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5 Metal Production Tips: Bass and Guitars (Part 1)

Warren: So, here I am. It’s mister Warren Huart from Produce Like a Pro, sitting with Trey Xavier of Gear Gods. So we’re having fun here, we’re at Rosen Studios? Is that correct?

Trey: Yeah, we’re at Rosen Digital. Rosen Sound at 1008 studios is our little room here. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I love it here.

Warren: I’ve come over here to talk to you about metal. My audience, which actually, there are loads of people that follow us that do rock, heavy rock, metal, but probably a genre, broadly based genres. You, I would consider a — I can’t, if I say the word expert, it’s not good. I don’t like experts.

Trey: I don’t consider myself an expert.

Warren: I’m always afraid of experts, because they’re the ones that are always telling us we’re doing it wrong.

Trey: Exactly. I consider myself to be a — a lover, an amateur in the truest sense of the word, somebody who does it really because they love it a lot, and I always feel like I’m learning almost just as much as anybody watching the channel, because I have to — even something I feel like I know a lot about, I have to go and do a little bit of research before I get on camera and start talking like an asshole, because I know I’m going to — I’ll stick my foot in my mouth, and someone will make some angry comments, so I’ve got to make sure I’m on my game, and so I have to learn something every time, at least a little bit.

Warren: So we’re going to do top 5 metal tips?

Trey: Top 5 metal production tips.

Warren: And we’re going to do this part 1 of 2?

Trey: Yeah, because there will always be five more.

Warren: Always be five more.

Trey: And I always think one is more important than the last. I wanted to say, because you were saying maybe your fans aren’t all necessarily huge metal heads or whatever, but if you’re trying to be a producer, you might not always get to choose the genre of music that you’re working with, and if you know some of this stuff, you’ve got it in your back pocket, it makes you a lot more employable and useful. Absolutely.

Warren: I agree. All my favorite producers are genre-less. They just do. John Leckie, probably my favorite producer. Was the engineer on All Things Must Pass by George Harrison. He did Kula Shaker, Star Roses first record, and the Bends by Radiohead.

Trey: Yeah. Well, look at Rick Reuben. Same thing. Metal production tip number one!

This is easily the most important one. I think that you could get away with not listening to any of these other ones, as long as you follow this one religiously, and that is a huge, huge proportion of metal production is simply putting some new strings on your bass before you record, and smacking the living crap out of them. You got to hit it hard. It makes the whole thing sound aggressive, and coupled with tip number two, which we’ll get to in a second, you can take great liberties with the rest of your production, as long as you have this really dialed in.

Warren: Now, what you were talking about earlier, you were saying to tune as though you’re playing it.

Trey: Yes. So when you tune, I see guys tuning, and they hit like, [imitates soft bass], and when they go to play, they smack it like they should, and the pitch goes like this.

Warren: The strings going, [imitates strings]

Trey: Yeah, so tune it like you’re going to play it. Another thing too, I see people tuning. They hit it and they wait. What you want to do is continually hit the string while you’re turning the knob, because you want the impact note, not the settling note.

Warren: So invariably, you’re going to end up tuning your bass slightly flat, because every time you hit those strings, they’re going to go sharp.

Trey: Yeah. And it has to do with your string gauge, and all this other kind of stuff. But no matter what, if you tune it like that, you’ll probably be good, and if you have new strings, you can get away with a lot.

So that brings us to tip number two.

Warren: Tip number two!

Trey: Parallel bass distortion. And so what that means is that you’ve got two bass sounds going on. You don’t have to record two separate performances. It’s not like double tracking guitars. They do this in other genres too, but in metal, it’s very aggressive. So essentially what you do is you have two bass tracks. You can split the signal however you like. I like to just literally copy and paste the DI track into a new channel, and so then what you’re going to do is high pass one and low pass the other.

So the high pass one, you’re basically getting kind of the string snap, the clanky sound of the bass, that nasal high end sound, and then you essentially treat it like a guitar. You put it through a guitar amp sim, or some kind of a gnarly distortion, and it can actually sound kind of ugly by itself. And that’s okay. You make it pretty distorted, just like a typical amp sim in the box. You know. Sometimes no cab, because it’s not as harsh as a guitar, and now the low end that you’ve low passed is clean. Clean as hell.

You’re probably going to want to compress the crap out of it.

Warren: Hell is clean?

Trey: Okay, well, no. So it’s going to be clean as heaven. Sanitized.

Warren: We just invented a bass tone.

Trey: Yeah. Clean as a hospital, dirty as hell bass tone combined.

Warren: That sounds good.

Trey: Yeah, so it’s the Heaven and Hell bass tone.

Warren: Great album.

