Nashville, TN – July 12, 2012: Once again, multiple GRAMMY winner and Christian artist Ricky Skaggs has been hard at work with "the boys" — his longtime band Kentucky Thunder, which have been playing bluegrass music alongside him for over 15 years. Each time Skaggs and his band enter the studio — usually at his own "Skaggs Place Studio" — the resulting music pays homage to the early trailblazers of bluegrass music, while forging entirely new paths within the seemingly timeless genre.
As an artist, Skaggs is wholly committed to authenticity and detail in his recordings. He is an avid collector of vintage microphones and esoteric gear, and constantly in pursuit of the latest sonic building blocks that will help make his recordings stand the test of time. The latest addition to his studio? The new Neumann KH 120 studio monitors. We chatted with Ricky to learn more about his recent projects, and why it's important to have a loudspeaker that tells the truth.....
What have you been up to lately?
"Me and the boys [Kentucky Thunder] have gotten together and will be putting out a bluegrass record — the first one since Honoring the Fathers, which we recorded several years ago. We've cut two days of tracks, about six songs on which we are now working on overdubs. In the coming weeks, we will be doing more tracks, as well as singing and overdubs. For this record, which will have a lot of variety, I've brought in Gordon Kennedy [producer] for moral support. I really wanted him involved because I didn't want it to be just another bluegrass record. Gordon is able to bring some input and creativity that I wouldn't necessarily think to bring to the project. Beyond this, I've been working on a live CD of Bruce Hornsby and myself. Last time we toured, we did a lot of live recordings on the road and we've been going through those live shows and hope to get a record out soon."
"When I found out that Neumann was doing monitors, I knew they wouldn't do anything unless it was excellent — because they have never done anything outside of excellence. If it was Neumann, it was going to be great. I first heard the KH 120s out at Winter NAMM and I was just blown away. I really loved what I was hearing. There is something in the midrange that highlights the acoustic instruments and strings, and the highs are not too bright or harsh. Finally, I just can't believe how small they are and how great they sound."
How about the low end?
"Typically it is a little bit harder to define the low end, but everything translates great through the KH 120s. In general, I was really impressed and surprised with their performance given their small size, and could not believe that that such clarity in the low end could be achieved without a subwoofer. The low end of my mixes sound tighter now — and in bluegrass, this is important on instruments like the upright bass and the acoustic guitar. We know that when we get to the mastering facility, that the entire low end will be nice and tight.
Why is the crossover important and how does the KH 120 perform in this regard?
"For any instrument that occupies the midrange, you've got to have crossovers that are extremely quick, smooth and transparent. The crossover on the Neumanns is very smooth and you can really hear this on acoustic guitars and mandolins. This is exactly what I hear from the KH 120s, and highlights the thing that I love most about them: the midrange. My instruments sound like I know they should."
Why have the KH 120s earned a place at Skaggs Place Studio?
"I want the safety net of having a great monitor system — it takes the guesswork out of recording and mixing, and you can be more confident in what you are putting down to tape. I know the low end is there, as well as the mids and the highs. Nothing is falsified and it is the real thing. I don't like cutting any corners — especially in the recording studio. Once you cut something and put it out, it is out there forever. As an artist, I want to make sure that the recording represented the best that I could be at that moment in time."
You are no stranger to Neumann. Tell us about your collection of Neumann microphones
"My history with Neumann goes back a long way, and to me, the company's microphones represent the gold standard. I have a U 47 that was once used by folks like Dolly Parton, George Jones and Johnny Cash. I also have two U 69s, which we use on everything including the piano on the recent Bruce Hornsby recording. I bought some KM 64s years ago that had been owned by a traveling gospel band, The Happy Goodman Family. My Neumann KM 66, an early version of the KM 86, is our all-time favorite guitar mic. I also use and appreciate the newer Neumann microphone models such as the TLM 102, TLM 103 and of course the M 149 and U 87."
1. Ricky Skaggs, pictured alongside the Neumann KH 120 monitor
2. The Neumann KH 120 monitors are the latest edition to Nashville's Skaggs Place Studio