J.J. and I sat down at Fox Force Five–his studio in the Hollywood Hills–to talk a bit about his career, his approach to recording, and of course, the studio itself! Fox Force Five was designed by Bret Thoeny in the mid ’90s–a highly regarded studio architect whose designs include Bob Clearmountain’s Mix This. Funnily enough, when the studio was initially put together, J.J. was somewhat new to the recording world. So, he hired Alan Hershberg as his head engineer to run the studio, who also became his mentor throughout the technical learning process.
J.J. Blair has amusingly been called the Joe Bonamassa of microphones.
Over the years, J.J. has accumulated an extensive collection of vintage microphones, guitars, and outboard gear, which we thoroughly investigate during the tour. J.J. shared with us how he’s humorously been referred to as “the Joe Bonamassa of microphones” for having such an enormous collection! His affinity for them comes from a wise place, though, as he believes the microphone is the most important component of the signal chain. It is, after all, what’s capturing your sound source!
Amongst the many, many fantastic pieces of equipment J.J. owns is the best Telefunken ELA M 251 he’s ever heard. While every 251 has the same basic sound, it’s actually the inconsistencies in every capsule that give them all a unique character. To J.J.’s ears, his is the best! He also has handfuls of vintage Neumanns, including his personal favorite, the M49: a large diaphragm tube condenser. He even has a very interesting C12 clone built by Norbert Pape from spare AKG parts.
Beyond his impressive mic locker, J.J. has a variety of vintage guitars as well. A real standout piece is his 1947 Epiphone Zephyr Regent–a jazz box previously owned by a gigging musician, as evidenced by a handwritten setlist still taped to the back of the guitar!
J.J.’s favorite to collect, though, are vintage Gibsons, of which he has many! His 1963 reverse Firebird was his first foray into the vintage Gibson world and is a beautiful guitar. He also has a gorgeous 1958 Les Paul Custom and an ES-335 that belonged to the amazingly talented jazz guitarist, Ted Greene.
The real showstopper, which I was lucky enough to enjoy, is his 1960 Les Paul. We plugged into a 1953 Fender Deluxe, which you can hear for yourself in the video! Truly, the 1960 is a special piece with Spinal Tap-esque amounts of sustain.
Of course, Fox Force Five’s tremendous recordings are made possible by an outstanding collection of vintage outboard gear as well, including Helios Type 69 EQs (which The Rolling Stones had in their mobile recording rig), Langevin AM16 preamps, API 550As, and Pultecs, all of which we geek out on in detail!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation and glimpse at J.J. Blair’s spectacular vintage gear collection.
Have a marvellous time recording and mixing,
Warren, JJ, Thank you. I can only describe it as being on pilgrimage, of sacred space, inhabited by mystical analogue spirits of ye long past days.
All that was missing were the hessian walls. OHM!!
Do you remember the infamous BBC TV series from Japan called “Monkey”? I am the bass player/ vocalist of the band that did all of the soundtracks. In fact, I was quite involved with the sound engineering too….those good ole analog days. I have since caught up with the digital world via course at Berklee online school and YouTube videos like yours. You have been incredibly informative and helpful for me. I appreciate you and what you do.