Show Us Your Space: Villa Sound in Singhampton, Ontario

Welcome to another installment of Show Us Your Space, a Reverb series that celebrates the unique music-making environments of studio owners, builders, and musicians at all levels. We’ve visited a variety of unique spaces recently, from a husband-and-wife pedal-building operating in Chicago to blues-rock guitarist Eric Tessemer's apartment/rehearsal space hybrid in Texas.

Today, we're traveling north to Ontario, Canada to check out Villa Sound. Owned by Adam Fair (who narrates our journey below) and Tim Thorney, Villa Sound is a beautiful studio housed in what was originally built as a farmhouse in the 1840s. Follow along below as Adam takes us through the studio's many creative spaces, showing off each piece of carefully curated gear that resides there.

Have you assembled an awesome music space that you want to show off? From bedroom production rigs to historic concert halls, we're interested in seeing and sharing it. Contact us at showusyourspace@reverb.com. For more information on Villa Sound, check out the studio's website here.


Welcome to Villa Sound. We’re a recording facility located in Singhampton, Ontario, Canada. Singhampton is approximately one and a half hours north of downtown Toronto and just 20 minutes south of Collingwood, Ontario—home to the popular vacation destination, Blue Mountain Resort.

My name is Adam Fair, and I co-own and operate Villa Sound along with Tim Thorney. Tim and I have long dreamed of the perfect recording studio. A creative and inspiring environment where you can truly get lost in a project, free from distractions. We believe we have created just that with Villa Sound.

Villa Sound is located in an old farm house built in the 1840s. My understanding is that it operated as a general store for about 100 years until it was converted to a ski lodge in the 1980s. When we purchased the house in December 2014, there was quite a bit of work that needed to be done. It’s a pretty large building at 4,000 square feet, and it took a lot of help from contractors, family, and friends to get it up and running. In May 2015, we opened for business.

You’ll notice there isn’t much acoustic treatment in the rooms. Rather than finding an industrial unit and constructing an acoustically correct room from the ground up (which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars), we opted to find a space removed from the noise of the city that already sounded great.

This place was built nearly 170 years ago and is constructed almost entirely of oak. The main support beam is literally a massive tree trunk that still has the bark on it. The place sounds great, with wonderful acoustics. It feels incredibly comfortable to work in.


Fender Rhodes

Our Fender Rhodes originally belonged to Doug Riley of Dr. Music. Tim and Doug were business partners for several years. In early 2010, the amp inside the cabinet malfunctioned, and the unit caught fire. As a result of the damage, we had the cabinet, amp, and speakers refurbished. The rebuild was a team effort between our good friend Don Wilson and the guys at Vintage Vibe in New Jersey. Now it sounds better than ever.

Doug had an FX loop added at some point, ultimately turning it into a beast of an instrument. The FX loop gives you the ability to insert a pedalboard between the keyboard and amplifier, with which you can create very unique sounds that are somewhere between organic and synthetic.


Preamps

We want everything here to serve a purpose, so we’re always very selective when purchasing equipment. We have the classic preamp options of 1073s, API 512Bs, and SSLs. In addition to those, we have the Sytek MPX-4Aii. These are transformerless preamps—very clean and transparent-sounding.

We also have a pair of FiveFish X-12s, which are similar to the API 312s. The Phoenix DRS-8 is the latest addition to the rack. This is a very interesting preamp in that you can control the colour and character quite drastically by playing with the balance between the trim and gain.


Tree Audio

The Tree Audio channel strips might just be my favourite piece of gear that we have. Tim grew up in the Winnipeg music scene in the ‘60s and ‘70s and has long since known bassist and fellow Winnipegger, Ian Gardiner. In 2007, Ian, alongside Steve Firlotte of Inward Connections, founded Tree Audio in Los Angeles. They have since created an incredible line of tube equipment and sure enough, we couldn’t keep our hands off.

This is a true tube unit—it even has a tube power supply. It seems to know what to do with pretty much anything you throw at it. We have two Tree Branch channel strips, and we use them on almost everything we work on.


Guitars

We have a solid collection of guitars available for clients to use at any given time. There are many options from Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Jerry Jones, Danelectro, Martin, Taylor, and more. Some of my favourites include a Danelectro Baritone, Jerry Jones Electric Sitar, 1932 National Triolian, 1932 Rickenbacher Lapsteel, 1970 Gibson J200, 1961 Martin D35 and a 1962 Chet Atkins Gretsch.

This is a key element to the experience we offer here at the studio. We want clients to be inspired, and what better way to ensure that than by offering a wide collection of instruments?


