Steve Vai’s Studies in Harmony and Light

Sep 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Bud Scoppa


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Steve Vai in his Harmony Hut studio.

Steve Vai in his Harmony Hut studio.

Steve Vai has married form and function in his new high-end home studio. The fittingly named Harmony Hut, which sits on the grounds of Vai’s estate in the hills above the San Fernando Valley in what was originally the gardener’s quarters, is a direct and vivid reflection of the guitarist/gearhead’s personality and taste—manifested in his dual passions for aesthetics and technology. Dark wood paneling, Tiffany lamps and shelves filled with leather-bound books give the control room a warm, elegantly understated vibe closer in feel to a library than a recording studio.

“If I’m gonna come here every day, I want to feel good,” Vai says of this self-designed environment. “You make it comfortable and it’s easier to be creative. When I wanted to create a working environment, I was very set on having the freedom of expressing all the different aspects of that space. The music, obviously, is the most important thing, but I find it very enjoyable to weave the environment, the equipment—which has always fascinated me—and every other element in finding what feels good, what feels right.”

The posh decor complements a fully functional workspace whose most striking foreground feature is a custom-designed Tree Audio 32-channel console, dramatically framed by a pair of monolithic Ocean Way monitors. The board is strikingly finished in sea-foam green, inspired by an antique T-Bird Vai once spotted in a parking garage. “The color was so rich it was like candy,” he recalls with characteristic enthusiasm. “I wanted to taste it.”

Tree Audio’s Steve Firlotte and Ian Gardiner designed the console, making full use of Vai’s minutely detailed input. The 16 channels on the left are paired with a series of slots that accommodate 500 Series modules; the 16 on the right are Neve-style buckets. Firlotte and Gardiner have loaded Vai’s board with clever touches, like placing the EQ knobs on the bottom row rather than across the top so that they can be reached without leaving the listening window. Putting on his Inward Connections hat, Firlotte custom-designed a 4-band EQ for Vai that he dubbed the Buster. The artist/producer and his engineer Greg Wurth also made extensive use of Inward Connections’ 500 Series Vogad and Brute compressors and Magnum mic pre during the sessions for his most recent release.

Opening the door that separates the control room from the surprisingly spacious tracking room, Vai says, “It’s like the Guitar Center.” [Laughs.] He’s referring to the jaw-dropping guitar gallery that takes up two of the studio’s walls from floor to ceiling—row upon row of axes, organized with OCD precision, behind virtually invisible Plexiglas shields. Likewise, cabinets built into one wall are crammed with every conceivable stomp box—“a guitarist’s wet dream,” as Vai puts it—adjacent to a well-stocked mic locker. He then points out the absence of perpendicular angles in the walls and peaked ceiling. “I did a lot of research to discover the best angles and surfaces to get the sound that’s most conducive to what I like,” he explains. “We used this very interesting chart that gives you the various reflective densities—wood, glass, stone, fabric—and how to blend them to get the sounds you want.”

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