Trey: So you’re going to compress the shit out of that low end to get a big, consistent bass feeling. The — it’s the impact of the bass, it’s the feeling, it’s the fundamental, and that’s going to be big and clean, and when you combine the two together, it glues the whole mix together, it gives you the feeling, that nice, chesty impact, and definition in your bass. Really important.

Warren: I would say, and those that follow me would know, that’s pretty darn similar to the way I mix bass. Sometimes, if I have an amp, I’ll use the amp to get the grit, high pass that so I get all of the top end and the scratchiness, but I always use the DI for the low end.

But you’re right, if you only have a DI, split it into two, run it in parallel, get all the low end. I usually go about 150 to 200. Nice gentle slope. Then 150 to 200 like that. There’s sometimes a nice sweet spot where I don’t mind a little bit of hollowness to let the guitars ring.

If you’re also passing at about 200 and 200, there’s a sort of a little bit of a gap there, like 150, 200, 250. That’s a nice boost area for rock guitars to kind of get some girth.

Trey: Yeah. Girth is important. I find that when I’m dialing in the tone on the bass itself, I find that scooping out a lot of the mids for metal really helps. Otherwise it sounds really jazz bass, kind of like, honky and weird, but if you have a lot of low end and a lot of high end in the bass, high end being a relative term for the bass, and scoop out a lot of those mids, that’s basically how I do it.

Warren: Great. I will say, that’s probably the opposite of what we do for Pop and Indie. Indie, you want the honkiness, as well as the low edge. Because the classic Precision is like, [sings Another One Bites the Dust]. You know, that with the low end is thumpy, yeah. Which is like, 700, 850, 1kHz, 1.5. I usually end up boosting to give it some presence in the mix, where I’m assuming, correct me if I’m wrong, with metal, you’re trying to get the bass and the guitar to glue together so it’s one big wall of awesomeness.

Trey: Yeah, it adds to the — to just the impact that — there’s a lot of unison stuff going on, whereas in other genres, there’s a little bit more counterpoint, like the bass can do different things. In metal, it tends to be a lot of the same stuff, all working together for this one big, heavy sound, and actually, if you’d listen to modern metal recordings, if you were to take the bass out, or just isolate the guitars, you’d be like, “Wow, they sound kind of thin and small,” and that’s because the bass is taking up a huge amount of room in the mix, because it’s easily the most important thing in terms of the feeling of the mix.

Warren: Fantastic.

Trey: Tip number three.

Warren: Un, deux, trois.

Trey: This might be something if you’re a little more experience with metal might seem kind of obvious, but it took me very long to figure this out, and that is that high gain metal amps, specifically ones like rectifier of any kind, a lot of Mesa Boogie stuff, 5150s too sometimes, right out of the box, they are not very friendly. Especially for a mix. That’s because the low end can be really flubby. They can be just a little too gnarly.

So what you want to do is tighten them up a little bit and make them behave better by boosting them with some kind of an overdrive, and what you do is it’s got to be in front of the amp, it’s not in the effects loop, you put it right into the input, some kind of a Tube Screamer variant, there are literally hundreds of them on the market. You just crank up the output on the Tube Screamer, turn the gain all the way down, then use the tone knob — it basically turns up the high end a little bit, and the low end it just tightens it up.

Warren: See, it might be obvious to you, but I’ve never heard that before, but it makes perfect sense, because the Tube Screamer — actually, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the Tube Screamer is a unique pedal, because the Tube Screamer has this kind of solidity in the mid-range, that other overdrives — I mean, I grew up with an OD-1 of course, the classic Boss pedal, which is a great overdrive, and a DS-1 distortion.

When the first Tube Screamers came out, one of the things that was remarkable about them was they had this sort of solidity. I often wondered, and I don’t know the answer, I often wonder if they took the clean signal in the distortion and fed it back into itself. It almost feels like even when you use the Tube Screamer as a distortion pedal, there’s always that clean kind of solidity to it.


So what you’re saying makes perfect sense, because it has a very, very focused mid-range. So I get that. I wish I’d thought of that. Smart.

Trey: It was almost like a — I don’t want to say lo-fi, but it seems like they didn’t really intend for that to happen. I don’t know for sure, but it’s — normally, when you have something passing through an effect, unless it’s an EQ, you don’t want it to narrow the frequency range of the sound coming out, but it does that. It brings down a little in the high end as well. Sort of the extreme high end of your signal, and brings down that low end, so especially when you’re doing palm mutes, that’s when it’s really obvious. If you palm mute a Rectifier when the gain is cranked up, you’ll feel it, and I think it just sounds like garbage, because it blats out.

