Elton Charles was attending Berklee when, in 2012, he had an opportunity to start working with a top touring act from Nashville. “I can always go back to school,” Charles reasoned, “but the opportunity to tour with a high-level country act in Nashville might not come around again.”

Once he relocated to Nashville, Charles continued his education by attending Dark Horse Institute in Franklin, Tennessee. “This was a great learning experience,” he says. “I got a more involved education, specifically in the Nashville studio life. I got to see firsthand how they function here as compared to New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Dark Horse also gave me the console experience I needed.”

The pace in Nashville studios struck Charles as the biggest change. “Here in Nashville, we have maybe fifteen or twenty minutes to get drum sounds,” he says. “In other places, there is much more time—sometimes even days. The session itself is only three hours, and we’ll be doing up to five songs. It’s very fast-paced here. I was also impressed with how these players can listen to a song one time, read down a number chart, and nail it within two takes.”

Charles co-owned two studios in Nashville before building one of his own. “After parting ways with the last studio, I moved all of my gear into my basement at home,” he says. “I had been working out of my basement until two months ago, when this place was finished.”

To construct his studio, Charles called upon the expertise of local contractor Dave Mattingly, who has worked on many world-renowned studios, such as Blackbird and House of Blues, as well as home projects. “The thinking was that if I’m going to build this from the bottom up, it should be as big as I could go on the property,” says Elton. “The original plan was to make a dual-purpose drum and mix room. I didn’t envision tracking full bands.”

But Mattingly encouraged Charles to go big. “He didn’t want me to limit myself, which was great,” says Elton. “The vision changed, and with it so did my function. I can do so much more with it now, and I’m very glad that he pushed me in this direction.”

The fourteen-foot walls of the studio are reinforced concrete over a grid of iron rebar. “They’re a foot thick,” says Charles, “so we’re essentially in a bunker. I don’t even have cell service in here. We have no radio frequency interference, no weird power interference, no street noise…. It’s almost dead silent.” Charles handpicked some of the best studio gear available. “The board is an SSL 924 AWS,” he says. “It can be fully analog or it can control Pro Tools. It’s so flexible, and everything on the board sounds sensational. It has some classic onboard compression and really great EQs that make everything sound better.

“My favorite preamps are the Undertone Audio MPDI-4,” Elton continues. “They’re super versatile; they can get exceptionally thick ’70s/’80s-style tones, or go completely the other way and be clean and pristine. We use them on vocals and drums primarily. I also have UA 610 tube preamps that I like as overheads.”

For microphones, Charles relies on classics as well as modern standouts. “On the inside of the kick drum is an AKG D12 VR,” he says. “That’s capturing the shell resonance and the attack of the beater. Just outside of the front head is a woofer from a Yamaha NS-10 that’s wired to an XLR mic connector. It captures the sub-lows. A little farther back is a Bock Audio IFET mic, which is a newer take on the Neumann FET 47. Between those three mics, I get a complete picture of the bass drum.”

For a mono room mic, Charles relies on a clone of a studio classic. “I have a Neumann tube 47 clone that was built by Shannon Rhoades of Mic Rehab in Nashville,” he says. “He used original parts that he salvaged, along with his proprietary capsule. As a front-of-kit mic, it captures everything from the crack of the snare to the bottom of the kick.”

Shifting over momentarily to the studio drumkit, Charles points out his favorite snare. “My go-to is a 7×14 bronze made by the Italian drumsmith Adrian Kirchler [AK Drums]. I have about twenty different snares, but this one seems to make it on everything.”

Elton’s overheads are legendary Coles 4038 ribbon mics. “They’re darker than most overheads,” he says, “but they capture a really nice picture that’s very flattering for cymbals.” The room mics, meanwhile, are a more modern model. “Matt Stager, a local Nashville craftsman, made these SR-2N ribbon mics that I use for the room. They give a pleasing and natural reproduction of the sound.”

Regarding the dimensions of the studio, Elton says, “Mattingly custom-made the wood walls to feature specific angles and corners that break up the sonic reflections. When a sound hits the wall, it bounces at a different angle so that it won’t touch its own waveform on the way back. He uses 2×6 lengths of wood and cuts each one individually. At the end of the project, Mattingly said he had six feet of sawdust at his place due to the amount of cutting he did.”


Studio Gear

Drumset: Craviotto solid-maple kit (9×13, 16×16, 16×18, 14×24) and 7×14 Masters Bronze snare, Paiste cymbals, DW hardware, Big Fat Snare Drum mutes, Drumtacs tone control dampeners, Evans drumheads, and Promark sticks

Console: Solid State Logic AWS 924

Preamps: Undertone Audio MPDI-4, Electric and Co. Ampex tube preamp, Universal Audio 2-610, Universal Audio LA-610, Coil Audio CA-70 and CA-287, Vintech Dual 72, AMS Neve 1073LB, CAPI Heider FD312, Black Lion Audio Auteur

EQs: Maag Audio EQ4, Avedis Audio E27, Solid State Logic 611EQ

Compressors: Inward Connections Brute Optical, Universal Audio 1176 Rev H, Hairball Audio Blue Stripe FET, Retro Instruments 176, dbx 160, SPL Transient Designer 4, Serpent Audio LA-3A, Focusrite Red 3, Orban 414A

Microphones: Coles 4038, Stager SR-2n, Beyerdynamic M-160, AEA R88, Shure SM57 Unidyne III, Neumann KM 84, Shure KSM27, Sennheiser MD 421, Shure 545SD Unidyne III, Shure KSM137, Bock Audio iFET, Yamaha NS-10 Subkick, Mic Rehab Tube U47, Mic Rehab SM-69, Shure SM7, Microtech Gefell UM92, Electro-Voice RE20, Audio Technica 4033a, Shure Super 55, AKG D12VR, AKG D112, AKG C451B,

Speakers: Augspurger Solo 12MF with SUB 18, Event Opal, Genelec 1030A, Yamaha NS-10, Auratone 5C

Wiring: Skinny Fish Audio

Studio design and construction: Dave Mattingly of Sound Construction.


ADVERTISEMENT