When it comes to the production of hard ‘n heavy music, Tue Madsen and his Antfarm Studios, located in Århus, Denmark, are one of the first names on the list. Since 1997, Tue has been busy producing artists, doing recordings and mixes. His artist roster includes Meshuggah, Heaven Shall Burn, Baby Metal, The Haunted, The Black Dahlia Murder, Autumn Leaves, Born from Pain, Cataract, Ektomorf, Sick of it All, Dark Tranquility, Konkhra and several others. As a musician, Tue played guitars in Grope and Pixie Killers in the past and released six albums.
In 2021, Tue teamed up with Jens Bogren, producer, engineer and mixer from Sweden and his company Bogren Digital. The result is a set of 32 Kemper profiles focusing explicitly on high gain rhythm guitar sounds and a few leads – all captured, selected and fine tuned by Tue.
The amps being profiled belong to Antfarm Studios and have been used on several productions. The choice includes eight amps – different versions of the 5150, Mesa Engineering Dual Rectifier, Laboga Mr. Hector, the MT-15 by PRS, some Marshalls and the Peavey models JSX and Triple XXX which ran through a total of seven cabinets, mainly 4×12″.
All amps have been captured with their specific settings and further tweaked to be ready to be used in a production. The basic setup of the profiles is the amp with the cabinet, tweaked by the regular and the studio EQ of the Profiler plus a noise gate. Effects were rarely used in the profiles. However, real pedals have been used during profiling. We talked to Tue about his sound approach and about using the Kemper Profiler in the studio.
Do you remember when you first came across the Kemper Profiler?
I do and it actually has to do with Palle, my camera man here. He called me up one day and said, he would have something I needed to try. And you have to know that he always hated digital devices. So, he brought the Kemper Profiler to my studio and we had a lot of fun checking the unit out and doing some profiles. We were surprised how close you could get to the real amp. And this was in 2011!
Back then, I was already an angry old man and said “No, this is not an amp”. So it took a few more years where I ran into the Kemper Profiler again and again. I never doubted it is a amazing invention. But to me, something has be an incredible invention before I use it to record an album that hopefully lasts a lifetime. So I was a skeptic for a long time. But after working on this pack I have to say that I am surprised how ridiculously close I can get to the real thing.
When do you use the Kemper Profiler in your studio or during mixing?
After doing the Kemper pack I have been using it. I has worked its way into my workflow since.
However, I still have all these amazing amps. Tuning in the sound on the Kemper Profiler and doing it on a real amp is not the same thing. But the Profiler can really help me and sometimes also end up being the amp that is used on an album. But first of all, it offers a real easy way to sort out which amp and cabinet we want to use for a recording. I have all of my amps at my fingertips and can easily make a selection – it is a good way to find out which direction we will be going. Mich easier than going and forth between the amp room, switching amps, cabinets and microphones.
And sometimes it works differently, like on Ektomorf’s last album. No matter what we did, we couldn’t get the sound Zoltán “Zoli” Farkas had on his personal Profiler from a real amp. And since he got so used to it, we ended up using that sound.
So the typical way for you would still be to record a real amp and get a profile of it later?
Yes, and if we use real amps, I’ll always get a profile of it. This way, you will be sort of safe if you decide to do stuff later on in production. Also sometimes, members of the band would like to take a profile to bring it on the road. However, what works in the studio doesn’t necessarily work live or in the rehearsal room. But if it does, great. But as said, we may also use the Kemper Profiler to find a sound and then might end up using that profiles sound for the recording or for re-amping.
And could such profile from a recording session be the start for the band’s next album?
It could, but I like development and would rather not go back and do the same thing twice. I would hope that two years later you may have a new perspective and a new frame of mind and therefore want it to sound different. It may certainly be a good starting point and we all would say: “Now we’re going to be even better!” I would not like to put three albums that sounded the same. Even if it would be the best guitar sound in the world, I would much rather prefer doing something different and of course try to be better. Plus, it is not always about getting the best sound, but about getting the right sound. The right sound for a particular guitar player, the record, the drummer, the bass player …everything together.
