The recent 50th Anniversary of Pink Floyd‘s ‘Dark Side of the Moon‘ triggered me to compile a series of posts on this terrific 50-year old timeless album by…. because I grew up with this album, and I hope you did as well.
Reverb.com recently published a feature on the gear of Pink Floyd’s dark side of the moon, created by Tony Bacon. You can find the full original article here.
This give a lot of interesting insights. Below you’ll find some excerpts of this article. Please note the (c) are with Reverb.com and its author(s)
May 30th, 1972 – Abbey Road Studios
We’re outside EMI’s Abbey Road studios in north-west London on May 30th 1972, a little after lunchtime. Let’s take a short walk across the small car park, up those famous steps, and through the front door. Almost immediately, we take a door on the left which leads us into the control room for Studio 3. Looking through the glass and into the studio room, we can see Pink Floyd’s gear in there.
The band will be in later this afternoon—they were gigging in Amsterdam yesterday—and everything is set up ready for them to start work with engineer Alan Parsons at 2:30. It’s the first official session for a new album that, during some 38 days of studio time over the next eight months or so, will become The Dark Side Of The Moon.
Microphones and Mixers
While we’re here, why not go in and have a nose around—you’ve got an hour or so before they arrive. So back out we go, left and left, into the main Studio 3 room. It’s around 40 feet long from the door you’re standing at through to the control-room glass down at the other end. Across from you to the other wall it’s about 30 feet wide.
There are baffles spread around some of the gear, and the first thing you see is Rick Wright’s organ. Just beyond are three vocal mics ready for use: a Neumann U48 and two Neumann U87s, the legendary German mic that has captured singers of all stripes since its introduction in 1967.
Drums and Percussion
Cut to 2023. A few days ago, Nick Mason received his copy of the enormous new 50th anniversary set of Dark Side, full of various CDs, LPs, 45s, and Blu-rays, a DVD, a sheet-music book, a 160-page photo book, and more—all carefully packed and positioned in a large box.
Nick sighs. “I opened it,” he tells me. “And now I can’t put it back together again.” Perhaps it might be easier to put back together his memories of the Dark Side sessions, all those years ago? He recalls for sure that he was playing a Ludwig kit. I mention that the microphones listed on Abbey Road’s session sheet for the first Dark Side session in ’72 include two AKG D20s, marked Bass Drum 1 and Bass Drum 2, suggesting that a double-bass-drum kit was expected.
“No, for recording, particularly, double kits really are unnecessary,” he says. “So I think it was a single kit, with two tom toms and two floor toms. I’m sure there wasn’t a double bass drum—and if there was, it would simply have been to hold the top toms, but that’s not how I remember that. It was a Ludwig Classic, and the sizes would have been 12×8 and 13×9 toms, 14″ and 16″ floor toms, and 22″ bass drum.”
Nick’s Paiste cymbals around this time featured Formula 602 15-inch Heavy Hi-Hats, plus four Giant Beats: an 18-inch Multi (Heavy), 18-inch Multi, 20-inch Multi, and a 24-inch Multi. He also happened upon a set of , the shell-less drums made by Remo, which had been hired by another band in Abbey Road but not yet collected. “We thought oh, well, this might be fun,” he recalls. “So we used them on the opening of ‘Time.’”
Guitars and Effects
Pink Floyd had recorded at Abbey Road since they signed to EMI in 1967. There were some other studios along the way, but Abbey Road was home for the band when it came to recording. They would continue to use Studio 3, just as they had for the original May ’72 session, necessarily expanding and adapting as the sessions for the album progressed. At times they also used the larger Studio 2, over on the other side of the building.
David Gilmour’s black Stratocaster used to record Dark Side would sell for a staggering $3,975,000 during a 2019 auction.
“I think the more we did at Abbey Road, the more comfortable we were and the more we became part of the scenery,” Nick recalls. “Most of the recording for Dark Side went on in 1972, and that was five years after Sgt Pepper’s, which had been the beginning of the studio turning itself round from being like the BBC or something—pretty formal, you know? They’d had to catch up with the times. They were looking for that big album market, like everyone else, and so people got as much time as they needed. They certainly weren’t going to stop at 1’o’clock for that one-hour lunch break, or any of that nonsense.”
Out on the studio floor, aside from Nick’s kit, the other Floyd men worked with their favored instruments and gear. David Gilmour’s axe du jour was his famous late-’60s Black Strat, the one that in 2019 would sell for a staggering $3,975,000 in his big auction clear-out. During ’72, he made a few minor mods to the guitar, including an extra pickup-selector switch for neck plus bridge or middle options, but the most dramatic change at the time came when he swapped the original maple neck for a ’63 neck with rosewood board.
Keyboards, Synths, Odds & Ends
Rick Wright probably used his own trusty Hammond M102 as the primary organ for the Dark Side sessions, as when he moves from ‘Brain Damage’ into ‘Eclipse.’ The 102 was a less fancy version of the furniture-like M100, and Rick teamed it with his Leslie 145 cabinet. He would use other Hammond and Leslie models, too, and also Abbey Road had a few Hammonds he might have played at times. Rick also used his dual-manual Farfisa Compact Duo organ, for example during ‘Time,’ though it didn’t last much longer in his lineup beyond these sessions.
