Abbey Road Studios at 80 (photos)

Road Trip 2011: It is perhaps the best-known recording studio in the world, and not just because of the famous crosswalk. It is a 'mecca' for musicians, and everyone has made music there, including the Fab Four, Pink Floyd, Kanye West, and many more.

Daniel Terdiman
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
1 of 30 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Abbey Road Studios

LONDON--For 80 years, Abbey Road Studios has been one of the most important places in the music business. But of course it is best known for the work done there by a group of four young men from Liverpool, England: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison. The Beatles.

Today, it is still very much a working studio, and artists from all over the world come to record and mix there. CNET got a chance to visit and see some of the most impressive studio rooms and equipment in the industry. Including a microphone that both McCartney and Lennon often sung into.

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Beatles 4-track

Throughout Abbey Road Studios, there is recording and mixing equipment everywhere. And since the studios have been used by everyone and anyone in the industry for nearly eight decades, you never know what you'll run into. In one hallway, placed unceremoniously against a wall, this four-track recorder sits in relative obscurity. Until you find out that it was used to record many of The Beatles' songs.

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Lester Smith with Beatles microphone

Lester Smith oversees Abbey Road Studios' collection of hundreds of microphones. Stacked on several sets of shelves are case after case of them, most of which are still used today, despite--or perhaps because of, their age.

Here, Smith proudly displays a 1950s-era vocal microphone used frequently by The Beatles. "I can happily say that both John and Paul used this same mic," Smith said.

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The zebra crossing

In the United States, we call this a crosswalk. In London, it's a zebra crossing. Either way, this one is perhaps the most famous in the world, made so by The Beatles on the cover of their "Abbey Road" album. Today, fans of the band from all over the world come to show their respects by posing for pictures in the crossing.

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Studio 2

This is the famed Studio 2, a large recording room considered a "mecca" by many in the music business because it's where The Beatles made the majority of their songs. All told, the band recorded more than 90 percent of their songs at Abbey Road Studios, with most of those being done in Studio 2.

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Studio 2 from the floor

This is a view of Studio 2 taken from floor level.

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Lady Madonna piano

In a corner of Studio 2, this is the "Lady Madonna piano," which Paul McCartney played in The Beatles song of the same name. Recently, McCartney surprised people working in a nearby studio room by showing up and pounding out "Lady Madonna" on the piano, something that the sign on it clearly says is not supposed to be done.

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Ribbon mike RM1B

According to Lester Smith, this is an original ribbon microphone from the mid-1930s that has been a mainstay for Abbey Road Studios ever since. It is used on many film scoring sessions, as well as many orchestral recordings.

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Studio 1 mixing board

This is the mixing console for Abbey Road Studio's Studio 1. According to sound engineer Simon Rhodes, the studio works with the manufacturers of equipment like this to ensure that it gets the exact machines it needs. A console like this Neve 88RS costs about $800,000. Although digital is all the rage in music, these consoles are strictly analog due to the fact that for professionals like those at Abbey Road, digital is not yet up to the quality standards demanded by clients who pay a lot for the privilege of working there.

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Abbey Road NW8

This is one of the most famous street signs in Europe.

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Studio 1 patch bay

This is the patch bay in Studio 1. Usually, this would have so many wires plugged into it--bringing sounds in or out of the mixing board--that it would look like a "swirling mass of snakes," said Rhodes.

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Studio 1

This is Studio 1, which has a 40-foot-high ceiling and is used extensively for the recording of film scores and orchestral pieces.

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Studio 3

This is Abbey Road Studios' Studio 3, a longtime popular room. In here, Pink Floyd recorded "The Dark Side of the Moon," and more recently, Lady Gaga made "Born this Way."

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Toy cupboard

This is the "toy cupboard" at Abbey Road Studios, where hundreds of pieces of "outboard" equipment are stored and regularly shuffled in and out of recording sessions.

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Very early mastering EQ

This is a "very early" mastering EQ, according to Rhodes. "It's quite hysterical what's in this cupboard if you appreciate it," he said.

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Neve digital console in the 'Penthouse'

Abbey Road Studios maintains a mixing studio that is all-digital known as "The Penthouse." There, musicians working on many kinds of recordings, including the scores for large numbers of feature films use this Neve digital mixing console.

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Studio 2 mixing room console

This is a brand-new Neve 88 RS that is used to mix sound in Studio 2.

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Fairchild 660 vale compressor

This is one of at least six Fairchild 600 valve compressors owned by Abbey Road Studios. Each one is likely worth at least $15,000 on the open market.

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TL M50 and M50 microphones

On the right is an M50, and 1950s-era microphone made by the Neumann company, and on the left is a later version of the same mike, a TL M50 that's about 20 years old. The newer model employs transistors to make sound as high quality as its predecessor, but while the newer model has great sound, Rhodes said it's not quite up to the same standards.

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Studio 2 screen

This is a large folding screen that has been in Studio 2 for decades. It can be moved around as required by each artist.

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Studio 2 mixing room

This is the mixing room for Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios in London.

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This is a piano in Studio 1, which is used to record many orchestral sessions.

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In a small cubby space behind the Studio 1 mixing room, there are endless numbers of cords and cables, mainly because the studio used analog recording equipment that requires a different cable for each of dozens and dozens of channels.

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Rooftop echo chamber

On the roof of Abbey Road Studios is a very small room behind a tiny door. Inside is this old echo chamber.

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Echo chamber with pillars

This is another echo chamber at Abbey Road Studios. In this room, these old pillars act to reflect sound around the small space.

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Brain of the penthouse

These are the computing "brains" behind the digital mixing console in the Abbey Road Studios "penthouse."

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Giles Martin

This is Giles Martin, a producer who has recorded at Abbey Road Studios for years, is the son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Among his most famous projects is the collaboration between The Beatles and the Cirque du Soleil on the remixing of the famous band's songs for the soundtrack of the Las Vegas show "Love."

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Writing on the wall

Outside Abbey Road Studios is a stone gate, on which Beatles fans have written endless amounts of homages to the band.

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Magnetized microphones

Lester Smith shows how the magnets in two microphones are strong enough to allow one mike to hang from another

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Plate A

This is one of four reverb plates stored in a musty rooftop room above Abbey Road Studios. The plates are used to add reverb to recordings but are able to be kept permanently in the small room because wiring connects them to recording equipment below.

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