Could you generally define what a modern guitar amp should sound like for you in metal?
There are a few amps that tend to always work, for example the 5150. When it came to our lives, it pretty much redefined the way metal sounded. However, I do not have a favorite amp. It doesn’t work like that for me. I believe there can be a million different sounds and they can all be right. I had a guitarist here that asked me if I had a vase in the studio. He had this idea of putting a Shure SM57 into it and placing it in front of the cabinet. I was not so sure about that, but we gave it a try and it ended up on the record for a small part. Those things have a right, too.
Also, sometimes your favorite records do not sound incredible, but the energy that is on that production makes it sound so. No one would argue that “Roots” by Sepultura is an amazing album. But does it sound incredible, high definition and super hi-fidelity? No, it doesn’t. To me it sounds as if there are kind of struggling with the sound which makes them fight even harder. And this is probably a part of why this album so incredible. It’s the same with some of my favorite guitar players, like Jake E. Lee. Whenever he picks a guitar it sounds like he has to fight it, everything works against him and, as a result, he has to hit the guitar harder. And I just like the sound of that.
A 5150 will always sound amazing in metal and so will some other things. But it is not about getting the perfect sound always.
Another example is a band I had here. They tried out almost all of my amps and cabinets. They ended up between a boosted Rectifier and a 5150. And then I came up with the PRS MT-15 which I really like. They had this riff with a lot of notes being played and the MT-15 made you really hear each single note while the Rectifier turned it all into a massive monstrous sound. At first, he chose the MT-15, but in the end, we used the Rectifier because it made the production more brutal – it was more important than picking out every single sound. And I have both of those sounds in the Kemper profile pack because I think they are equally good but for different things.
Is there a typical signal chain for your recordings?
As a general rule, I will always use a DI box. Even, if I wouldn’t use that signal, it will make it easier to see where you are on the computer screen. Very often, the guitarist will directly plugin into the amp. And obviously, the cabinet and microphones will have a huge impact. Sometimes, the amp will need a little clean up with some sort of Tube Screamer. My favorite pedal here is the KHDK Paranormal, Gary Holt’s signature model. It’s like a Tube Screamer with a parametric EQ built in (https://www.khdkelectronics.com/products/detail/paranormal/). You can shape the exact position where you want a particular amp to bite. If you plug into a Marshall you may want a different attack noise than when with a different amp. And it can also help to get get rid of annoying noises in the DI signal.
What’s your choice of microphones?
For years I went with a combination of a Shure SM57 and an AKG 414. I also used an ADK A51s. But the latter was a Chinese microphone which I bought really cheap 20 years ago. It sounds great. But when I wanted another one three years later, it didn’t sound the same anymore. The SM57 is great at catching the mid range. And you would then need to find a microphone that will capture everything else and then balances it out. However, lately, I am more into using just a single SM 57 and spend more time to make it sound right. This is because mixing different microphones or amps you will result in some phase issues. These can work for or against you. I kind of like that direct sound where nothing gets in the way to my ears.
And would you use a specific preamp, too?
I own an old EMT desk where I use the mic preamps – old 70s German broadcast technology. I also have a Golden Age Project Pre-73 which is a Neve clone. Those are my go-to preamps.
Does the signal chain differ when you take a profile?
For the profiles it was the Golden Age preamp and an SM57. To be honest, I kept some of the details hidden. It’s because I know myself. When someone reaches for a Marshall for example, I know what it sounds like. And then I may or may not want to listen to it anymore. I didn’t want to put things like that to the minds of the people. I want them to listen to the sounds and not be prejudiced.
By the way, I made sure to make a profile with five or six cabinets for each of the amps. And later on, we were choosing which profiles we liked best. There were some that me and my assistant Christian never really liked while creating the profiles. However, after we put these sound in a re-amp situation to see how they would work in a mix, some of those sounds worked best. So what sounds best in solo is not always the best sound for a full mix – there have been quite a few eye openers.
