SH Spotlight Distortion free trumpets in the 20s-40s. But BLUE NOTE? WHAT HAPPENED? RVG Evil Neumann mics?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Feb 9, 2017.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    They could record clear, distortion free trumpets in the 1920's (Louis Hot 5 & 7), the 1930's (swing, etc.), the 1940's still great, but what happened in the 1950's!?

    Take Blue Note. Every trumpet on every recording has like a 30% overload distortion on it at Van Gelder's, album after album, year after year after year, and not just the peaks. What gives?

    My theory? Ahem:

    The RCA microphones of the olden days, including their fine ribbon mics of 1937 on, were perfect for recording trumpets, etc. I remember in the 80's and 90's wondering why the horn section of the Tonight Show orchestra still had obvious vintage RCA ribbon mics on them.

    Most recording studios abandoned their RCA ribbon mics for the new German mics as soon as they could, by 1953 or so. Brighter sounding to them in their dingy studio monitors is the most likely reason.

    I think the Neumann microphones that came over here are the cause of this new (to the music industry) overload distortion. When they were plugged into the old American microphone preamps that couldn't handle their output the music just got a buzz cut, distortionland, fuzzville, etc. I don't think the engineers of the day could hear it on their monitors, I think they liked that the overload distortion acted like a limiter and kept the sound levels from getting too loud. Distortion be dammed. Trumpets were always hard to record, this seemed a Godsend to the engineers of the day I'm bettin'.

    Blue Notes especially suffer from this. Drives me bonkers, because I know that if Rudy Van Gelder had just put an RCA ribbon mic back in the system and moved his horn player back about 1 foot, all would have been well.

    I'm listening to one of my favorite Blue Note XRCDs right now, mastered by the great Alan Yoshida and when the horn comes in, BAM! Brickwalled time machine from 1958. Arggh!!! Must have driven Alan crazy as well, during mastering. Trumpet Buzzcut...

    Van Gelder solved this problem back in the day by simply filtering his original Blue Note and Prestige album cuttings during mastering with primitive EQ, usually starting around 8k, eliminating any real top end and punching the midrange up to mask it. Sneaky trick. But now we can hear the music with full bandwidth on reissue vinyl and digital and while the drums sound better, yikes, the brass bite is more like a brass overload attack.

    Some people I've talked to about this actually think that trumpets sound that way, having never heard any jazz in real life or anything but Blue Note records! Heh. Other Blue Note fans love the sound of the overload distortion though they don't exactly know what it's called. They think it makes the records sound more "exciting." There is some truth to that, because when Rudy changed studios, his horns got less distorty and less interesting as a result. Have to punch 'em up a bit in mastering.

    Other studios did the same thing (listen to any RCA-Victor big band album recorded from 1955-61). Ouch, dudes!

    There is a big difference between gently compressing a horn so it won't overload (Contemporary, Columbia, Mercury, Capitol, Decca, Verve, etc.) and using distortion limiting from the system to do the same thing, (Van Gelder-RCA..)


    Ironically, Rudy Van Gelder, after he changed studios made some of the nicest sounding recordings from the 1960's I've ever heard (try Wes "Going Out Of My Head" on the DCC Gold CD or "Summer Samba" Walter Wanderley for examples.)

    End of rant. I'm playing some old jazz 78s next, more dynamic range, much less distortion, no fake reverb. Will help clear my head.. :^)
  2. Simon A

    Simon A Arrr!

    It's nice to know that my ears weren't to blame for hearing it. I couldn't believe that so many albums would have this purposely so I thought my ears were bad.

    Someone I know likes his Jazz with extra treble (don't ask) so anytime he'd play me something I thought my ears were seriously damaged.
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  3. Jeff Kent

    Jeff Kent Forum Resident

    Mt. Kisco, NY
    Better yet, go hear some live jazz...
  4. ssmith3046

    ssmith3046 Forum Resident

    Arizona desert
    Very interesting.
  5. Bobby Buckshot

    Bobby Buckshot Heavy on the grease please

    Southeastern US
    Jazz newbie here. Would you say the same for the Blakey Night at Birdland vols 1 & 2? I'm thinking not since it's a live recording, but RVG was involved was he not? Clifford Brown's trumpet sounds decent here, but I haven't listened to it on an audiophile set up.

    Also, would you say the same for recorded trumpet at different studios in the 50s? Such as Bob Shad's? Again, newbie here so I don't know if Shad made many recordings with trumpet. (edit: I see your last line again - other studios did the same thing - just wondering if there was an oasis out there)
  6. tuttle

    tuttle Forum Resident

    Toronto, Canada
    Thank you, Steve! Thank you for the interesting explanation of why many recordings sound that way.

