Video: T Bone Burnett's Historic Bushnell API Console is Coming to Reverb

The legendary Sunset Sound began, primarily, as a go-to studio in Hollywood for recording and mixing film scores. By 1967, however, The Doors had shown up to record the first of the albums they would work on there, and before long Sunset had become a prime spot for some of the biggest musical names for decades: Janis Joplin, Prince, Tom Waits, and even The Rolling Stones all made records there.

So what drew them to Sunset Sound? Perhaps the historic Bushnell API custom recording console at the center of Studio 1. Joplin used it to make Pearl, the Stones (fresh from the French countryside) finished Exile on Main Street on it. Later, everyone from The Doobie Brothers to Van Halen made some of their most-famous records with it. But the console's pedigree is not just rock history.

Its current owner—producer and film music maven T Bone Burnett—has employed the Bushnell for a huge list of his records and soundtracks, including Walk the Line, Inside Llewyn Davis, Crazy Heart, and releases by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, BB King, Diana Krall, Elton John, John Mellencamp, and many others.

This Bushnell console, along with vintage microphones, mic stands, amps, and more gear from Burnett's studio, is available now in Techno Empire's T Bone Burnett Reverb Shop.

In our video above, Sunset Sound's Paul Camarata and T Bone Burnett give us the full history of the console.

Bob Bushnell, the board's builder, got his start as an engineer working for Bill Putnam—the inventor of the modern recording console, who also later founded Universal Audio. Bushnell eventually started his own company, Bushnell Electronics, and began making custom recording consoles.

The Sunset Sound console occupied Studio 1 from roughly 1967 to 1980 and became a favorite of several prolific producers like Paul Rothschild, David Anderle, Leon Russell, and Burnett.

"I made many records there including King of America by Elvis Costello, Will the Wolf Survive? by Los Lobos, and August and Everything After by Counting Crows," Burnett says. "The Camaratas were committed to the highest-quality audio. The sound was incomparable."

At the time that it was built, multitrack recording and studio playback was nearly brand-new technology and there weren't a lot of standards for it across studios and gear. Individual studios would commission custom boards suited to fit their own self-defined approach, specs, and requirements. Sunset Sound was focused on high-fidelity audio and flexibility, and the Bushnell console Bob made for them was one of the early boards that set the standard for what multitrack recording would be.

What makes the console special specifically is its API 2520 discrete op-amps and API EQs, its excellent gain structure, and its high-fidelity Class A electronics. "Every part of this board focuses on combining sounds at the highest fidelity," Burnett says. "Even the monitor section for the board is a seriously great mixer. Several times, we ended up mastering the rough mixes that were done on the monitor section of the console."

T Bone Burnett acquired the console couple of decades ago from Michael Block at Tommy Boy Records. There, the console had been used to record music by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, Queen Latifah, De La Soul, and others. Burnett tells us that since he's owned it, it's been one of the most important pieces of all of the work he's done for the last 18 years:

"I don't ever tell stories about the work I've done with artists, but I can tell you this: This board has been cured by the music that has been run through it, in the same way as a great old Fender Tweed amplifier, or a great old Gretsch Duo-Jet grows in character through years of use. It has aged well, the same way a bottle of wine ages.

"I don't know how any of that happens—I think that great music heating up the electronics gives them character—but I can tell with absolute certainty that when we run a piece of music from Pro Tools though the board, the harmonic complexity and harmonic distortion that digital technology can't comprehend or reproduce have been recreated and added back in by the board. The mixes through the board, as opposed to the mixes done in Pro Tools, are significantly more vivid and exciting, with more depth and clearer imaging."

Life has taken T Bone Burnett in a variety of other directions, the producer says, and so he no longer has a need for a fully outfitted studio. "I hope it goes to someone who loves powerful, deep-sounding, high-fidelity music, and who will use it for what it was made for—to make incredible-sounding records."

Techno Empire's T Bone Burnett collection is live now.

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