Guitar Wizard Johnny A.

Mar 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Barbara Schultz


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A home studio can be a blessing and a curse for a workaholic. Guitar virtuoso Johnny A.'s newish project room allows him to write and record on his own schedule, which typically begins at the crack of dawn and continues on and off into the night. “Every recording situation has its pros and cons,” Johnny A. says. “The pros about doing recordings at home are that you can catch magic moments because you're in a totally relaxed state. The cons are that you have this stuff at your disposal all the time and you can get into a routine where you feel you're never finished.”

However, Johnny A. doesn't seem to suffer from that endlessly-getting-sounds disease. He is as disciplined as he is talented, and has just released his second instrumental album, Get Inside, on Steve Vai's Favored Nations Entertainment label. Vai discovered Johnny A. when his previous album, Sometime Tuesday Morning, which Johnny A. self-released, became a surprise success in the Northeast. “The first album was conceived in a relaxed atmosphere, in that I did not have a record deal at the time,” he explains. “I never thought I would get a record deal with what I was doing, and it was more like I had the opportunity to record and I wanted to celebrate my influences and not make any musical or audio compromises.

“One thing led to another, and it became this regional thing that was very successful and very grass roots, selling close to 9,000 or 10,000 copies,” he continues. “And then it got picked up by Steve Vai and went international. In the back of your mind, you hope to be successful at anything you do, but I had no delusions of grandeur thinking that I would put this out and it would be the next Classical Gas, Mason Williams' million-selling instrumental record.” In fact, the album and Johnny A.'s playing have been so widely admired that Gibson released a Johnny A. signature guitar, which received drooling raves in the December 2003 issue of Guitar Player magazine.

The success of Sometime Tuesday Morning allowed Johnny A. to acoustically improve his recording room, which is in the 10×15-foot attic space of the two-flat building that he owns. The studio began as a writing room, outfitted with a Roland VS-2480 workstation and KRK V8 monitors, but when he wanted to take the room to the next level, he contacted Auralex Acoustics for materials and design advice.

“I called them and they ended up being fans,” Johnny A. recalls. “I guess the radio station where they are [WTTS in Indianapolis] played my music a lot, and we struck up a great friendship and they offered to design the room. They flew Rusty Sulzmann out here, and they did the whole studio — the bass traps, the DST panels, the wedges, sunburst columns — and it just sounds great. They also did a great job with all the mitered cuts that go into the dormered ceiling line and slanted wall line. The room is beautiful and comfortable.”

Johnny A. recorded demos of all the new songs at home and then went to Boston Skyline studio to self-produce the drums, bass and guitar recordings, which were engineered by Dave Lefkowitz. Johnny A. recorded direct from his amplifier (a Marshall 6100 head) through a vintage Neve 1058 mic pre — which he scored from his old friend Fletcher of Mercenary Audio — and then straight into the back of the Studer A827 2-inch machine in the studio's “A” room. Then, all of the tracks were transferred to a Pro Tools|HD system; horns and Hammond organ parts were recorded directly to Pro Tools. He brought an identical Pro Tools system home, where he and engineer Bob Catalano edited and created premixes of the basic tracks and then recorded some percussion overdubs. Phil Greene and Johnny A. did the final mix in Pro Tools, making use of the SSL 4000E (with G computer) to a Studer A80 RC at Unique Recording in New York City. Johnny A. was also on hand for the final mastering by Scott Hull at Hit Factory Mastering.

Promotional touring has just begun for Get Inside, but Johnny A. is already excited about a third album. “What I probably will decide to do is go into a really great studio and record the drums and immediately transfer them to whatever the digital greatness of the day is — lease or buy one of those rigs — and then do my guitars and everything else at home.

“As far as audio goes,” he continues, “I'm a self-taught mixer and producer. I'm not a technician; it's all feel. I have a high expectation of things I like to listen to, and I put that same critical thinking into my own music.”

For more on Johnny A., visit

Barbara Schultz is a Mix contributing editor.

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