Another example: I have had the Laboga Mr. Hector for maybe 20 years (https://www.sklep.laboga.pl/en_GB/c/Mr.-Hector/100). It is not the amp that I have used the most to be honest. But after doing these profiles, I am just crazy about this amp. Now I make sure, I spend time with all of my amps in order to find the best possible sound. And so far it seems that my friends and some others really like the results we came up with. And it makes me really happy because I enjoy it myself.
What’s the intended use of your profiles.
Actually, I made the profiles for myself. The sound are designed in a way that I feel like playing more. And I hope other people will feel the same.
Do you want to share some of the pedals being used?
I can reveal that if I used a pedal, it was mostly the KHDK Paranormal. There has been some EQ stuff as well. Some amplifiers like the Rectifier and a Marshall have to use a pedal in front. I also used the Flux Five by Mesa Engineering (https://www.mesaboogie.com/pedals–related/drive-pedals/flux-five.html). Zoli of Ektomorf uses it with his Mark V and got the craziest sound ever. The pedal can create some crazy distortion, almost like a full amp in itself and it can be found on a few profiles whereas others didn’t work out.
Did you try the boost pedals in the Kemper?
Yes, I did. They are sometimes part of a preset, but not turned on since I want the profile to work for itself. Plus you can always add other stuff and start fiddling with it. My goal was to capture a sound that is amazing from the start. What you do afterwards is of course up to you.
And I don’t want people to go to their Tube Screamer and turn that on with everything. That’s why I may have already put it in my profile. I also found that there are a few other distortion elements that work really well with different sounds and can help create completely different results. So I am also hoping to inspire people.
Almost all profiles are pretty high gain. But they still really react to the volume pot of the guitar. Did you work on that specifically?
I haven’t done a lot of tweaking in the Kemper Profiler. I think, the unit sounds best when you get a profile that is as close to the original sound as possible. This way you have to do a minimum in the machine itself. You can of course do all kind of things, but that wasn’t my goal. I wanted to capture the sound I have here. And I believe this is done by getting the profile as close as possible without doing anything else. If you achieve that, there are only very little aspects to change to make it fit to a lot of different situations. If you come up with a half-good sound and say, you can always tweak things later by, for example, turning up the gain or the clarity parameter in the Kemper Profiler, that’s good too, but it’s not my game. I want everything to happen here in the studio and then capture it.
But we’re talking about the sound in the control room, not in the recording room?
Yes, this is how I did my profiles. The amps are located in the control room and the cabinets are placed in the recording room. But it wasn’t the only testing I did. I also plugged into amps and cabinets and tried playing the profiles in a live room to see if it works for me. I own the rack mounted version of the Kemper Profiler with no power amp, so I used different power amps and can plug in the return of most of my amps. However, I am not often rehearsing with a band or play live, so I can’t tell you a lot about that.
Do you tend to scoop the mid-range on an amp?
Sometimes, but not as a general rule. I like big sounds and sometimes it helps to remove a little mid-range. I’d say: As a general rule, I don’t have any rules. My goal when having a band in the studio is not to give them my sound. It’s about getting a sound that puts a smile on the guitar player’s face. If he’s smiling because of a good sound, he is going to play better. And playing better makes better records. I can work with a Marshall, a Rectifier or a 5150 or even a Twin Reverb, whatever you show up with. I can make anything work as long as everybody is happy with the sound we’re building.
Have there been amps that didn’t work out while profiling?
Yes, but that happened mostly while capturing some more extreme and irregular guitar sounds, like profiling a Boss HM-2 pedal to get the Swedish Stockholm sound. That was so over the top that I think the Kemper Profiler got confused. I tried it and came out with a really cool sound, but it didn’t sound like Entombed. Also, I have this Hiwatt amp that sounds like old Black Sabbath on steroids when you crank it. It is like the amp is fighting to survive with compression- or gate-like effects happening which seem to confuse the Profiler. However, I am collecting those fails because some of them sound really good, just not what they were meant to sound like. And at the end of the day that has a right, too. If we end up creating a cool sound that never existed, then someone can use it. If it’s a good sound, it is good. For some of the clean sounds I captured, I tried cranking the gain and came up with a monster that doesn’t exist in the universe. Sometimes it sounds amazing, sometimes horrible. The Profiler also is an amazing tool to me because I enjoy tweaking things not by the book and go a little crazy.
