard gear gives a really fat and warm sound to the recordings. The DA-88's are mainly used when Yngwie does session work or when people send him stuff to do overdubs on. He then transfers it from the DA-88 to the Studer or adds the parts and locks the two together."
Five patchbays with 96 points each (480 total) makes it easy for Yngwie to route any gear or mic input any way he chooses. Outboard gear includes two Focusrite ISA 215 dual-channel mono mic-preamp equalizers, two Tube-tech (Pultec-style) PE-1C equalizer compressors, two Summit Audio TLA 100 tube leveling amplifiers, two Urei 1176-LN Limiters, a Drawmer DS404 quad gate and a Yamaha GC2020B compressor/limiter. For effects, the studio has three Lexicon LXP-1's, an LXP-5, and a DigiTech GSP2101 preamp/processor. For playback, Yngwie has Westlake Audio BBSM-8F monitors powered by a Bryston 4B amp. With the outboard gear in conjunction with the Studer multitrack recorder, Yngwie is able to equal the performance of the world's finest commercial recording facilities.
Yngwie favors an analog guitar sound--nearly all of Magnum Opus was recorded in analog; only a few minor parts were put onto a Tascam DA-88--which is why it was imperative that his studio have its own Studer. "The Studer is the king of analog machines," says Yngwie, "and any world-class studio has one. Sony and Otari make an analog machine that is pretty good. But Seiko makes a good watch--I wear a Rolex. And you could never duplicate the sound of the Studer with a digital machine. If you were to record jazz, or maybe even rap, digital is handier and easier to work with. But guitar-based rock music sounds so much better with the Studer. No question."
Just getting the Studer into the second-floor studio was a Herculean task. "I had to get up at seven in the morning to help supervise the movers," explains Yngwie. "It took three big, muscular guys--two underneath and one pulling on it--to tug that sucker up the stairs. The Studer weighs about 600 lbs. And it cost $600 just to have it carried up one flight of stairs! Those guys just barely made it. They were sweating bullets!
"So much work has been put into this studio," he continues. "In order to get the rooms ready and utilized as proper recording facilities, a whole corner of the house had to be gutted. Closets and walls had to be knocked down, and buzz saws and sledgehammers would knock me out of bed at eight o'clock. All the air-conditioning had to be rerouted and installed brand new, and the entire house had to be rewired. The studio runs on a separate line of electricity from the rest of the house. If I were having a new bathroom installed, the constant noise would've really pissed me off. But this studio is my life dream, so I just put up with all the commotion."
Yngwie plans to record all future endeavors at Studio 308. "I've recorded in studios all over the world," he explains. "Often, the guitar solo on my demo sounded better than on the album--because there was no pressure. In the studio, there's a cloud hanging over you saying, This is it; this is carved in stone.' When you're long gone and dead, what you played that day is always going to be there. So it has to be great. You have to knock your own socks off, and that's not an easy thing to do, so you have to be in a perfect mood. That's why I wanted my own studio.
"I don't have to worry about the clock running or someone saying, 'It's 3 o'clock in the morning, you have to call it a day now.' That has happened to me before, usually in the midst of a very creative, productive moment. Now I can work any time I want and no one can tell me to leave--it's a wonderful feeling. I can go downstairs and play tennis and then work in the studio. If I don't feel like recording, I might lie in the sun or swim in the pool. Half the battle of making an album is how you feel at the time. You've got to be inspired and have freshness, energy and spontaneity. When you're on stage, that all comes naturally. It's a lot harder when you're recording. If you're not inspired, you will not be able to play or write well."
Perhaps the mere presence of his new studio equipment took the pressure off Yngwie at Criteria: Magnum Opus features warm, pristine sounds as impressive as anything he's ever recorded. "Magnum Opus is the epitome of everything I've always tried to reach," says Yngwie. "I've maintained yet improved upon my style. The album was recorded in just six weeks, and all the solos are pretty much first-take. I must give credit to [co-producer] Chris Tsangarides. He made my guitar sound like it should sound; it's like you're standing 10 feet in front of a Marshall stack."
Yngwie recorded Magnum Opus with the same setup he always used in the past, a scalloped-neck Fender Stratocaster through early-Seventies Marshall Mk II 50-watt heads and Marshall 4x12 cabinets and Celestion speakers. Tsangarides' microphone of choice was a Neumann U87. On previous efforts Yngwie relied on Shure SM57's, which he still uses on stage.
Yngwie puts nothing between the force of the sound and the tape. "I record with no effects," he says. "When mixing I'll add concert-hall-style reverb and nothing else. If you do it directly on tape, you're stuck with it.
"Most guitarists rely on a really hot pickup, so the output from the actual instrument is very powerful. That, to me, is the wrong way to do it, because the guitar signal has to be completely pure, with no distortion whatsoever. That's why I use DiMarzio HS-3 pickups. They have a weaker output than most pickups, but produce a very distinct sound whether they're played in the bridge or neck position. What I do is boost the signal with a preamp, which boosts the signal without distorting it. Once that signal goes into the Marshalls, the tubes in the amp will create the distortion I'm after. There's no speaker distortion whatsoever. If you were to have a 4x12 cabinet and a 100-watt amp on full, you'd get cone distortion--a horrible, flabby sound. That's why I prefer a 50-watt head; it distorts very smoothly and is reproduced by the 4x12 without being pushed too hard.
"I have to compensate for the fact that my pickups are weaker by having higher string action. Many guitarists use low action with a hot pickup, which means the strings vibrate less but are boosted by a hotter pickup. Their sound is already distorted to begin with! It's a lot harder to play with my approach, though I'm not knocking anyone's style."
Yngwie may not be criticizing anyone with that comment, but it's a different story if you ask him what he thinks of the guitarists who have been gracing the pages of Guitar World recently. "I don't think a magazine that supposedly caters to 'guitarists' should put people on the cover who can barely play--no matter how many albums they sell!" he exclaims. "I refuse to subject myself to what's going on in the music world. I've always done my thing, and I have not lost any fans. None of them are now listening to Green Day!"