Alt-rock Exec Royalty Butch Vig Talks About Vintage Gears in 80s Studio

It’s impossible to speak of the evolution of the music industry without mentioning highly acclaimed personalities whose genius and unparalleled work have greatly contributed to and shaped the industry to what it is today. In the alternative rock arena, Butch Vig is one such icon.

As a musician, songwriter, remixer and record producer, Butch knows his way around alt-rock, grunge, electronic rock, noise rock, and even power pop genres. Such mad skills earned him his rightful royalty spot in the industry, having worked for and with the biggest bands in the world including Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Muse, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls and Jimmy Eat World. And of course, he is most popularly known as the drummer for Garbage—a role he’s held for the past 22 years.

Butch’s celebrated music production career dates back to 1983. It was the year when he and longtime friend and Garbage co-member Steve Marker partnered up to start Smart Studios as a joint commercial enterprise. A set of “vintage and analogue gear” that was “pretty minimal at the start” equipped Smart Studios.

“We had an Allen & Heath console, a Crown power amp, a Tascam 38 reel-to-reel eight-track, a Technics two-track to mix on to ¼” tape,” says Butch. In terms of outboard gear, the studio had a dbx 160 compressor, a Roland tape echo and some graphic EQ.

The studio also initially used JBL speakers when it opened in 1983. Notably, JBL introduced the use of titanium in high-frequency diaphragms, the first of its kind, in the 1980s. The titanium-diamond-diaphragm structure brings together the ruggedness of phenolic and composite-type diaphragms with the excellent frequency response of fragile aluminum and exotic metal diaphragms. A truly remarkable brand, JBL continues to market excellent studio monitors, such as the JBL LSR 305—one of the best studio monitors on the market today.

“We didn’t have very much; we had a pair of Valley People Dyna-mites, which were great because you could use them as noise gates or compressors or limiters. We used those on drums a lot, and then we bought a Plate reverb, which was great,” he recalls.

In 2010, Smart Studios was closed. The vintage audio equipment setup now sits in Butch’s current home studio which, he says, “is pretty awesome,” thanks to rapid digital innovations. His current audio hub is powered by Pro Tools (HD 12), Drum Workshop, a Baldwin Acrosonic acoustic piano, Line 6 direct input guitar modellers, virtual synths, a Barefoot MM27 monitors, some Neumanns, as well as AKG ribbon mics.

In the modern music production scene, Butch does keep an eye open for the latest in digital technology which, according to him, has successfully levelled the playing field and changed the way people record and consume music.

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