How to Set Up a Home Studio (Part 9)
Bits & Pieces
PART 9: It is easy to list all the glamorous' items required for a home studio - synths, sampler, mixing console, tape machines, etc - but the small things are important too. In this final part of the series, David Mellor gathers together all those essential bits and pieces.
It is easy to list all the 'glamorous' items required for a home studio - synths, sampler, mixing console, tape machines, etc - but the small things are important too. And if you haven't left enough headroom for them in the budget, your studio isn't going to operate at 100% efficiency as quickly as it should. David Mellor gathers together all those essential bits and pieces.
Not every town has its home studio supplies shop - yet. If you live in London, then it is well worth having a browse through somewhere like the Turnkey Shop, where you can see loads of interesting bits and pieces that might earn their keep in a personal recording setup. If you do not live in a studio-aware area, then the catalogues of mail order suppliers are a must, just to see what is available. Sometimes, you do not realise you have a problem until you see the solution - available for the cost of a telephone call and credit card bill at the end of the month.
In this final episode of the series I present, in no particular order of importance, a modest collection of many of the small items which make my home studio run more smoothly than it otherwise might. I don't recommend that you go out and buy everything you see here, but every good studio large or small will have a fair proportion of these items in regular use. You're bound to see something that takes your eye.
Photo 1: Incompatible connectors are the bane of any studio operation. Just when you want to do something really fancy, you find that it involves a mixture of connector types that sends you rushing to the workbench for a soldering iron.
The best answer to this problem is to make up short adaptor cables in sufficient quantity to cover any mismatch that may arise. But it is always as well to have a few adaptors such as these to hand. Some, like jack to phono, are unreliable in use because the weight of the jack plug strains the connection. XLR-to-XLR sex reversers work well, though.
Photo 2: A stock of cable in various types never comes amiss. There is always that extra lead to be made up. I keep three types of cable in my cupboard: Medium Single Round (from Electromail) for phono leads. Foil Screen Twin for wiring within my rack, and Musiflex for XLR and jack leads.
Photo 3: A clean tape recorder is a happy tape recorder. Isopropyl alcohol is available from chemists. It is a much better head and tape guide cleaner than the alcohol and water mixture sometimes marketed as head cleaner. Your chemist will probably warn you not to drink it as it is poisonous.
The pinch roller on any tape recorder gathers a lot of dirt very quickly. Alcohol is usually not so good for shifting this and may damage the rubber. I have always found 'Jif' from the supermarket very efficient when used in small quantities. The purpose of the feather duster should be obvious!
Photo 4: The types of connector that you use will be governed mainly by your equipment. Buying the cheapest, especially jacks and phonos, is unwise. They will be difficult to solder and will probably cause trouble in the long term. Studio suppliers usually stock only reliable connectors; High Street electronics hobbyist shops often keep more doubtful brands.
Note the difference between the GPO jack and the ordinary variety in the photo. The GPO has a smaller tip. Although they are both ¼" in diameter, a GPO jack should not be plugged into a standard jack socket, and vice versa.
Photo 5: If you use a stereo reel-to-reel tape recorder, then you can't manage without this equipment. The photo shows an expensive Editall tape splicing block, but there are cheaper models available.
Photo 6: Blank aluminium panels are used for filling holes in racks (while you save up for more gear!) and for mounting odd components. In Part 6 (SOS May 89) I showed a panel in my rack on which I mounted a couple of Alesis Microverbs, connectors and a volume control. The diecast box is also well loved in studios for making up switch or connector boxes, etc.
For making holes in metal, the Q-max punch is available from good tool shops. I keep a 15/16th" one for female XLR panel connectors, and a 3/4" one for male. Of course, you don't have to delve into metal-bashing if you want to run a home studio - but it can be fun!
