Hands-On Review:AEROSMITH’S JOE PERRY AND BRAD WHITFORD
At his 50th birthday party last year, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry was reunited with the 1958 Les Paul guitar that he’d played throughout most of Aerosmith’s Seventies career, but which he’d been forced to sell during the band’s troubled, drug-addled years.
"I sold it in 1981, I think," he recalls. "I was broke and I needed money for Christmas. Then, around the time we were doing Get a Grip, I started thinking, I gotta get that guitar back. I had no idea where it had gone. But one day Brad came into the studio with a guitar magazine. The centerfold was Slash’s guitar collection. And there was my guitar, sitting right there. I called Slash and said, ‘C’mon man, sell it back. I’ll give you what you paid for it.’ But he wouldn’t part with it. I felt bad, because every time I’d see him I’d bug him for it. And then finally I stopped talking to him. He never called or anything. Then when my 50th birthday came around, he got some idea in his head that he wanted to give it back to me. Which he did, the night of the party. I had no idea what was coming."
Perry used that guitar extensively on on Just Push Play, the band’s self-produced, high-octane home recording, as well as a 1960 Les Paul, while Brad Whitford relied heavily on a ’54 Strat. But both guitarists dipped deeply into Perry’s extensive collection in recording the album. Joe’s got a thing for old Supros and owns many fine examples, not to mention exotica like an Airline guitar, Vox mando-guitar and guitar organ, Hagstrom eight-string bass and Danelectros galore. But he’s no vintage snob. He’s just as fond of a new Gretsch Black Falcon he recently acquired and used when Aerosmith appeared on the American Music Awards early this year. And from a rack in the control room he eagerly pulls a Les Paul fitted with a computerized auto-tuning system, pointing out that Jimmy Page has one too. But asking a man with this many guitars which ones he played on any specific track is a bit like asking Casanova who he slept with on any given evening a few months back.
"The track knows which guitar you should use," Brad Whitford philosophizes. "You just have to find it."
The guitars went through a variety of new and vintage amps. "One of the big surprises was these new Gibson combos, the GA-30s," says Perry. "It’s actually a stereo amp with 15 watts per speaker. And it just cranks. We used them a lot of the album, and I think I’m going to use them onstage."
On the vintage front, Perry and Whitford made extensive use of Joe’s venerable tweed, 50-watt Fender Twin Reverb, model number 006. He’s got a handful of impressive old Gibson and Fender tweeds in the smallish (about 15x25) tracking room at his studio, as well as a nice old blonde Vox AC30 that’s been retrofitted with Matchless transformers.
"Whenever we wanted tremolo on the album," says Perry, "we used real amp tremolo, either an AC30 or one of the newer AC15s. We used a Super Reverb too."
Perry believes that the key to getting a roaring rock guitar sound on a digital recording medium like Pro Tools is to start with a good analog front end. "You gotta have good mics and mic pres. Mostly we used the old LA-3As, a Pultec eq and the Neve mic pres. We’re really fans of the Royer ribbon mics. They can really take a beating. We also used the Audio-Technica 4051s, [Shure SM-] 57s and [Electro-Voice] RE-20s. Before it hits Pro Tools, the sound has to be as good as it can be. I think a lot of people compromise by going straight into Pro Tools and using the plug-in [effects and signal processors.]"
But Perry and Whitfield aren’t dogmatic on this issue. While they favored Centaur and Line 6 stompboxes for a lot of the album, they were also open to using plug-ins. "In Pro Tools, there’s so much you can do in the way of adding Moogerfooger or some other plug-in to a guitar sound after it’s recorded," says Perry. "And there were times when we’d plug into Amp Farm. We didn’t go in saying, ‘We’re not going to use this.’ "