Bittner’s playing style involves crashing, splashing, and riding on a vast array of cymbals. Radiating around him, his cymbals occupy the space roughly related to 11 to 1 o’clock and approximately 5 to 7 o’clock. Originally, there was a plan in place to utilize four overhead mikes. This would present monumental phasing problems, but with a little bit of common sense mixed with a lot of experience and no little amount of dumb luck, the configuration was simplified. A pair of Sound Deluxe 251s (cardioid-style units) were positioned above the kit (FIG. 3). These were probably the finest pieces available at 606; they run about $10,000 each.
FIG. 3. A pair of Sound Deluxe 251s positioned above the kit
“You can see how the mike is kind of just pointing right in the center of the group,” says Raskulinecz. “Honestly, I just kind of stood up above his snare drum and looked at the groups of cymbals, and I just kind of put them where my eyes were. To be totally honest, there was no rhyme or reason about it. I just thought about taking a picture of the cymbals and kind of looked at where he was going to be hitting the most and kind of positioned the mike right in the center of that. We didn’t even move them.
“A lot of people don’t think about this: Overhead mikes aren’t just for cymbals. That’s the way I do it; that’s 50 percent of your snare sound. Because what gets hit more than the cymbals? The snare and the kick — there are even toms. That was part of the deal with the whole Bonham drum sound; there was just one overhead. But that one overhead was taking a picture of the snare and the toms and the cymbals. That was back in the day when you had to do your own volume rides. Bonham was the master at that. That’s why on the Zeppelin records you can hear the drums − because he’s not wailing on that cymbal. And Jason does the same thing, which is fascinating because I don’t record many guys that play that way. Most guys just get in there and bash the hell out of everything. But you’ve got to have finesse.
“I just kind of eyeballed it, but the one thing that was specific is we made sure with a piece of string that they [the 251s] were at the exact same distance from the snare. They’ve got to be the same distance because if one’s lower, then the sound is going to be getting into that one before the other one, which is going to make them out of phase. So they’re exactly the same distance from the snare drum.
“With those two overheads we did, they took a really nice picture; the stereo imaging was perfect. You could sit right between the speakers, and the cymbals that are at seven o’clock sound like they are at seven o’clock. And the ones at seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven, you can hear that in the imaging. So that’s kind of what we went for; I wanted it to be really wide but really clear.”
Additionally, the hi-hats were fitted with Royer ribbon mikes, a configuration where sound enters both ends of the unit. Again, function dictated form.
“The reason we picked the Royer is [that Bittner] does a lot of hi-hat work,” acknowledges Raskulinecz. “I didn’t want the hi-hats to be too bright, too brash. And the ribbon is famous for not being very bright.”
And Fig adds, “It’s really natural; it’s a smooth high.”
To ensure an even smoother high end, Fig built a little hood to slip over the microphone (FIG. 4). Building baffles and mike muffles is nothing new; engineers have been working for years in fashioning little gizmos in order to reject cymbal bleed.
FIG. 4. A Royer ribbon mike (fitted with a custom hood) placed above the hi-hat
“I’m sure you’ve seen people build bass drum tunnels to keep the cymbals out of the kick drum. My original idea was [to] build a little cardboard diffuser, but then Paul was like, ’It would be cool to have something that absorbs instead of reflects.’ So we searched the studio and found a piece of foam in a garbage can or something. I noticed it was really dense. So I kind of cut it out and shoved a couple Q-tips through it and gaff taped it all together. There’s one on each hi-hat. These hi-hats are on opposite sides. The reason we built that was to reject all the cymbals coming back in to the hi-hat mikes.”