Did you tune the profiles to work with specific pickups?
All the profiles have been designed for humbuckers and to achieve a metal sound. I tuned the profiles by using guitars with different pickups. And I found that that I got better results with some of my guitars than with others. But it is not so much about tuning a profile to the pickup. It was more about getting it to sound the way that I wanted it sound. And sometimes this worked better when using EMG or passive pickups. And then I would rather redo the profile because I ended up in a wrong place and wanted to start all over.
You often double-track. Did you take this into account when doing the profiles?
No, I didn’t. When you are doing a recording you may think about a different sound on one side or the other, but it can be about changing the guitar (if you work with two guitarists), changing the gain or EQ settings on the amp or even change the cabinet, the mic or the amp itself. Most of these things can already be done within the Kemper Profiler. And it is nothing I considered because the sound should always be amazing, no matter if it is one, two, four or eight rhythm guitars.
But would you recommend to layer the profiles as well?
Yeah, but not necessarily by using the same sound. I like to get a different sound for the second take. If it is the same sound which is layered, you can easily run into static phase issues, especially with digital gear. And I don’t like that.
So you would stack different amps and make the guitarist play a second time?
Yes. If I would use the same take by re-amping, it doesn’t create the same stereo picture. If you want something wide, you have to play twice. You can get some devices that can fake that for you, but I don’t think anything beats the real thing. I prefer the guitarist to play twice because we’re human beings and not meant to fake everything. It may help us out but at the same time we enjoy that human element that you can never really fake in the computer.
Is there a “biggest mistake” that guitarists can avoid when they come to your studio?
Don’t copy-paste everything. Some musicians complain that they should play a part over and over. Well, if you record at home you may not have the experience to judge if a part is good enough. You have to listen to it in a loop over and over. And then there may be this tiny little squeak at the end of the riff, you just played perfectly. But if that repeats 70 times throughout the song, it is no longer perfect but annoying. It makes everything generic and boring. Also, if you discover such issue later one, you have nowhere to steal it from because you only played the part once. Computer-perfect is not perfect in my book, it is lack of personality and human beings. And music is about human beings communicating emotions to other human beings. And that’s the signal chain here.
Anytime you place a computer in your chain and try to fake it, it will take away emotions in my opinion. However, that doesn’t mean that I am an old stone-age fart that will never use anything modern here. The big picture is to create art. And you have to use the tools that are at hand. But don’t let the tools take over. Did you start to play guitar because you wanted to play guitar or did you start to play guitar because you wanted me to work on the computer?
Is there something you would wish for in the Kemper Profiler for your work?
Well, if you asked me five years ago I would have had an answer for you. But the big surprise for me when picking the Profiler up again a year ago was that the issues have sort of disappeared.
In a metal production, guitar sounds define up to 80 percent of the whole production sound. Back then, I was lacking the third dimension, a human factor. But that has worked its way into the unit meanwhile. So when I re-amped two tracks and panned them left and right I can hear the same depth that I hear from my original amps. I am sure, the Kemper team works hard on the Profiler because we have seen so many updates. And I am also sure, the company has a list of things they want to achieve. And that makes me happy because I feel the Kemper is already in a very good place. So I am happily waiting for the things they have on their list in order to make it more incredible. I just think it works: When I get a perfect profile of a sound I really like and am able to preserve it forever and dig it out any time if I want to, it makes me happy.
Can we expect more sounds to come?
We took around 200 profiles and not all of them were high gain. I have lots of crisply cleans, “crunchy nuts” and more great high gain sounds. It is a matter of picking something out that gives you a tasty package. And this time it was the high gain taste we wanted.
Thanks for the nice talk!
Tue Madsen Signature Kemper Pack