Hershel Yatovitz: HY Time for Tone
Article by Michael French
Welcome Hershel Yatovitz. Whether he’s providing lush backdrops or throwing down rockabilly breaks to Chris Isaak’s invitation of “Come on Yatovitz!”, Hershel plays his guitar with the ear and experience of a true professional. He’s served as Chris’ guitarist since 1995 and you may remember him as the most important character (the guitarist) from “The Chris Isaak Show” on TV. Hershel plays with impeccable taste, touch, and tone with a keen ear for the finished product. We at Fractal are most pleased that those highly-trained ears have chosen the Axe-Fx II to take part in his wicked games.
How were you introduced to the Axe-Fx?
I lusted after it for quite a while. I’d worked with Dweezil and knew he was a big proponent of it and I got curious, so I finally checked it out and it has not disappointed.
What did you hear during your first Axe-Fx run-thru?
Over the years I have gotten to know the personality of each amp, especially in the Fender stable of amps. I know the quirky personality differences of the different models and I record a lot and know how they sound live and on tape. When I first got the Axe-Fx and went through the stock patches I found they really nailed every different tone: the Vibrato Verb, the Vibrato-King, the Double Verb - they were all in there. I expected it to be very good, but it was outstanding. After trying many others, this was the first time I heard a modeler and said “Oh my God, someone finally did it.” I was blown away.
It passes the blindfold test very easily. I A/B’ed it with my tube amps and the Axe-Fx was on par or even superior to the real amps - and with no noise. It’s a superior method of tracking guitars. I know I can count on it to get killer tones fast. I was expecting the effects to be great as well, and they blew my mind. Just the simple fidelity of the effects is outstanding. My staples are delay and reverb and they are amazing in the Axe-Fx.
How will the Axe-Fx fit into your workflow?
I’m used to listening to the final product in the mix, so the Axe-Fx fits into my workflow very easily. My traditional live rig is two Fender Twin Reverbs into iso-cabs using in-ear monitors. So using the Axe-Fx is a comfortable transition. I’m used to working with stomp boxes and other tools to get a range of tones from this setup. But the Axe-Fx can do whatever I need. One of the outstanding things about the Axe-Fx is the configurability. I can replace a rig of multiple amps and boxes with just the Axe-Fx. I wouldn’t be able to use my traditional touring rig in clubs or a typical recording session. It would require me to have a guitar tech and cartage to do what I can do with the Axe-Fx under my arm.
Watch Hershel on stage with Chris Isaak below:
How have you been using it so far?
I’m using it in the studio now and hope to bring it out on the road soon. When recording I like to record three tracks. One is a DI signal of the guitar that I can use for re-amping. The next is a track after the cabinet with no delay or reverb. The third is a full stereo-effected signal. This basically mirrors my live setup. Being able to send a producer ready-for-mix tracks is awesome. The first sessions I did went really great and the producer was extremely happy with the tones.
What are some of your favorite amps and effects?
Certain amps I dug from the start, like the Vibratoverb and the Buttery. I then found that mixing the far-field IRs in with a 1x12 close mic sounds really good. In my patches I like to set up a side-chain gate after the amp. I’ve found that the gate is real important after the amp and gain-inducing effects so you don’t have to ride the threshold all the time. I like using the X/Y switching to switch between 2 amps. I use a ping-pong echo, tape echo, and the beautiful hall reverb. The reverbs are just fantastic. I used the longer tape delays on some sessions and they sounded gorgeous.
An iconic sound that the online community of tone-chasers cite as a benchmark is the tone from Chris’ song “Wicked Game”. Can you walk us through your approach to dialing that one in?
The key component of the “Wicked Game” tone is lush delay and reverb. It’s remarkably lush and very organic in a clean way - not too washed out. The clarity of the reverb in the Axe-Fx is really nice - you can use a lot of it without losing the note content.
To dial that one in, I start with a clean boost with a treble boost into a multi-band compressor which gives a very transparent compression compared to a stomp box. From there it’s into a volume pedal to a stereo delay and hall reverb. For the amps, I use two Twin Reverbs with the bright switches on. Use the middle and neck pickups of a Strat-style guitar for that out-of-phase sound. Secret revealed.
The original recording is a Strat into a ’64 Fender Deluxe Reverb. It’s a very layered sound, comped from different takes. There are multiple tracks ringing simultaneously, cross-fading multiple parts with the delay added in post.
And you make a lot of use of the volume pedal?
It’s a key part of things. For “Wicked Game” you strike a note and drop the string until it’s slack then you hammer it on. Hammering-on a fully slack string is a sketchy endeavor, so it’s good to have a volume pedal as a safety net in case the note doesn’t come through as loud as you’d hoped when you bring the bar back up. It’s saved me many times.
One of my favorite projects of yours is the Beyond The Sun album with Chris Isaak - can you talk about that one?
Sure - that was a fun one. It’s a Sun Records tribute to the early rock pioneers who recorded at Sun - artists like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins. The twist is that we recorded it at the Sun Records studio using period-specific gear. I used big Gibson jazz guitars with giant flat wound strings with a tube tape echo going into little amps. Our bass player had the gut strings poppin’ on an upright bass. We worked hard at copping the traditional thing.
I love the approach of that album - it’s great to hear a fresh take on those songs and it’s so authentic to the period. I’ve seen Chris talk about standing in the same spot in the studio where Elvis stood, and placing the stand of the upright bass into the same spot on the floor that’s been worn away from those countless sessions. It’s a very cool vibe that was captured by you guys. Did you take anything away going forward from that step-back into time?
We recorded 40 songs for that project, so I got very accustomed to that tape echo sound. A real tape echo machine is really all over the place. The amount of artifacts it gives off is really extreme. It ends up chorus-ing your sound a lot in a non-uniform way that doesn’t sound like traditional chorus. The visceral experience of that machine sitting next to you helps you take in the low-fidelity craziness of it. When you recreate it in the digital realm…it’s admittedly a hurdle to overcome psychologically. If it sounded like the real thing I don’t think people would like it - it would seem too extreme. But I’ve found the tape delay in the Axe-Fx II to be excellent in its own right.
What artists are you listening to today?
Calexico, some West African music, Professor Longhair, Buck Owens. It tends to be all over the map for me.
Besides touring with Chris, what other projects do you have going on?
I’m working on an instrumental/surfy album - a track from it is available now on my website - www.hershelyatovitz.com. It goes beyond straight-surf into a multi-ethnic vibe - a little jazzy, overseas-ethnic at times. I’m using the Axe-Fx II on it. I have other music available on the website as well.
Check out Hershel's single, "Narrabeen".
Check out Hershel at hershelyatovitz.com and on tour with Chris Isaak.