Precious few hard rock guitarists are more accomplished than Steve Stevens. From his prolific work with punk-crossover pioneer Billy Idol, to his lead on Harold Faltermeyer’s instrumental anthem from the blockbuster movie Top Gun, to playing on a track with legendary songwriter Joni Mitchell, his sound and style unmistakably announces itself.
Stevens recently took the time to speak with us about Celestion Impulse Responses. In this interview, he describes how he uses them in the studio and why they respond and sound great when you can’t necessarily mike up a vintage guitar cabinet — and often, even when you can.
Q: How did you first encounter the Celestion Impulse Responses?
SS: Well, I’ve been into the idea of using impulse responses for quite some time. I have a Kemper profiling amp at home, and a Fractal Audio Axe-FX. I’d used some IRs from other companies, but I’ve gotta say the ones from Celestion are on a whole other level — nothing against any of the other companies, but Celestion really did these right. The descriptions of them sound exactly like the speaker drivers I’m used to. I’ve been a Celestion artist for, oh, I don’t know how many years now. There’s a certain thing you know as a guitar player, like, okay, I’m looking for a vintage Greenback sound, for example. And the Celestion IRs provide exactly what I’m expecting.
The other thing is that they’re totally phase-correct. That’s a problem I’ve run into with some of the other ones. Others say that they’re phase-correct, but then you go to combine them — with two mics or whatever — I treat them the way I’d treat combining real guitar cabinets, bringing them up on two channels on my mixing board. Say, an SM57 and a Royer or something. And a lot of those others, well, there are phase issues when you do that. With the Celestion IRs, I’ve never had to worry about that. They just sound great. They’re full, and the best that there are. And I’ve used them all!
Q: Which impulse responses do you have?
SS: I have the complete library! The latest one I got was the Creamback. As soon as new ones come out, I try them and determine what my go-tos are going to be. At home I have another unit [a modelling amp] called the Two Notes Torpedo. The way I run it is that I take digital audio out of the Kemper into the Two Notes. It seems the Two Notes is able to not truncate my responses in any way, and I’m also able to run them at a higher sample rate. I can use 96 kHz if I need to. That’s my go-to guitar recording studio setup!
Q: So, in addition to convolution plug-ins such as AltiVerb or Space Designer, you’re able to use these IRs in hardware modelling amps?
SS: That’s the way I use them, yeah. It’s weird how I do it, but I’ll audition the IRs using the Kemper without any cabinet, into Logic Pro. Then I’ll load in the Torpedo Remote, which comes up as an AU plug-in within Logic. Then I’ll audition all of the IRs on my computer. The ones I really like, I’ll ending up porting over to the Torpedo, so they’re living right in hardware. That way I can use them without firing up the computer.
Q: What projects are you using these on currently?
SS: I’m writing demos for some new Billy Idol stuff. I play in an all-star band called Kings of Chaos, with a revolving cast of characters. So when I have to learn tunes for that, or just jamming with the guys, I have all my IRs ready to go.
Q: Which of your classic guitar tones, say, from Billy Idol hits, rely on Celestion drivers?
SS: From back in the day, I still have a cabinet that has Jim Marshall’s signature in pencil on the inside! That has been my recording cabinet since even before I joined Billy Idol’s band — I got that in 1980. So, that’s a 4-by-12 with original Celestion Greenback speakers in it.
Q: At your level of success, you must have a large number of coveted amp heads and cabinets to choose from. But do you ever find it more convenient to just go to an impulse response than to mike up one or more amps for tracking, deal with the room sound, and all that?
SS: Yes. My home studio is basically my living room. I used to go through the trouble of miking a cabinet in another bedroom or whatever. But sometimes I’ll need to come back to a track and redo something, and it’s this whole pain in the butt to try to replicate the exact mic placement and all that. So now I’m using the Celestion IRs exclusively. It’s easy to know the exact one I used on the track. I am committing it all to hard disk, though. I’m not just using a plug-in and deciding to change the settings later. I’m a little bit old-school, so I do commit to the sound I’m tracking with.
Q: You use your DAW like a tape recorder …
SS: Exactly. A lot of guys I know will record, say, their Kemper amp or whatever without any cabinet, and use the cabinet plug-in with an impulse response in their DAW, so that they have the flexibility to change it later. But to me, if it sounds right going down, I don’t want too many options later on! [Laughs.]
Q: Any other ways in which you use the Celestion impulse responses?
SS: I also have a Steve Stevens signature amp made by Friedman, and when I’m really ready to commit to a guitar track, when the demo is done, I’ll take a load box right out of that amp head and into the Two Notes Torpedo with the IRs, and I’ve gotten great-sounding results that way.
Q: Do you have a favourite IR, in terms of its real-time response to your playing?
SS: Yes. I like the Creamback. I don’t have an actual guitar cabinet with those in it, but for some reason, the IR of that particular speaker is something I’ve started to favour a lot. It used to be the Vintage 30 because I knew the real speaker so well. But the Creamback really surprised me. I’d say, if someone hasn’t used IRs for guitar before and wants to get their feet wet, jump in with that speaker and see what you get.
Q: Steven, we know you’re busy, so now we’ll thank you for all this great information and ask you for any parting thoughts.
SS: Celestion has been very good to me in general, and not just on the impulse response side. Let’s say, I blow out a speaker touring in Europe or somewhere, they’ve been quick to get a new one out to me. Having that kind of support from the company has just been great.
To browse the full range of Celestion impulse responses, follow the link.