He made good use of Abbey Road’s in-house acoustic pianos for several parts of Dark Side, not least in the second half of ‘Us And Them.’ Rick’s electric piano is all over the album, too, mostly thanks to his Wurlitzer EP-200 (and possibly a Rhodes from time to time), notably with wah-wah expression throughout ‘Money’ and sometimes treated to spatial assistance from a Binson Echorec.
While we’re on the subject of ‘Money,’ friend-of-the-Floyd Dick Parry came in to blast out the saxophone solo, likely playing a Selmer Super Balanced Action or King Super 20 tenor but evidently untroubled by 7/4. Dick makes another appearance on ‘Us And Them.’
The band employed some extra singers, too: the BVs quartet of Doris Troy, Lesley Duncan, Liza Strike, and Barry St John, as on ‘Time,’ ‘Us And Them,’ and ‘Brain Damage,’ and Clare Torry, who contributed the passionate wordless vocal for ‘The Great Gig In The Sky.’
The sonic stage of Dark Side is highlighted by a range of sound effects, including the clocks that clatter to mark the start of ‘Time’ and the voices here and there of road crew, Abbey Road staff, and others talking about lunacy, violence, and other weighty matters. The studio’s doorman, Gerry O’Driscoll, was immortalized with his comment that there is no dark side of the moon. “Matter of fact, it’s all dark,” he says during the final seconds of the album.
The band had several EMS synthesizers with them in the studio, made by the British company Electronic Music Studios. There was a VCS-3, an early portable synthesizer with a joystick but no keyboard, and a Synthi AKS, a sort of briefcased VCS-3 with a keyboard and sequencer in the lid. ‘Any Colour You Like’ features a range of synth sounds, but the most famous use of the AKS comes in ‘On The Run.’
David explained in a 2003 installment of the BBC documentary series Classic Albums how the track’s core sequencer part came about as he toyed with the AKS one day. “I just plugged it up and started playing one sequence on it,” he recalled, “and Roger immediately pricked up his ears, felt that sounded good, and he came out and we started mucking with it together. He put in a new sequence of notes and it all developed out of that.”
Roger then recalled how he played a series of notes slowly into the AKS, “triggering a noise generator and oscillators, and then I just sped it up.” In the film, David put in the notes and increased the speed on an AKS sequencer to demonstrate the result. “There you’ve got it, basically,” he said, riding the synth’s Filter/Oscillator knobs, “and that immediately sounded much more exciting than what we were currently doing.”
The band also liked to play around with the decidedly analogue facility of tape loops, most famously heard on the opening of ‘Money.’ Back at Chez Nick, I interrupt him as he continues to wrestle with the new Dark Side box set. So, Nick, people take looping for granted these days, but back in ’72, wasn’t it a bit more complicated?
“I wouldn’t say complicated,” he reckons. “I’d say it was crude. And yes, we’re so used now to being able to do anything like that with a couple of taps on the computer. Roger will argue the point, but as far as I’m concerned, we made up the loops in the studio at the bottom of his garden. I know we took some coins and drilled them, made them into almost a wind chime, and we got some other sounds, too.”
The tape recordings—we’d call them samples now—were assembled and joined up. “We cut the sections into pieces of tape, then taped them together. The standard thing you had was a block and sticky tape, which was the right size for quarter-inch tape. And we all got quite proficient, actually, at tape editing. The loop for “Money” would have been manageable, probably only about a yard long, let’s say, and so that was an easy loop to rig. But it became more elaborate for longer sound effects, where we might end up with a loop of 15 feet, say—quite a runaround. It wasn’t that difficult, it was just you needed enough space to be able to keep the thing running.”
In the nether world of Pink Floyd minutiae, where some fans know far more about the band’s professional lives than Nick and David and Roger ever will, there must be very little left to clear up. Nonetheless, I have a go. Researching this piece, I tell Nick, there seemed to be some debate about whether it’s “The” Dark Side Of The Moon or just Dark Side Of The Moon. Can he clear up that momentous question?
“I think it’s your choice,” he says, diplomatically. “But I’m always in favor of shorter rather than longer. You know, at one time we were The Pink Floyd Sound, but apart from the ‘Sound,’ we knocked off the ‘The’ as well. As for Dark Side, we always refer to it as ‘DSOM’ and not ‘TDSOM.’ So I think I’ll say whichever you like best.”
We’ll leave the last words about DSOM to David Gilmour. In the Classic Albums documentary, he mused on the fact that he’ll never again be able to hear the record afresh. “I can clearly remember that moment of sitting and listening to the whole mix all the way through and thinking my god, we’ve really done something fantastic here,” he recalled, adding: “But I’d love to have been a person who could sit back with his headphones on and listen to that the whole way through for the first time. I mean, I never had that experience,” David said, laughing at the idea. “But that would have been nice.”
Details of the May ’72 session thanks to a reproduction of a session sheet for The Dark Side Of The Moon just released by Abbey Road for exclusive sale in its shop and online store.