How metal is guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal? The guy has played with Guns n’ Roses and Lita Ford, and co-wrote and performed the theme to VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show—and those are just a few of the highlights from his 20 year-plus career. “First-call guitar player” isn’t the only hat he wears though—truthfully, Thal is a one-man industry, as you can get your hands on everything from Bumblefoot guitar cases to hot sauces. And if you pick up his latest solo album, Little Brother Is Watching, you’ll find he’s adept at producing, engineering and conducting gang vocals, too.
Most of the new album was recorded in Bumblefoot Studio—or at least that’s its name today. “The name often changes,” he grinned. “Usually it’s a nickname given by people I’m producing. One that sticks in my mind is ‘Living Hell Studios,’ which was named by an artist staying there for a two-month period that was riddled with disasters, including a hurricane and resulting three-foot-high flooding of the downstairs living area…. When not underwater, I simply call it Bumblefoot Studio, in Princeton NJ.”
While rock production these days seems to be all about the abuse of brickwall limiters, Thal opted for a more traditional approach for Little Brother is Watching: “I did the recording, mixing and mastering all at Bumblefoot Studio; I pulled back on the ‘volume war’ and chose to retain dynamics, while still giving the mixes juuuust enough energy.” Helping provide some of that dynamic energy throughout was drummer Dennis Leeflang, who played on the album and assisted in the recording of his drums, bringing in his preferred microphones and preamps.
When folks talk about vintage audio gear, they typically mean analog equipment; for Thal’s album, however, that meant using an older DAW for both mixing in-the-box and recording—and with good reason: “I used the DAW that I’ve been most familiar with, as I’ve truly had to put time into continued productivity over learning software between juggling touring and producing and guest solos and TV/film music and my own albums.”
And the DAW in question? “I used a 14-year-old version of Steinberg Nuendo v2.1. I always had the argument—justification? excuse?—that 1) you’ll get better results from gear you’re most familiar with and know how to get the most out of, and 2) that the most important gear you have is your ears. Your choices in how you shape the sound are more important to the end result than what you use to shape the sound. But, that said, this is the last album I’ve recorded using this software; as I find some newer plug-ins aren’t compatible, I need to update my world. Thank you Nuendo2—you’ve gone above and beyond.”