Shyboy Telecaster

This guitar was custom built by Brad at Shyboy for Eric Schenkman of The Spin Doctors. The guitar is wrapped in a skull pattern boot leather from the Liberty Boot Company skull collection and sports a skull inlay on the 12th fret. We purchased the guitar from Eric earlier this year while working on a project together. It sounds incredible, is very well built, and is now one of my favourite guitars we have here.

Barefoot MM27

Since getting our hands on a pair of Barefoot MM27s, everything has been different. There’s a reason why you see these speakers in so many studios all over the world. I would venture to say that we have yet to have a client who hasn’t commented on the quality and look of these speakers. The people at Barefoot have built a truly awesome tool for the studio, something we consider an invaluable asset to Villa Sound.


Echoplex - EP3

Another of our crowd pleasers is the Echoplex EP3. This guy is the real deal and a ton of fun. This is a solid-state tape echo from the early ‘70s. These units have been used on many of the great recordings from Eddie Van Halen to Jimmy Page and many more.


The Kitchen

I think it’s safe to say that not many studios have a full-sized kitchen right on the live floor. This is an essential aspect to the easy-going environment we have here. We want our clients to feel as comfortable as they do in their own home. And, of course, most people have kitchens in their homes! We don’t want people to feel as though they’re “on the clock” at Villa Sound.


1909 Heintzman Upright Piano

Built in Toronto in 1909, this Heintzman upright has that great “old time” sound. Unfortunately, like many pianos, it was a few days away from ending up in a landfill. Luckily we were able to get our hands on it before that happened and have since used it on multiple recordings. It’s become a favourite for writing on as well.

We also have one of the last Heintzman pianos ever built in Canada—a 1981 D-Model Heintzman Grand Piano. It has a beautiful, warm sound, and it also gets lots of use here.


Solid State Logic Matrix 2

The SSL Matrix is the center of our setup. For a long time, we were looking for the perfect console that complimented our workflow. We went back and forth many times on what to get. We wanted something that made the Pro Tools experience a little more intuitive, but we also wanted something that simplified our routing situation. Patching everything all the time was starting to get old.

Originally, we looked at an AWS 900 but found there was no need to have an additional 24 preamps and 24 EQs. Lo and behold, the release of the Matrix. We revisited the Matrix a couple years ago, and felt it was the perfect centerpiece for the studio. One of the most appealing features of this console is its digital patch bay. It allows you to very quickly insert and reconfigure outboard gear without ever touching a patch cable.


Guitar Amps

We have the classic 6TB Vox AC30 combo, which originally belonged to the band Lighthouse. We have a Vox AC30 Anniversary Edition Head with matching cabinet, a Moon Deluxe, and a Orange Rockerverb with a 4x12 wicker cabinet. For that great ‘60s sound, we have a Leslie Model 125 speaker with a guitar input mod.

We also have a Systematic Systems splitter, which we got from Garth Richardson. This lets us send a single guitar signal to as many as five different amps simultaneously. This is always a good option to have in the studio—especially when you’re going for those big sounds.


Fender Bassman

This is an all-original (tubes included) 1964 Fender Bassman. We came across it a few years ago in a local music store and couldn’t leave without it. This is the holy grail of tone, especially when you crank it.


Peluso 2247LE

We have a selection of microphones from Neumann, AEA, Shure, AKG, Vanguard, and more. But the standouts for me are a matched pair of Peluso 2247LEs. Modelled after the famed Neumann U 47, this microphone is a true workhorse.

We use them all the time and are constantly being asked what kind of mic it is. We actually had an original 1955 Neumann U 47 for awhile and often favoured the Peluso over it. Though no two U 47s sound the same, it was still interesting and not something we expected.


Drums

We don’t have a large collection of drums, but we do have a really great “house kit” that I love the sound of. It’s a three-piece Ayotte kit, with a custom Pork Pie snare drum and an assortment of Zildjian and Sabian cymbals. We do have a few other snare drums kickin’ around as well.


Programming Station

We have a programming station setup behind the main board. The setup runs Logic Pro X on a Mac Mini and has dual screens with dual keyboard and mouse so the engineer and artist can each control the system. The Mac mini is synced to the main Pro Tools HDX system via MIDI for seamless integration. This takes the additional load common with virtual instruments off of the main system and allows the artist and engineer to coexist while not getting in each other's way.

We spent a long time experimenting with different hardware and software synths and are very happy with our current setup. At the moment, we have a Moog Sub Phatty and Roland JU-06 for hardware. In addition to this, we have the entire Arturia suite with the KeyLab Controller, as well as an 88-key Yamaha controller with weighted keys. We also have a large number of software instruments from Output, Native Instruments, Slate, Spectrasonics, and more.



We'd love to see your studio, practice space, or gear lair too—whether it's a professional outfit or a weekend retreat. Contact us at showusyourspace@reverb.com.


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