I don’t know what it is but I’ve been doing a bit of guitar covers of late.

I have been “off guitar” for more than a year, really. With the recent lockdown (I was still going to work, though), I wasn’t still doing anything guitar-wise until one weekend I started listening to the Smashing Pumpkins and did an impromptu rhythm guitar cover of Bullet With Butterfly Wings using Ryōko plugged into JamUp Pro XT on my iPad via the Focusrite iPad Dock, another piece of kit that required dusting. Over the next few weekends, I went through a bunch of songs I’d like to cover and I suddenly felt pretty ambitious, prolly too ambitious, with a song list. Some were old staples going back to my med school days, and some were potential re-dos of past guitar covers that didn’t make the mark.

My covers were mainly me on the guitar over the original pre-recorded track, which on occasion will mean I will get an e-mail from YouTube saying that there is a copyright issue. I can put a “no copyright infringement intended” disclaimer all I want but the bottom line is that the original track isn’t mine to publish. Unlike the SHCB covers which involve a bunch of peeps on their own instruments, finding people to cover my list of songs can be somewhat difficult as you need to find a like-minded soul. Another thing I have began to take interest is drum midi files from online guitar tabs. Running the midi file through Garageband allows you to choose the kit appropriate to the song and gives you a chance to manipulate the midi should you think there are errors in them. Of course, even with me playing guitar and bass with the midi drums as my backbeat, I still need a singer.

Fast forward to last weekend, I did a guitar cover of Nirvana’s Aneurysm. I first did an impromptu cover of this tune when the Fender Pawn Shop Mustang Special I bought from an eBay seller in the ‘States arrived. I plugged it into my Orange Dual Terror lunch box head + Marshall 2x12s and it was sonic nirvana, pun defo intended. I don’t know why but five years lay-tergh… I asked if Sea Monsturr could play the bass on this re-do Aneurysm cover. For the midi drums, I got it from GtpTabs.com:

Isolating the drum track, the relevant midi file can be exported from Guitar Pro 6 software. Add the midi file to Garageband, you can then choose which drum kit that suits the song. This may be old hat to many, but this is one of the things of discovery that really fascinates me, especially when all these are already in my Mac!

Once a kit is chosen, you may then tweak the loudness/tonality of each component, as well as the amount of reverb/ambience:

The midi file contains the tempo of the song, and interestingly, Aneurysm has a varied tempo – not just according to the fast/slow parts of the song, but the author of the tab/midi for the song transcribed a drop of 1 BPM in the middle of the song! I am uncertain if this was intentional but if you a think about it, it’s probably the author’s attempt in transcribing a song that probably didn’t use a click track during recording[1]. And talking about tempo, Aneurysm is played at different speeds depending on the versions. This was what I found on Google:

Now, I don’t know why, but I went for 141 BPM[2]. The midi was 150 BPM. As the tempo was variable, I had to reduce the other tempo by 94% (141/150) for the metronome. Don’t ask.

And the last part of the puzzle – vocals. I was thinking of doing that thing with manipulating the EQ of the original pre-recorded track so that Cobain’s voice can be isolated (not perfectly, but the instruments may be attenuated enough to be drowned by the guitar, bass and drum tracks we will be laying down). Or, Google “Aneurysm vocals only”. Bingo! Someone has done it and it was available on YouTube which the .m4a audio only file was easily grabbed. But that’s not the end of it. Remember that the original recording was 136 BPM and clever old me chose 141 BPM. This meant using digital scissors and tape to fit the vocal track onto the song. Early in the song, it was full sentences. By the outro, I was cut and pasting syllables of single words. It only took a few hours.

Come the weekend, I gave Sea Monsturr the guide track comprising a simple mix of the bass midi, drum midi and “Cobain”‘s vocals. Once that was done, I tracked my guitar in the fourth or fifth take, in one take. The Mustang was again plugged into the Orange lunch box but for the life of me I couldn’t remember the settings I had 5 years ago. Looking back at that old cover video, the amp was set at pretty high gain complete with feedback. Also, I covered the song then using the same amp gain setting whereas the song has quieter low gain segments at the intro and in the first part of the song. The low gain tone was pretty spot on if I should say so myself. I finally settled down on the most appropriate high gain tone but as the Marshall 2×12 was next to the recording area I couldn’t have it at too high a volume for natural feedback to occur, as I won’t be able to hear the backing track.

For the mix, I had Sea Monsturr’s bass on the left a tad, and my guitar on the right a bit more. The drums and vocals were dead centre. I ran this through my music producer brother and he gave me some pointers for the master of this song. He commented that the stereo image was narrow (I had alluded to slightly panning the bass and guitar a tad in either direction) – it turns out it was “OK for grunge”. Well, beginner’s luck there. There also appeared to be peaking at 125Hz and I had to bring this down 1-3dB on the EQ (had to switch the analyser on to see this).

I was to also add compression with a fast attack/release on the drums – the snag is while I can alter the attack, Garageband allows me to alter the ratio as opposed the release. I had to Google this and was still clueless. So, I just tweaked it using my ears to hear if the drum sounds punchy enough. Adding small room reverb on the master track softened the edges and blended the instruments better. Doesn’t make me Steve Albini but I’m so grateful for the advice. The mastered track sounded better and to my relief Sea Monsturr seemed to think so, too.

A couple of days ago after work, I sat down to edit the video. Over the previous few days, I had the song on repeat to figure out how to do the video. I had joked that I prolly spent more time on this video than practising on the guitar for this project. So, here you go and hope you like it:

[1]During the Nevermind recording sessions in Sound City, Lithium was the only song they played to a click track.
[2]I think this was when I was manually trying to match the tempo of the midi drums to the original recording.