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Bibio Recommends + Three Questions

Stephen James Wilkinson, better known as Bibio, recommends some of his studio essentials and answers Three Q's.


1. Minimoog

If I had to choose one synth it’d be my 1974 Minimoog. It’s quite limited in features, but it’s all about how it sounds. Yes, I’d give up polyphony to have this as my desert island synth. It sounds so warm and fat and unmistakably analogue. I love it for bass especially, but it can do many things. I even used it to generate the fake wind noise on ‘Lost Somewhere’.


2. Ribbon Microphone

For a while these were probably thought of as old fashioned microphones, as the condenser came along and made everything sound so detailed and hyper real, and now condensers seem to be a standard, especially for vocals. I use ribbons more than any other type of microphone, I have a collection of ribbons but lately I have been using my Melodium 42Bn reissue, made in France by Kerwax. It’s similar to an R44 - which I also love, the 42Bn maybe has a bit more top end than an R44. I love them on my voice, as it gently filters out unwanted textures in a natural way, I also swear by them for violin and sax. Despite them being darker sounding mics, I find them killer for crisp things, triangle and shakers etc, they don’t seem to add any unnecessary top end, so they capture the essence of those instruments well. The triangles on BIB10 were recorded with a ribbon mic, about 1.5m from the mic.

3. Martin D-18

For me, a good D-18 - they’re all different - is the perfect acoustic. No frills, perfect sound. I think it’s the balance of the mahogany back and sides, which add weight and warmth to the sound, and the spruce top, which adds clarity. That combination seems to work well for just jamming and enjoying it for yourself, but it works well in front of a microphone. I have two D-18s, a 2004 one and a 1966 one. I used the ’66 for ‘Phonograph’, and I mic'd it with the Melodium ribbon at roughly head height pointing down to capture the overall sound - this captures the body and bass of the guitar, blended with a Sennheiser MKH-441 pointing at the 12th fret at roughly 45º inwards, this added clarity to the ribbon, kind of like how the spruce adds clarity to the mahogany.

4. API 2500

I pretty much only use this on the mix bus as I have other outboard compressors and limiters I use for microphones and instruments etc. I have a collection of compressors I use on the mix, but the 2500 is the one I use the most. It never sounds wrong on any mix, seriously. It might be the case that sometimes another compressor suits a track more, sounds more exciting, but those other compressors can also misbehave and not work out. The 2500 just always works, it glues a mix and adds some nice warmth and weight. It’s an absolute masterpiece of engineering.


5. Gibson Les Paul Baritone

Baritone guitars are a bit of a niche instrument, but since getting my Les Paul Studio baritone it’s become part of my signature. My original inspiration to get a baritone was Labradford’s Fixed::Context album, which is a beautiful and immaculately recorded 4 tracker. The track ‘David’ made me want this sound, I don’t know if that’s a nod to David Lynch as it’s also a very ‘Twin Peaks’ sound. I also love it drowned in modulated reverb, it sounds like an amazing organic polysynth, I used it for ambient tracks such as Wulf, Carbon Wulf, Capel Celyn and it appears a lot on my other albums starting with Silver Wilkinson.

6. Audio Kitchen amps

I went through quite a few amps, selling them on as I was dissatisfied. An electric guitar is an incomplete instrument without a good valve amp. In fact, despite my obsession with electric guitars, I’d say the amp is more important than the guitar. I think a cheap guitar through a good valve amp will sound better than an expensive guitar through a cheap solid state amp. Amp modelling has come a long way, but it’s never quite there, to me amp modelling sounds like a photograph of an amp, where a good valve amp sounds alive and 3D. After buying my first Audio Kitchen Little Chopper, I was so impressed I bought a 2nd, and I pretty much always use them in stereo with two cabs and stereo FX pedals.

7. Stratocaster

An extremely common guitar, hardly niche, but I’ve fallen back in love with it. I have a collection of Strats now, they’re all slightly different so I use them for different sounds and different parts, one of them is converted to a baritone and I also have a couple of hardtail Strats, sans wammy. My nicest sounding one is probably my pre- CBS 1964 sunburst Strat, it sounds warm and woody for a Strat, it has a richness to the sound and the top end isn’t spiky. They’re very pretty sounding guitars, I mostly play the neck pickup on most guitars, but the Strat still retains some of the clarity and sparkle and springy-ness, so it’s good for more intricate playing.

