Me in Studio B

Me in Studio B
If you were googling Undertone Audio and found my blog here, well...welcome! You should visit the official website,, but here you can follow my adventures as the crew and I build these mixing consoles, EQs and other oddities. Some, most or all of my work wouldn't be very interesting to a lot of people, but for recording junkies who get excited about vintage German tube mics, cool, eccentric compressors, studio history and some of the fun ins and outs of studio life, this could be for you. Hey, make it your home page and impress chicks! I can be reached at

Saturday, February 26, 2011

More Console Building and Install Pics

I was transferring photos and found a bunch of shots from when we were building the Studio B console last summer. In addition to building the console, we tore everything out of the room -all the wiring, all the outboard gear...everything. So we had a full blown install from scratch. For awhile, we were pretty bad about cleaning up after ourselves, so we made quite a mess.
Look at that life sized Bettie Page thing. Someone rescued that from a dumpster in Hollywood. Who would throw that away? What a treasure. That's in the tech shop now.
Next are a few shots of building the third, 24 channel console that we took to the Audio Engineering Society (AES) show in San Francisco a few months ago.
Our AES booth was only going to be ten feet square, so we marked off an area in the big room and experimented with how we were going to fit everything in.
Larry and I were working on the tube output stages, we were getting ready to put in modules and start the testing. It took me about a week to test everything, meanwhile we were figuring out what to bring to the convention and our goal was to set up a fully functioning studio in the booth with 24 channel version mixes of stuff Eric has produced over the years. That meant that Eric had to remix songs and recall the mixes each morning at the Moscone Center.
                                          Larry, Cian and Eric on set up day
From the minute the show opened, we had a steady crowd of people. Response was amazing and Eric had big audiences for his lectures. One was on comparative listening -one of his main points was stressing the importance of doing blind A/B tests -First switch between the two channels/devices yourself, trying to establish differences that may help you identify which is which, then have somebody else change it so you no longer know which is A and which is B. That test is a little too scary for some people who make wild claims about what they're hearing. You can find the presentation notes for that lecture here I'm so bad at A/B tests...that's one of the reasons I'm not a recording engineer -I don't have the ears for it. The other lecture was a walk through of how he mixed the All American Reject's, "Gives you Hell" using a combination of analog and digital gear and what circumstances drive his decisions to use which format.

Today I'm doing more work for Greg Koller -wiring and another patchbay. Eric is mixing and Larry is here working on a mod. Now I'll close with a picture of my beloved turkey and avocado Larchmont Wine and Cheese Shop sandwich.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More patchbays, more mics and those fancy faceplates

We finished up the patchbay and wiring for Greg's Protools rig (Cian has been giving me a hand this week), so we took it to the Capitol Records building this afternoon. We took a couple of shots outside of the building in the parking lot, but Greg saw us from his window and he and Bret were flipping off the camera. They were hoping they would be visible in the shot with a zoom in, but, sorry they aren't.
Here are better shots of the EMI. My phone camera takes grainy pictures with lint on the lens from my pockets, so we borrowed Eric's fancy camera.

I've been repairing and putting together microphones with David Bock on the side lately. A lot of it has been repairing vintage stuff, but we've been working on Bock Audio's new mic, the 241 It's a cardioid only 251 and the first handful shipped out last week. When I handle capsules, I treat them like I'm diffusing a bomb. It can be scary, because you have to install tiny screws right next to the bad slip up and you can put a screwdriver right through it. It's very intensive, focused work and doing one is enough, but I did four in one sitting and I ended up feeling like I just diffused four bombs back to back.

One of the next steps for Undertone Audio is artwork on the faceplates. As we use that really cool porous metal on the surface of the consoles for the acoustic properties, we found early on that we had a problem with art work. We tried laser etching, but that didn't work. We tried silk screening and it looked like cake frosting on a microphone grill. So we eventually developed a technique of placing a stencil over the face plate of a channel strip and we smear acrylic paint over it to fill in small spots where the art needs to be and then we were able to silk screen over that. Since we were pleased with the results, we had to do that to every faceplate, one at a time and if there is a mistake, it has to go right into a bath, dry it and try again.
                                       Stencils on faceplates, sometime in 2009

Then we had to sand each one, clean them and inspect. It was painstaking and far from perfect, so we have been determined to find a better solution. We are on the right track, now we have gone in the direction of a machine that holds everything in place, we can do several faceplates at a time and Roger doesn't have to lose his temper and me too. This is all labor of love, but that doesn't mean it's always labor of fun.

