If there’s anything a guitarists love as much as their guitars, it's their amplifiers. Countless words have been written about who used which amp with which cabinet and which speakers, but it may surprise you to learn that some of the most iconic sounds ever recorded were created via direct injection: the act of plugging right into a console’s preamp.
The most-cited example is probably the single version of the Beatles’ "Revolution." John Lennon’s desire for an aggressive sound prompted engineer Geoff Emerick to run the guitar straight into two daisy-chained preamps for maximum fuzzy overdrive — but they weren’t the only ones to do it.
Today, we're exploring eight more instances where, whether accidental or intentional, the direct injection technique happened to be just the ticket to achieve these diverse sounds.
The Byrds - "Mr. Tambourine Man"
In a rather strange career move, the Byrds recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s acoustic masterpiece the same year the original was released and made it the title track of their debut album. It could have been derivative and uninspired, if it weren’t for the band putting their unique jangle-pop stamp on it.
One of the defining elements of that signature sound came from Roger McGuinn’s chiming Rickenbacker 12-string, selected in emulation of The Beatles. That signature chime is on full display in the opening notes of "Mr. Tambourine Man," enhanced by a subtle studio trick.
In January 1965, the Byrds convened at Columbia Recording Studios in Hollywood to record the single with help from famed session musicians the Wrecking Crew. Engineer Ray Gerhardt ran the direct guitar signal through tube compression to "protect his precious equipment from loud rock and roll," as McGuinn recalls.
The compression thickened up the slightly tinny guitar and sounded so good that Gerhardt added another compressor in line with the first, creating the snappy yet sustained tone heard on the song — and many Byrds recordings since.
Led Zeppelin - "Black Dog"
Jimmy Page seems to be synonymous with cranked Marshall stacks, but Zeppelin was known to make use of a broad range of guitars, amps, and techniques in the studio. Curiously, one of the band’s most iconic riffs was created in a rather unorthodox way.
The band’s longtime studio-hand Andy Johns (having gotten the idea from Buffalo Springfield’s engineer) fed Page’s Les Paul through a direct box, straight into a preamp on the desk, then into two UREI 1176 compressors (again, in series).
The first unit had the compression buttons disengaged and the output level cranked, functioning more like an amplifier. The already somewhat distorted signal hit the next unit hot enough to overdrive the input, resulting in the classic sound. The part was then tripled to thicken the sound.
"I couldn’’t have done it without the 1176s," Johns later confessed in an interview with Universal Audio (formerly UREI). "There is not another compressor that will do that, because you can take out the compression stuff." EQ lent the final touch: "A bit of bottom to make it sing," according to Johns.