8. Gibson ES-175

As much as I love my Les Pauls, if I had to choose one double humbucker guitar, it’d be my 1965 ES-175. I remember when I first got it and plugged it in, I thought “that sounds like a record”. It just sounds old and wooden. My friend Olivier says it sounds like a plum. It’s a delight to play, the iced tea burst finish has a gorgeous patina and it smells like an old bookshelf. A truly beautiful guitar, you can hear it central stage on ‘Beret Girl’, and the rhythm guitar in ‘Cinnamon Cinematic’ is the 175.

9. Strymon blueSky

Reverbs are extremely important, I have several, but this pedal is seriously good enough to use as an outboard reverb, although I have other reverbs I use for that, it even has enough headroom for fairly hot line level stuff, so not just a guitar pedal. It has certain modes that are unique in my reverb collection, and has been part of the core sound of tracks like 'Capel Celyn'.


10. Nagra IV-S

The Rolex Submariner of tape machines, made in Switzerland, built like a tank, if tanks had synthetic rubies in them and looked pretty. I’ve had it maybe 16 years and it’s never been serviced during my ownership, not only that, I bought it from a film hire company, so it had probably seen a lot of use since whenever it was made, I’m guessing the '80s. I honestly can’t think of any other gear that’s this well made, apart from my Leica M3 camera. I have done field recording with it in the past, but its main role in my studio is the 2 track onto which I mix down more than 99% of my tracks. Nearly every track since (and including Ambivalence Avenue) has been mixed down to 1/4” tape on this Nagra. The crazy thing is, I paid around £500 for it, but if I had to replace it, I’d pay whatever the asking price is, I couldn’t be without my Nagra.

11. Tape echo

I used to use cassettes a lot in the past to make things sound fuzzy and wobbly. I only use real tape, not emulations, I’m only interested in 100% of the vibe, not an approximation. What’s so great about tape is the variety of formats and how all of the thousands of machines out there have different characteristics. There is no single or universal sound of tape, a bit like how there are hundreds of British accents, yet they’re all British. Tape sound is anything from a dictaphone to the sound of 2” wide multitrack tape running at 30 inches per second, or even faster if you’re a mad lad. I use tape echoes as echo units, but also just as a tape processor, usually by feeding stems through it, I have the repeats/feedbacks set to zero and record the off-tape output in real time back into my DAW, and then re-sync as there is a delay. Tape echoes tend to have some of the full and fat characteristics of a reel to reel, but the wobble and saturation of cassette, so I tend to use tape echoes more now for when I want that proper tape saturation and wobble sound. Also, you can use the motor speed knob as a tone knob, as the slower it goes the more it kills the top end, so it’s also like a unique and interesting filter.

12. Fender Jazz bass

Since getting my very worn and played-in 1965 jazz bass, it’s been my go-to. So comfortable to play, it’s like putting on old slippers. It does a P-bass type sound, but it does that punchy more modern sound, but this specimen has a warmer and woodier tone than modern ones I’ve played. This particular bass has been played down to the bare wood, the neck has no lacquer on it but the wood is silky smooth as it’s been polished by hands over its long life. The Brazilian rosewood fretboard looks like chocolate. You can hear this bass on S.O.L.

13. Curve Bender

EQ has always been important to me, as I like to shape sounds. Although choosing the right mic and instrument and mic placement is a way of getting a good sound, I often find I want to exaggerate an instrument’s character as well as kill unwanted frequencies and get a coloured vibey sound. I use many EQs, but the Chandler Curve Bender has been used a lot since I got it, I use it on sources and also the mix bus. It was a crucial component in sculpting the DI bass sound on tracks like S.O.L.


14. V Synth GT

I’ve had this beast for maybe 10 years, but have only really scratched the surface with what it can do, as I tend to go to it as a fairly specific tool. I use it as a sampler, it’s the elastic audio that’s so appealing. I love processing vocals through it. No doubt there is software that does a similar job and may even do it in a more convenient way, but I think the V Synth has character. I’ve used this machine to process vocals on tracks such as ‘Pretty Ribbons And Lovely Flowers’, all of the vocals on The Serious EP, and the processed vocals on ‘Potion’. I have used it for other things though, such as the sax and wind sounds in ‘Ivy Charcoal’. It’s a very clever tool, the people at Roland are so inventive.

15. Logic

I have virtually zero romantic feelings for computers and software, I get more excited about a digital delay pedal than I do about my Mac and Logic, but I realize that I may be acting like a spoilt kid who relies on a parent giving them a ride to a party, but doesn’t want to be seen dead with them. In all honesty, I depend on Logic greatly, it’s an incredible tool and enables me to craft albums. It’s true I’ve made music without Logic and without computers, and it’s often more fun to do without a computer, but I honestly couldn’t have achieved most of my discography without this software. I dabbled in Ableton for live shows but never got too inspired by it, although it is very clever software. Logic to me is just an advanced multitrack recorder. I don’t really use software instruments, only on a few occasions, so I don’t see the computer/DAW as a tool for generating sounds, I see it as a tool for recording and arranging sounds, and this tried and tested DAW format, which has been around for decades, is actually pretty logical.

