Something different with Queen today. A very tech-oriented article that should be very interesting for hard core fans and those Queen cover bands who will want to reproduce the “sound” of Queen exactly as it was. I hope this will make things clearer for you!
Queen with a bit of distinction
Edited by Geoff Barton
Like it or not, you have to admit that on record Queen have a pretty distinctive sound. You`ve got Brian May forcing those freaky sounds out of his custom-built guitar, and Freddie Mercury reaching some wine glass shattering notes on the vocals at times. All this, plus some expert overdubbing give Queen, as I say, an impressive recorded sound.
To reproduce this sound live is a task and a half for John Harris, the band`s sound engineer. John went to the same college as the band, and has been with them since the very beginning. That makes a total of about four years.
Queen rent their extensive sound system. It is Livewire RSC and they can squeeze an astonishing 3,500 watts out of it. The highest wattage the band used on their last British tour was 2,500 – and that was for places like the Newcastle City Hall.
But still, it`s pretty damn loud. The system incorporates JBL components with 15 inch bins and drivers on large acoustic speakers. The whole lot is held together by Quad Amps.
The band use two mixing desks. One is soley for the drums, which are mixed down and passed into the second desk which deals with the other instruments. That gives them a hell of a lot of channels to play around with.
In all, there are eight channels on the drums, which, as I say, are mixed down into a stereo pair. There are five – count `em, five – channels on vocals alone, two on bass, one on piano and three on guitar.
And that`s not all. Other pieces of equipment, such as a stereo casette machine, need channels as well.
Queen use AKG microphones, and John considers them to be very versatile.
To reproduce their recorded sound live, the band employ the use of various special effects. They include an echoplex on Freddie Mercury`s vocals, which gives them a delayed effect when required. Brian May uses two echoplexes to produce separate repeats. Each repeat is mixed up in turn, and Brian is able to add harmonies or elaborate on lines and riffs he has already played.
“All in all, the assembly of the whole system is pretty straight forward,” says John. “The only real problem we have is when we try to group the internal balance of the drums on the one mixer. But that`s not too bad, really.”
Queen favour a two hour sound check. The check takes that long because of the number of effects the band use. These have to be checked over and over again. Any malfunction or delay in operation can be disastrous – Queen rely that much on effects.
The whole PA system is balanced equally on either side of the band – “a straight stereo split” as John says. The band are currently thinking of adding speakers to the rear of an audience, but whether this will come about remains to be seen.
Unlike Tony McPhee, John is very much concerned about hall acoustics. Apparently, with some halls there is very little he is able to do about their echo qualities.
As for good venues, well, John thinks that the Glasgow Apollo is one of the best. When Queen played the Rainbow, they experimented by putting one mixer up in the gods, and having the other one down below. John was pleased with the results, as he considers the Rainbow a very awkward place in which to get a really good sound.
He is only too aware that in venues of that size someone high up in the audience may not be able to hear, for example, the drums, whereas someone in the stalls may complain that the drums are too loud. The problem is to strike a happy medium.
To compensate for hall acoustics, Queen use a third octave graphic equaliser on the outputs of the mixing desks.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Tim Hardin, Joan Baez, Mike Garson, Mike Oldfield, ELO, Pink Floyd, Herbie Hancock, Russ Ballard, Wendy Waldman, Alan Stivell, Contraband.
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