Photo 7: Tape recorders do need an occasional line-up, to cope with head wear, and to keep up with changing tape formulations. To perform a line-up you will need a test tape (which has tones recorded to precise levels), an oscillator, a tweaker (a screwdriver with a very small metal blade which doesn't interfere with the high frequency bias oscillator in the machine), and someone to show you how to do it! I covered tape line-up procedure in the SOS Sept/Oct 1986 issues. [Note: there are a few back copies still available from the magazine address, price £1.50 each-Ed.]
Photo 8: You will almost certainly find a wide variety of uses for these types of tape, as do many sound engineers. Gaffer tape is for tough jobs, masking tape (from stationery shops) for more delicate ones.
Photo 9: Tape, and associated items, will form most of the running costs of your studio. Never economise on tape. Agfa, Ampex, BASF and Scotch are all reliable and consistent brands. You are bound to need cassettes, too.
Seven-inch spools will be useful, especially if you need to give tapes to other people. The type with the large centre hub, shown here, is more friendly to tape recorders than the small centre variety. It doesn't hold as much tape of course, but many machines have a tension problem with small hub spools.
It is not usually necessary to buy empty 10½" spools. As you use up more and more tape, you will probably find yourself giving them away!
Photo 10: These items are not compulsory, but any home studio is bound to involve a bit of DIY. I don't need to describe everyday toolkit items which you probably have already - screwdrivers, electric drill etc. Shown here are the items most relevant to the studio. Note especially the side cutters and long-nose pliers.
Wire strippers come in an enormous variety. I have found this type, similar to types available from DIY and electrical shops, the most useful for general small quantity work.
Photo 11: If you get into wiring, then the correct supplies are essential. A bodged wiring job will not do. Shown here are rubber sleeves, Hellerine sleeving lubricant, sleeving tool, heat shrink and expanding sleeve, heat gun, cable ties and stick on cable tie bases, cable numbers.
I am told, although I haven't tried it, that a Black & Decker paint stripper works just as well as the specialist heat gun.
Photo 12: I am sure there could be a thousand and one items under this heading, but here are a few:
- Headphones are most essential. There are always times when you want to hear something just that little bit more clearly. They are useful for dealing with noise-conscious neighbours, too (you tie them up with the cable!).
- NAB adaptors are required for fitting 10½" spools onto most stereo tape recorders.
- The thread adaptor is the bit that goes between the mic clip and the mic stand. For some unknown reason, mic clips will usually not just screw straight on. They always seem to get lost, too.
- Patchcords are necessary for hooking up equipment via your patchbay. The notebook is for the obvious purpose. You can take too many notes during a session, but when you discover an interesting combination of settings, it is useful to make a quick record.
- Spare fuses, of course, are vital. Sooner or later one will expire from old age and if you do not have the right spare to hand, then either the recording session grinds to a halt or your equipment's safety (yours, too) will be compromised by using a fuse of an incorrect rating.
When you have all of these items in your home studio, you can consider yourself well-equipped. Actually, what you need depends on your particular circumstances, and you might have a use for some things I haven't mentioned. But as far as small items go, the most essential thing to have is a knowledge of where you can get hold of something when the need arises. That and a good idea of what's available.
So, in addition to the bits and pieces shown here, you need catalogues from the studio equipment suppliers for your bookshelf. They make interesting reading, I can tell you (but be advised that some suppliers make a charge for their catalogues).
The studio suppliers I use regularly are Canford Audio, Electromail and Future Film Developments. From a combination of these three, I find that I can source pretty well everything I need, at the right price (no discount for plugging their services in SOS unfortunately!). But I would certainly recommend any home recordist to investigate other companies. They may have bargains I haven't uncovered yet.
This installment brings to an end the 'How To Set Up A Home Studio' series. If you are setting one up yourself, I wish you luck - and as much pleasure from your home studio as I get from mine.
Canford Audio, (Contact Details).
Studio Spares, (Contact Details).
Electromail, (Contact Details).
Future Film Developments, (Contact Details).
Feature by David Mellor
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