“This is sacred ground!”: Hernan Romero on producing Al Di Meola’s new Beatles-tribute album

The flamenco guitarist and producer on the studio techniques used to make Al Di Meola’s second Beatles record, Across The Universe, a faithful tribute to the Fab Four.

Hernan Romero

Image: Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images for Robert and Cortney Novogratz

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World-renowned flamenco guitarist Hernan Romero has handled co-production duties on Al di Meola’s records since the 1990s – we called him at his New Jersey studio to learn more about the recording process behind this album.

“With Al Di Meola, it’s all about quality,” Hernan tells us. “He loves Schoeps mics on both nylon-string and steel-strings and I think we’ve used them on the last 10 records. We use matched stereo pairs in an X/Y position. This was different to the Abbey Road sessions for All Your Life [engineered by Chris Bolster], where we were using all the ambience and the sound of Studio 3 which is just amazing. This record has much more going on in the production which means once you start adding instrumentation that kind of huge ‘room mic’ sound just gets lost, so we close-mic’d in a smaller room for punch and detail.”

When it came to recording the guitars on Across the Universe – The Beatles Vol 2 Hernan explains that it’s often the simple things are the most important.

“One thing people often underestimate is the importance of good, fresh strings and that can be an issue especially with nylon-strings,” he explains. “You can lose the top end fast, and of course, the problem is that when they’re new they go out of tune so we constantly have to be tuning. It’s a pain in the ass but the sound is better!

“For the electric guitar amp we used a combination of a Royer ribbon mic and a Shure SM57 which is the classic way to do it. Despite being a ribbon mic the Royer can cope with a loud amp and everyone knows that the SM57 can take a beating! So yeah, a traditional approach, pretty simple, but it works! No effects in the chain so it’s really that classic sound.

“The mics went straight into a pair of Neve pre-amps, then an analogue board and right into Pro Tools. Now, when we were at Abbey Road for the first record, All Your Life, we did experiment by going into a Studer [tape machine] and I tell you, the difference was amazing when you go analogue. You get that fatness around 200hz, it’s really rounded and wonderful. Pro Tools is the format that everybody uses and on its own, it’s very clean but it lacks the warmth. Once you add the Neve pre-amps, though, you get a fantastic sound.”

When it came to getting a sound that would offer a fitting vibe however, Al and Hernan found themselves leaning on studio tricks that the Fab Four themselves had been so instrumental in popularising.

“From a production point of view, the thing we got most creative with was panning,” he explains. “Just like in the original Beatles records, we panned the drums all the way to the left on some tracks, which is unconventional by today’s standards and it immediately created a vintage kind of sound. It really worked on this record because the guitars are so intricate we wanted clarity at all times and we were very picky about that.

“Most importantly, we never lost sight of the fact that this is The Beatles! This is sacred ground! And that inspired us to do the very best we could.”

Across the Universe – The Beatles Vol 2 is out 13 March 2020.

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