    I attend dozens of live performances every year, often in small clubs two or three times in a week. Often I'm not far away from trumpets, and I enjoy them. Then I hear old Blue Note and other recordings, whose music I love, but on which the trumpets sound harsh and wrong to me. Some friends say that's how trumpets sound, but they don't sound that way to me when I hear them live a few feet from my ears.
  7. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Ha! What'd I tell you? Crazy.
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  8. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Not just trumpets, saxophones -- like Oliver Nelson's tone on Blues & the Abstract Truth sounds super buzzy to me, and loud drum passages, ....always seemed to me there was lots of distortion on those '50's and early '60s Van Gelder recordings, and everyone loved 'em so much I though I was crazy.
  9. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    I wanted to not do a total Van Gelder rant but yes, drums, sax, whatever. If it got loud it overloaded and nobody cared. Such is life but it bugs the heck out of me, when I master this stuff, when I listen to this stuff. Horns were the worst.

    But, it's exciting jazz, some of the best ever.
  10. Bobby Buckshot

    Bobby Buckshot Heavy on the grease please

    Southeastern US
    Was he doing this with those RVG CD remasters as well?
  11. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    Oh, the music's great, but some of those Oliver Nelson solos one Blues & the Abstract Truth sound like a '70s sawtooth Moog type of patch or something. But it's the drums that bug me. The band is swinging along at X volume, and here comes a big Blakey fill or Tony Williams fill (and Williams in particular was such a dynamic drummer I'm sure he went from very quite to very loud quickly), and it's like fuzz-drums!
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2017
  12. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    Yes, it is. Buzzdrumming. Almost a pure square wave. Ouchie.
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  13. kt66brooklyn

    kt66brooklyn Senior Member

    brooklyn, ny
    I gravitate to my old 78's when I'm in the mood for trumpet. Bunny Berigan and Charlie Shavers most recently.
  14. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    I used to listen to some of that stuff and think there was something wrong with my cartridge set up.
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  15. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    No, he was doing other weird ****.
  16. Michael P

    Michael P Forum Resident

    Parma, Ohio
    I agree that ribbon mics are far better choices when recording brass. That being said, even if you had to use a Neumann the use of a pad or other attenuation at the console input wold have eliminated the harmonic distortion. The problem , as you clearly stated, is that studio monitors of the day just did not reproduce the distortion until it was too late. I still cringe when I listen to my 1st big band jazz LP made as a free-lance engineer. I swear I did not hear the distortion on the monitors or see it on the console metering system (an early 70's custom built console with lights, probably "TT" bulbs, for meters. This was in the days just before LED's were used for the same purpose).

    Recording Jazz taught me to always pad down the mics at the input to the console.
  17. Perisphere

    Perisphere Forum Resident

    The RCA ribbons wouldn't overload on brass as the Neumanns did. Listen to the Doc Severinsen Command albums Robert Fine engineered--he used the 44 on Doc and the brass. But I also have a Command album of Doc's called THE NEW SOUND OF TODAY'S BIG BAND (RS 917 SD) that George Piros engineered and mastered....there are several instances of severe distortion on Doc's horn worse than I've heard from any Van Gelder recording. A number of the cuts are way worse than this:

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  18. PhilBorder

    PhilBorder Forum Resident

    Sheboygan, WI
    Who's controlling the volume when recording? The trumpeter by backing off or closing in, blowing harder or softer? Or the engineer manually riding the volume? Both?
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  19. chewy

    chewy Forum Resident

    West Coast USA
    I like Blue Note a lot and I can tell the trumpets sound distorted too, they are very "hot", it seems to me.
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  20. C6H12O6

    C6H12O6 Senior Member

    My lab
    Yikes! If this is how all the Blue Note LP's were cut, I think I'd rather settle for a nice EQ console and fix a cheaper and more neutral or flat mastering from later on.
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  21. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

    You'd be surprised at how many people love that sound. Shave off the low bass, give some bass boom at 150 cycles, punch up the 5k by 6 db and filter at 8k. More studios than RVGs did that back then. On some (key word: some) masters it sounds great (Ray Charles "Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music, cut at Bell Sound, NYC for example.)
  22. Hamhead

    Hamhead The Bear From Delaware

    Hoedown is one distorted mess. Halfway though the song starting with the alto sax solo, it's gets nasty.
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  23. Hamhead

    Hamhead The Bear From Delaware

    Lots of jazz drummers around that time were using 42 strand wires on their snare drums which made everything sound buzzy.
    On certain drums, those worked terrible because of the way the snare beds were cut. The snare wires wouldn't make contact with the bottom head and rattled as a result.

  24. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    We're not talking about buzzy snares and rattling, we're talking about full tilt clipping and distortion on the whole kit.
  25. yasujiro

    yasujiro Forum Resident

    On the recordings Norman Granz produced, trumpets always sound beautifully.
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