Abbey Road Rooms: Studio Three with Freddie Light

Abbey Road Rooms: Studio Three with Freddie Light

4th July 2024

Our latest behind-the-scenes room tour sees us step inside Studio Three, redesigned in 2022 as the ultimate creative playroom for today's artists.

Read on as assistant engineer Freddie Light walks us through his favourite pieces of gear in the room and how they've been used on sessions for Yussef Dayes, The Clockworks, Moses Boyd and more.

From the custom SSL G-Plus mixing desk, to the Fairchild 660 limiters, Neve 1081 preamps, ATC monitors, TG12345 and the legendary Challen piano, learn more about what Studio Three has to offer.

1. Custom Classic SSL G-Plus Mixing Desk

"This desk is amazing. It’s an SSL G-Plus. We got it put in when we had the refit in here about two years ago, I think it was the Christmas before last. It’s an original desk, but it's been completely gutted and refit with new caps, new wiring, everything. It’s in really great condition. The EQs and dynamics are amazing.

There's something really particular about the SSL EQs and dynamics that are just really musical. You’ve got the gates and compressors at the top which are really good for drums or capturing lots of stuff in the room at the same time. We've got so much outboard gear in this room but actually, you could do a whole session just on the desk.

On each side we’ve got two different styles of EQ: left of the centre section it's the E series black and G series on the right. The difference is, with the E series, the top and bottom band can be switched between a shelf and a bell shape. With the G series, you’ve got this LMF divided by three and HMF times three, which just means you can change the frequency higher or lower to give you a bit more flexibility.

Obviously, SSL is famous for their bus compressor. It’s pretty much always turned on, especially for band sessions. You don’t have to adjust anything; it just does what it says on the tin and does it really well.

I also love its cream leather finish, don’t think I’ve seen another desk like it!

2. EMI TG12345 Mk III Desk

"This has been part of the fabric of Abbey Road for decades. Before we had the refurb in Studio Three, this was just floating around different studios. That was a bit of a nightmare because every time you’d bring it into a room, you’d have to plug in all the wiring at the back which can be a bit of a long process.

Now it’s installed permanently here which is great. All the ins and outs just appear on the patch bays so it's just super easy to dial in a sound. We used it recently on a jazz record by Cloudmakers Trio with Jim Hart, all the drums were running through it and I’m pretty sure also the upright bass.

It's got a very particular sound that can be great if you want to get something really colourful and crunchy. We use it a lot for drums, bass and guitars. Again, it’s got some really good EQ and compressors. When this desk was designed, they were used to recording at much lower levels but now with modern, louder, levels of recording, the compressors and the limiters act way more aggressively. It’s not a subtle thing, so often it's better used in parallel, you can kind of blend it in gently. Also on room mics or any sort of ambience, it just blows them up and makes everything sound massive.

I remember way back, one of my first sessions here, we used it on Yussef DayesLove Is The Message – all of the drums went through the TG. It sounded amazing."

3. AMS Neve 1081 Mic Preamps

"These 1081s are awesome. They were also floating around the studios before we had the refurb and have now found a permanent home in here. A preamp is the first thing the sound captured by the microphone hits. The original signal is pretty quiet, so a preamp boosts up the level to something more usable.

They’re great sounding preamps and they’ve also got really powerful EQs in them. Having these as an option just makes Studio Three so flexible. We’ve got access to the SSL preamps on the desk, the Neve preamps here, the TG preamps on the Mk III, more Neve preamps with the OPX 1073s over there. Everything at your fingertips.

If we're using them, we tend to plug the output of the 1081s into the line input on the desk, which still gives you access to the SSL dynamics and EQs. You can create these sort of custom channel paths. Perhaps all your drums through the TG, all your band stuff on the desk and all your vocals through the 1081s. Lots of options."

4. Roland M-48 Headphone Mixers

"These might not be what people expect to hear about, but I love them and they make our lives really easy. We have them in all three studios, but in Studio Three they are plugged up straight from ProTools so even easier still. On each of these boxes you have 32 inputs which can be mapped individually. Meaning each player can have their own set of inputs to play with.

The example we use often is that most of the band can have a mix of the drums coming down channel one, but the drummer, who perhaps wants a little bit more control over their mix, can have the individual drum mics split across the channels. What makes it easy for us is that it’s all controlled by a piece of software that can take any of the mixes in the live room and mirror them onto our box in the control room, allowing us to adjust from here.

They’ve got really good built-in effects as well. Little bit of an EQ, a limiter, there's reverb as well which is surprisingly good for a one-knob thing. You turn it up and it just sounds like the right sort of reverb, you know?

Very sadly Roland discontinued these, so we count ourselves very lucky to have them here."

5. ATC Monitors

"The ATCs are obviously quite a statement piece when you walk in the room. We’ve got two sets, SCM300As mounted in the walls and SMC25A MKIIs on the meter bridge. Both sound great and don’t over-hype the sound, while still being high-quality enough that you can hear the detail in everything. I haven’t seen these speakers leave this room since we reopened Studio Three.

We’ve also got two subwoofers beneath the 300s which you can switch in and out with a button on the desk.

I'd say we tend to track mostly with the near fields, they’re the most realistic. Though we love the 300s as well. This room has been treated so well, it’s probably our best sounding control room. For that reason, a lot of mixing goes on here especially combined with the versatility of the SSL desk."

6. Fairchild 660 Limiters

"We’re very lucky to have two of these in here, racked up with a stereo link. They are just amazing compressor/limiters. The valves in them add a really nice distortion. Kind of similar to what I was saying about the TG desk: very colourful, not very transparent. When you're using one of these, you're looking for a very particular sound. We tend to use them on bass guitar or a mono crush thing on drums.

They’ve been used in the studios for decades and they’re all different. I’ve had a few of them in here at the same time; you plug in the same thing for each of them and they'll have completely different sounds on the same setting. And that can even be without dialling in any compression, just the sound of the valves. For that reason, we have a few here that we know are better suited for different sources.

We did a session with The Clockworks on a song called Mayday Mayday which we used the Fairchilds on. There’s a breakdown in the song with a distorted vocal and the drums sound really blown up. That drum sound was actually just the hi-hat mic (Neumann KM84) going through one of our Fairchilds."

7. Studio Three Challen Upright Piano

"In essence, it’s a school piano. It's nothing fancy, nothing expensive, but it's been here for so long and been used on so many great sessions. It just has that classic sound of a normal upright piano. I know that sounds really underwhelming, but often that's just what you want. You don't always want the high-definition and clarity of a grand piano when it's in a mix full of other instruments.

You can tamper with it a bit as well, we had a Abbey Road Lock-In session recently with Moses Boyd where we ended up muting a few of the strings, giving it like a violin pizzicato or plucked sound.

There’s just so much history here in Studio Three. A lot of people think the magic of Abbey Road is the quality of the gear and the expertise of the engineers, and perhaps when they come here that is what makes their recordings great. But I think a big part of it is just that they are inspired by this place. Being here causes them to step up their performance and play better than they would normally. I find old pieces of gear with history like this inspires people to give that extra few percent."

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