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The legendary sound of Glyn Johns

Glyn Johns is one of the UK's most respected producers and engineers and has successfully made his mark on the recording of drums, which is arguably the most difficult task in all sound engineering.


Sent to us by an Audio Masterclass reader; gratefully received and published...

Glyn Johns is one of the UK’s most respected producers and engineers and has successfully made his mark on the recording of drums, which is arguably the most difficult task in all sound engineering. Glyn Johns was born on February 15, 1942 in Epsom, Surrey, England. Johns initially started his career as a performer for The Presidents and released a handful of singles in the 1960’s, which eventually went nowhere. As a member of this band, he was also working as a studio engineer at IBC Studios and trying his hand in production his band's tracks. After his failed performing career, he got his start as a tape operator for the Beatles before moving on to becoming a recording engineer and producer. After completing an apprenticeship in record production with legendary Shel Talmy, Johns was on his way to engineering sessions. His career has grown to become one of the most legendary in classic rock and attributed to some of the greats including the Rolling Stones and The Who.

In early 1965, Johns began engineering sessions by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Spooky Tooth. His credit was not listed at the time, however later showed listed on 1967's LPs including Satanic Majesties Request and Beggar's Banquet. His big break came in 1968 when the Steve Miller band approached Johns to produce their popular album Sailor. This collaboration yielded several other LPs including 1969's Brave New World, which was widely acclaimed. Later in 1969, Johns was called upon to rescue failing sessions for the Beatles, however even after compiling several different versions the Beatles chose to reject these and move on to producer Phil Spector.

Even after the rejection of the Beatles, Johns emerged to be one of the most sought out producers of the 1970's, and his pace of production became relentless. In 1971 alone, Johns lend his ear and hand to the production and engineering of the Who's Who's Next, the Stone's Sticky Fingers, and the Faces' A Nod Is as Good as a Wink. To a Blind Horse. Who's Next later became one of the most celebrated rock albums of all time and Johns was credited as associate producer of this legendary album.

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Glyn Johns' subsequent work on the first three albums released by the Eagles was fundamental and essential in creating the group's original and unique sound and style. His extended affiliation with the Eagles helped the group realize their laid-back West Coast sound that they have been acclaimed for. This molded the later albums into a style that could not be matched. He later created this stand out style for several hundred rock bands and soloists from their own unique assets in their music type.

There are perhaps hundreds if not thousands of notable production and engineering works that Johns contributed to, some of these being: the Stones' Exile on Main Street, the Who's Quadrophenia, Eric Clapton's Slowhand and Backless and many more. Although most of his work was completed throughout the late 60's and all throughout the 70's, his scheduled slowed in the later decades and was more focused on younger talents such as Midnight Oil, Nanci Griffith, and Belly.

Glyn Johns success as a recording engineer and producer could be entirely attributed to his method of techniques to record drums. This method was later self-titled “The Glyn Johns Method” and has become a popular technique for even the most experienced audio engineers in business today. Johns, although very widely known as a producer, is probably best known in the drumming community for his legendary drum sounds that no other sound engineer has managed to record without using his method.

Johns' signature sound is massive, live and open-toned, something very essential in the classic rock genre. He has achieved this open sound with only the use of four microphones and is simple to achieve with little studio hardware. To successfully mimic Johns' sound you will need two overheads, one bass drum mic, and one snare mic. The positioning of these various mics is the most important part of achieving the proper drum sounds other producers so often fail at.

Johns' method is achieved by getting the drummer to use a finely tuned kit. This master recording engineer has recorded just about every artist of importance throughout the 60's, 70's and 80's by fine-tuning individual drum tracks to within an inch of their life to get the desired and unique sound. Johns always used high-quality kick and snare mics in his microphone arsenal. With advances in music technology, new users are able to match this sound quality with affordable mics on the market today.

The quality of work with the Johns method also depends on the quality of the overhead mics. Those microphones that are too bright are not good for the Johns' technique, as very accurate mics will not produce the legendary and wide-open sound. Ribbon microphones are preferred for use and are very affordable alternatives of overhead equipment.

The position of the equipment is just as important as the type of equipment used. Johns always engineered his sound with the use of a very unlikely tool- a tape measure. Without the proper position of the overheads, you will experience a washy and off-balance sound of the drum. The first overhead should be positioned exactly 40-inches from the dead center of the snare drum. It should be placed facing down toward the kick drum pedal. The second overhead mic will be positioned to the drummer's right hand side facing the drummer. The spot miking is placed depending on the sounds the band desires.

Recording engineers and producers have been an important integral figure in music production for years. In each genre of music, there are world famous producers who have been widely acclaimed for their input in music sounds. Glyn Johns is one of these historic figures in classic rock and has been recognized in popular culture as well. It seems that Johns is going no where, ever as he has aged, after being credited as mixer/masterer in Ian Maclagan and The Bump Band's Never Say Never in 2009.

(Article sent to us by an Audio Masterclass reader.)

By David Mellor Tuesday May 4, 2010