The 1960s were a golden era for music. Pop, soul, and rock were selling records like never before. For drummers, things started out rather subdued. But by the end of the decade there were hits with the aggressive pulse of the ’70s that was to come. Unlike disco, funk, and hard rock, early 1960s drummers took more of a back seat in the band and the song. If this type drum sound is appropriate for one of your future projects, the following outline of drum and recording gear from the era should help you get your groove on. There are also three examples of gear and recording setups covering a few of the prominent styles of the time.
The ’60s started as a monophonic listening era, with some attempts at stereo creeping in later. In the studio, many recordings were done completely live, or with only a few overdubs. While today’s digital audio workstations (DAWs) offer the luxury of almost unlimited track counts, multitrack recorders had only been available since 1955. In the early ’60s, these recorders were expensive, and often limited to four tracks. Punch-in recording was difficult, if it worked at all. Consequently, most recordings were played from start to finish.
Many studios made their own gear, contributing to the individual sound and reputation of a facility. Recording consoles were in their infancy. Referred to as “mixing desks” in Europe, some of the first models were literally modified office desks that had electronics added to the top. (see Fig. 1 below) A typical channel strip was rudimentary by today’s standards. A common set of controls would have included: volume level, pan (usually a three-position switch of Left, Center, or Right), Bass EQ, and Treble EQ. If a studio had a mono or stereo deck only, it meant the band recorded “live” and the mixing was done in real-time. What people heard in the control-room speakers (usually Altec 604s or Urei 813s) was pretty much going to be the finished song.
Fig. 1 A 610 Console. Before mass-produced audio equipment was widely available, Bill Putnam was building hardware for live and studio recording. (Photo Courtesy of Universal Audio, Inc.)
The realm of microphones was further advanced. Ribbon microphones remained in use, especially in the early ’60s. Popular ribbon models were the STC (today Coles) 4038 and the giant pill-shaped RCA 77 models (and their numerous revisions). At the time, Altec, American, BBC, and Shure used the phrase “ribbon mike,” while Electro-Voice and RCA chose the term “velocity mike,” but we’re talking the same animal.
For large-diaphragm condensers, the premier brand was Neumann, with the U 47 being its flagship vocal mike. (Originally, Neumann mikes imported to the U.S. were sold under the Telefunken name by the Gotham Company. But they are essentially the same product). Many U 47s were used for The Beatles’ recordings because of their sound and pick-up patterns. In omnidirectional, or figure-of-eight mode, John and Paul could sing while the U 47 also picked up ambience from Ringo’s drums. Legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin called it “his favorite microphone.” Like the Coles 4038, the Neumann U 47 is still revered today. In fact, if you had a pristine vintage model you could probably put a kid through college if you sold it!