I haven't posted much about Undertone Audio on this Undertone Audio blog the past couple of months because so much of what I've been doing at UTA lately is dropping off parts at vendors and organizing. Thats not very exciting to write about and the stuff I've been doing on the side has been pretty interesting for me.

The Spanish version of the blog is up to date, but I'm going to go through and set it up from scratch again to get rid of the weird spacing problems. I want to say thanks again to Mauricio for everything he does, so thanks again, Mauricio, you're the best!

Rock & Roll,

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sushi, Patchbays, Capitol Records and Telefunken

This week I worked more on the two Telefunken ELA M251s over at Bock them up, replacing components and installing the capsules. I still have to rewire one of the cables and do some work to the power supplies, but I'm getting there.

I got the parts I needed, so I finished that patchbay and most of the wiring for the EMI console. I took it all over to Capitol on Thursday and we got the console working at about midnight. There is a lot going on over there and that day was crazy busy.

This week's food highlights were Sushi Hiroba and good old California Chicken Cafe on Melrose...the Chinese chicken salad is so good.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dear Mike

Dear Mike,

Is there a reason you are not wearing your THG Knobs t-shirt at the THG Knobs booth at the NAMM show?

Roger Fearing

PS: When is the paper doll going to be available?

Dear Roger,

I didn't wear my THG Knobs t-shirt at the NAMM show because it wouldn't have matched my outfit and I didn't want to offend anyone who may have been working for a rival company.

The paper doll is still in the research and development stage and should be available later this year.

Thank you for your interest in Mike's Undertone Audio Adventures,
Michael Westbrook

Our first reader of the month is Elsie Valentine
Always hard at work!


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Interesting Week

So, while sitting in sunny southern California, I probably never would have thought that the cold weather that has dumped too much snow on parts of the country would affect me, but it has. I needed parts from Mouser and they stopped shipping for days and I won't get them till maybe Tuesday. It's a drag. That is for the EMI stuff I'm doing for Greg and Jon. That console doesn't have line inputs, only mic, so to get line level in I have to put resistors across the normalling points and between the top and bottom row of the bay...padding down the line level. This is the fifth time in ten years that I've worked on an EMI. They just keep coming back into my life, which is not a bad thing, but it's interesting that it keeps happening.

I didn't think that hurricane Katrina would affect me either, but this week I started cleaning up two ELA M251s that took a beating in that disaster. They smell like the gulf of Mexico. It's never good for any kind of mic to get damaged, but why did it have to be the most expensive kind?

Steve Perry came back to the studio yesterday and we sat and listened to Journey's "Greatest Hits" record on vinyl. It was fun hearing him talk about the recordings. That record came out in 1988 and since then it has sold between 500,000 and 1 million copies every year.

Eric is mixing Taking Back Sunday and I spent time helping him out today with the new tape machine set up. We changed the patchbay configuration last week so all Protools outputs are normalled to the Studer and Ampex inputs, then their outputs are normalled to line inputs on the console. That way he just sends everything to analog tape and mixes from that.

So we made master and slave reels, six of them, and striped timecode. Earlier this year we gutted an Ampex and a Studer to keep the two main ones working, he also has a 16 track Scully and a two track ATR. So anyways, all the tape machines are working and everything goes to analog. I hadn't cut analog tape in about seventeen years, so I did that tonight and enjoyed the smell of tape rewinding.

                                           Ampex 24 track 2 inch striping code

                                   Studer A800 24 track 2 inch cutting in leader

We listened to the first Van Halen record today, just for kicks, and we put on Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, both on vinyl. We listened to that huge piano chord on the end of "A Day in the Life" and cranked up the volume as it decayed. It's funny how both of those records were so eclectic. They were both so out there for their time...for any time...but today, no record company would tolerate some of the material that is on those records. They would say nobody would want to hear it. I'm going to avoid getting on the soapbox about record companies and the general state of the recording industry today, so this is a good place to stop.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

My blog in Spanish and more Slash recording info

A very special thanks goes out to Andrés Mauricio Gutiérrez Camacho in Bogotá, Colombia. He is translating the blog posts into Spanish and doing a fantastic job. He is a recording engineer, a rock & roller and he uses analog tape! Our kind of guy, for sure. So I'll set up the Spanish page soon.

Here is a link to an article that appeared in Sound on Sound magazine last year about Eric's production/recording techniques on Slash's, "By the Sword."

There are a lot of great shots in there.

Thanks for all the site visits!