1. Order of saturation plugins. In accordance with the handbook is it Console, Tape, Decap?
1.2. What is the inherent difference between each type of saturation? Does it lie in the harmonic content? Is Decap more linear while tape varies further depending on how it’s driven?
No, decap can be extremely non-linear, it is the nature of the beast lol. Tape changes the sound significantly; therefore it makes sense to create the tone you want from the tape and then proceed with saturation, if saturating at all. Lets say you saturate first, you get a really nice sound and then insert tape, the nuances of your dialled in saturation are now considerably changed, low frequency bump, attenuated high frequencies.
In addition @Danny and I have done quite a bit of testing and console > tape > saturation has always sounded the best. I think it is probably because tape has a smooth transient rounding effect, which plays nicely with additional saturation.
How much do I saturate at each step? Say, console, do i taylor the sound source to sound as “sexy” as possible. Then do the same while coming through tape, and then the same with Decap? How am I gainstaging through the saturation process?
@Elton approach is the best over do it at first so you learn the different types of saturation.
Yes, make each saturation stage as sexy as possible. For example:
Insert SSL 4000, decide if you prefer line or mic, (transformer enable/disabled). Drive the input for ‘fat sounding’ second order harmonics, driving input also makes it a little brighter in the upper frequencies and less of a role off in the lows. If you want more third order harmonics (richness and depth) drive the output fader. I often use the filters on the channel strips to remove any extraneous low and high frequency content, you don’t want the tape reacting to these frequencies. Then adjust the clean output gain of the channel strip to bring it back down to desired level.
Next insert tape, lets say the Studer A800, choose your tape type, I prefer 456 and 900, 30 IPS is good starting point (consider using lower IPS if you are after a retro sound or you want a sound to be pushed to the back), turn noise off, drive the input till you get the desired tape saturation and then adjust output level.
Now insert saturation plugin of choice lets say Decap, drive it a little to hear the saturation and choose a saturation algorithm, you will get familiar with the different characteristics. Drive to taste, adjust output if required and role off any undesirable frequencies with the filters. The filters are great for emulating a tape bump with the low filter and the bump engaged and a guitar amp with a steep high filter at around 5k. The tilt parameter is also great if you want to shift the tonality of the source to be brighter or darker.