When Jason Hook, guitarist for heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch, decided to build a home studio, he wasn’t looking for a simple computer and monitor setup. He wanted something professional, where everything is hardwired and set up exactly as he needs it. Between recording and touring with the band, there’s not a lot of downtime, and he needed a space where he could get to work quickly and professionally. Timing is everything when you’re a professional musician. That’s why he hired studio designer Zack Fagan to create the perfect perch for Hook’s home studio: the Leopard’s Nest in Las Vegas.
“I was working with Kevin [Churko, producer] on a record…Kevin worked on a couple of records with Ozzy, and Zack built Ozzy’s home studio, and Kevin hired Zack after meeting him through doing the Ozzy records,” Hook says. “So when Kevin got his [studio] done, I was making a Five Finger Death Punch record with Kevin, and I met up with Zack. I asked him what he thought about putting a studio in my house. He came over and we tossed around some ideas. This was about three or four years ago. He threw out a number, and once I got the slush fund ready, we decided to pull the trigger.”
That’s when Fagan and his team at North Hollywood-based design firm Under the Wire—including lead tech Mark Ramirez—headed out to Vegas to begin work on the Leopard’s Nest. “Mark helped me do all of the wiring and put this place together,” Fagan says. “He played a huge part in helping us get this done on time and keeping us laughing.”
The studio space/control room is 600 square feet, with a drum room downstairs that is about 200 square feet. “We have input panels throughout the house, so there’s really at least four places to record from,” Fagan says.
For acoustic treatment, Fagan used absorption panels and bass traps on the walls from Primacoustic. They also built a rear cloud and side soffits out of off-the-shelf Primacoustic treatments, while the front wall and rear walls are custom fabric-covered bass traps designed by Fagan and design partner Jeff Hedback. The front cloud is completely custom and fabricated mostly onsite.
At the heart of the studio sits an Avid C|24 console, which is used mainly as a controller for Pro Tools. “Everything is set up within arm’s reach,” Hook says. “The floor of the whole room is covered with leopard-print carpet, which was special-ordered. But in the middle of the room, there’s a wood panel area in which I can roll around in. I just wanted everything patched and ready to go, where everything could be grabbed or tweaked very easily. It’s a workflow thing. Sometimes when you’re working from home, you’re just rigging stuff together, and you can hear the hum from the refrigerator, or the air conditioner is coming through the mic…I recognized the fact that this was going to be a home studio, but I wanted to make it as functional, transparent, and as clean as I could possibly make it.
“We put a spike out back, with an isolated rod,” Hook continues. “We have isolated power coming in, with Surge X Isolation Transformers in the garage. Everything comes in dedicated to this studio. There’s no power interference. It’s about as pro as you could get. I think the final cost of the studio was $100K.”
“The carpet was a great investment here,” Fagan adds. “It really helps with the vibe. You gotta feel comfortable in a space. You can just come into the studio and everything is ready and patched into Pro Tools, and you can just fire up the session. You don’t have to go far to grab anything, and I think that’s really important in a modern environment.”
For all of the guitar work on the Five Finger Death Punch records, Hook records his parts at his home studio. “I’m kind of stuck in the traditional way of miking up a Marshall head, running an overdrive pedal…it’s really the only way I’ve ever done things, so I can’t really break away from that,” Hook says. “And so it was important for me to have a way to capture my solos here. And it’s the same Marshall head—an ’82 JCM 800—and the same guitar—a Gibson M4 Sherman Explorer—I’ve always used, so I had to be able to fire up a loud cabinet in here somewhere, and I had to have it miked up properly with the proper preamps and be able to hear it. That was my first desire for this studio. So we built a little ‘quiet room’ in the garage.”
The Leopard’s Nest is actually built above Hook’s three-car garage; they’ve used one third of it for the quiet room. And that’s where Hook has all of the loud amps.
Some of Hook’s favorite mics for the guitar include Royer R-121, Neumann U 67, Sennheiser 421, and AKG C414. He likes the Peluso 22 47 vacuum tube mic for vocals. “I bought this off Kevin Churko. He was replacing it with another mic, and this mic had some history with it—we did some of my band’s records with this, and Ozzy also used it.”
“I have an Avalon [Vt-737], Anthony DeMaria Labs tube compressor, the Distressor, some Vintech Audio gear, but what I honestly use the most is the Radial Workhorse 500 Series,” Hook continues. “I have two of those. For the most part, I use the Vintech and the Neve 500 Series modules. I’ve got the 573, 551 Rupert Neve EQ. I also have M&K MPS2510P monitors. They’re the same monitors, the 7.1 surround, that they used to mix Lord of the Rings.” Hook also has a Radial Firefly Tube Direct Box and a Radial Cherry Picker Studio Preamp Selector in his collection.
For patchbays, Fagan relies on Bittree. “I can’t say enough good things about them; they always come through for me,” he says. “They’re the only company I trust; I would never skimp on the patchbay, and Bittree is the best.”
Hook has already been quite busy in his Leopard’s Nest; he cut his guitar parts for the last Five Finger Death Punch record, Got Your Six [Prospect Park, 2015] in his studio. “It was a little daunting at first because we had just finished building the studio, and then the next day we started the new record,” Hook says. “So there wasn’t a lot of time for me to tinker and experiment. I had to go right into work mode. And when the record was done, we went right into touring…that’s why Zack is here now, to tweak things.”
Both Hook and Fagan are pleased with the outcome of the studio. “A lot of people have a computer and some monitors in their room and say, ‘come check out my studio.’ That’s not a studio,” Fagan says. “We had some good geometry with this room already, and we just placed the proper treatment in the right spot. When you walk up the stairs, it sounds kind of boom-y out there; but when you walk into the studio, you can tell immediately you’re in a professional control room. When you’re listening to tracks back in here, whether it’s something you’re working on or something that’s already been done, it sounds like it’s supposed to; it’s accurate.”
Fagan says the modern recording studio is not built for engineers as much anymore; it’s built more for artists because, like Hook—who is currently in his studio working on the score to the movie Hired Gun (directed by Fran Strine)—they have their own home studios now. “The workflow for the artist is most important; you’ve got to set it up so it’s easy for them,” he says. “It’s really important to be able to come in and sit down and get right to it, and I think we nailed that here.”