My brain thinks in layers and a timeline when it comes to recording and arranging, and multitracking has always been my main passion in music production. The ability to simply record and layer sounds still excites me after doing it for decades, as long as I’ve got the means to do this, I only need a guitar and a mic and I can make music. But of course having all of the gear mentioned above is a great privilege too, and I make it my duty to put it to use. People often ask in interviews where inspiration comes from, presumably expecting me to name other artists, but in truth a lot of the time it’s the gear and my own imagination that inspires me.



Synth History: What are you currently finding very inspiring and how does it tie in to your creative process?

Bibio: I tend to reach firstly for a guitar most of the time, I see it as where most songs come from, and I have lots of guitars in various shapes and colours and with different voices and characters, this variety inspires me to always have a guitar near me, their aesthetic appeal may seem superficial, but I admire beautiful design and craftsmanship. When I finish in my studio for the night and go into my house to watch a film, I will take a guitar into the house with me, I go with whatever mood I’m feeling at the time, whatever feels right in my hands that day. Sometimes I sit around noodling and a riff comes out that I think has potential and I’ll record it as a video on my phone. I have hundreds, possibly thousands, of clips of little riffs, mostly guitar. Sometimes these riffs grow into songs, sometimes years after they were captured on my phone. So guitars always inspire me, and also delay/loop pedals, because they can be like having another musician to jam with, and then the noodling can go in more interesting directions and break away from habits.

Synth History: What are three records you think everyone should listen to at least once in their life and why?

Bibio: Ooof, to pick 3 is tough. Here goes: #1 Sakura by Susumu Yokota - because it’s a beautiful, peaceful and lush album that I’ve been rinsing for 23 years without tiring of it. It’s magical. #2 Talking Book by Stevie Wonder, because it’s so masterful, musical, imaginative and even experimental, with tape speed experiments and incredible synth sounds. ‘Maybe Your Baby’ contains the holy grail of synth bass sounds. I discovered it around the age of 16 when I found my dad’s original vinyl copy, that got scratched so I bought a reissue, but it’s one of those albums that will always be with me. #3 - Iron Maiden, their debut album. They were my favourite band for years when I was a kid, now I only really listen to their first two albums with singer Paul Di’Anno, I prefer his voice to Bruce, less theatrical. I also love the raw sound of the first album, and it has beautiful melodies and atmosphere, it’s more lo-fi and midrangey but more unique because of it. Every track is great and if it was the only album they ever did, I’d still be happy, although ‘Killers’ is killer.

Synth History: Do you think there is an audible difference between analog sounds and digital ones?

Bibio: Well, there isn’t a straight answer to this because you can make a digital recording of an analogue sound and then it’s a digital sound. Digital recording does a good job of capturing the warmth and nuances of, for example, an analogue synth. So what we love about a Minimoog can be turned into zeros and ones by digitally recording a Minimoog, but software synths that try to do this aren’t there yet, I presume the maths is too complex. Analogue synths sound tangible, like electricity, they have an infinite depth to them. But I also love some digital synths, such as the DX7 - but even this sounds warmer than software FM synths I’ve heard. Some digital stuff sounds great because it’s got character - the EMU SP-1200, old 12 bit digital delays, some old samplers with low sample rates. But these are all hardware things, the character usually comes from the circuitry or components, like specific chips or things like compander circuits in digital delay pedals, which are presumably analogue circuits. I think they all have their place - analogue, digital, hardware and software. But what I’m against is the idea you can do it all with software, if you think that, I think you need to question yourself and be honest about why you choose that path. People might do that because the workflow is more centralized and recallable and also it de-clutters their studio, but I personally couldn’t sacrifice all of my magic toys for the sake of making my life easier, because I don’t think you can replace them with software. But my ultimate philosophy with gear is that people make music, not gear. Use what you can, use what inspires you, but don’t settle for less because it gives you a tidier room. Imagine a seasoned painter switching to Microsoft Paint so they didn’t have to wash brushes every day. It’s good to get messy with gear, even if you end up tripping up a cable, pulling your Electro Harmonix 16 second delay off your desk and watching it bounce off the front of your 1966 candy apple red Fender Jaguar, taking 2 huge chunks out of the finish. Actually, I hate cables… but wireless tech can be hell.

Bibio's upcoming EP, Sunbursting, is available September 23rd.

Synth History Exclusive.


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