Warren: There’s a certain amp manufacturer who will remain nameless, later, when we’re off camera. Later, that the bottom ends are just dreadful on. Rectifiers have issues, but this other one…

Trey: Yeah, and I don’t know why they don’t fix that. Like, I mean, I guess what happens is you get a certain name, people want it to be the same thing that they heard or whatever.

Warren: They probably don’t fix it because guys like you know a workaround, and with the workaround, probably comes something that’s even more unique. It’s a bit like — you know, Leo Fender didn’t design the pickups on a Strat to have five positions. They put that in, because they started figuring out, “Oh, people are doing this weird out of phase sound.” No, it’s really cool. People liked that sound. So it’s almost like, they’re probably selling more of those amps, because guys like you, like you said, this is common knowledge for metal guys, and news for me.

Trey: Well, people don’t — you’d hear about somebody playing a certain amp, and you don’t hear about the pedal, so if somebody goes out and buys the amp because they think that’s the jam, when really, it’s the combination of the two.

Like I said, there’s a lot of different Tube Screamer variations and clones out there. The one I use is — actually, they don’t make it anymore, so that’s not really going to help you that much, but it’s the VFE Ice Scream, and I like it because you can dial in the amount of high pass and low pass, so you can make it really tight. VFE.

Warren: VFE I Scream?

Trey: Ice Scream.

Warren: Oh, Ice Scream.

Trey: Yeah, but if you can’t get one of those, the Earthquaker Palisades is another — it does basically the same thing. It has a wheel of tightness. You’ve got six different levels of tightness to — actually, the sixth one is way too much. It sounds like all of a sudden, you’re playing a Tele. It’s just clanky and twangy. It’s a glorious pedal. It has six different kinds of clipping in one pedal. It’s a great pedal, I love it.

Warren: What’s it called again?

Trey: The Earthquaker Palisades. Yeah, so that’s kind of an advanced Tube Screamer. You can use just ye olde TS9 or TS808.

Warren: Are you of the same camp as Glenn and a handful of other people that the 5150 is the best amp for this process?

Trey: It’s definitely going to give you a sound that you will recognize, and will — you can not go wrong with just an off the shelf, typical amp that’s widely available. Yeah, 5150, 6505, 5150 III, that whole kind of thing. I don’t like the new 6505s, I think they’re really badly made, I’ve heard terrible stories of them just dying on the road, whereas the old ones, you can get ones from the late 90’s used on Craigslist, and it’ll be a tank and never break. So nothing wrong with that. And the 5150 IIIs are badass.

Warren: Tip number quatro.

Trey: Reamping is a really big deal these days, and it makes perfect sense, it’s very flexible, you don’t have to get the exact tone in the moment that you’re going for. You can track anywhere, etcetera. But something most people don’t consider is when you’re recording your DI tracks to be reamped later, you want to use an amp sound, whether it’s a sim or if you’ve got just a real amp there for monitoring, you want it as close to the final product as you can get it, and that’s because you’re going to play differently depending on the sound that you’re hearing while you’re playing.

So good monitoring is the basic lesson here, but whether you’re using some kind of plugin, like I just use EZ Mix a lot of the time, just because it’s very low latency, it doesn’t take up a lot of DSP. I can have a lot of instances on it in my DAW and all of that. I’m try to find something that’s really close to what I’m going to use when I’m reamping. So that’s very important. Definitely try to really get a sound that you’re used to.

Warren: Questions. So reamping. Do you have a favorite reamp box? Way of bringing it back into amps? How do you?

Trey: Yes. I use the Two Notes Torpedo Reload, because it’s an all in one. It’s a DI box, it’s a reload box, and it’s a reamp box, and it’s just everything that you need for reamping. It’s not cheap, but it’s not that expensive, especially compared to the other stuff, like the Torpedo Studio is kind of expensive. It’s got built in cab sims and power amps sims, and stuff like that, which can be really handy, but I don’t need that for recording, because I’ve got all of that in-the-box.

Warren: Excellent.

Trey: Yeah. So that’s a great tool. Really good tool.

Warren: So what’s it called again?

Trey: Two Notes Torpedo Reload.

Warren: Two Notes Torpedo Reload. Picture floating below here.

Trey: Let’s have the picture float right around here. Sort of love that thing.

Warren: One thing I will — just thinking about as well — what I love about printing a DI, along with an amp track, it makes editing a lot easier.

Trey: Yeah.

Warren: I mean, because when you’ve got heavy, heavy tones, even the rock I do, which is not metal, it doesn’t matter. As soon as my Marshall goes into overdrive, there’s no transient. It’s just blob, blob, blob, and that’s even without compression. And the great thing about having a DI is we don’t edit by eye sight alone, you want to listen and decide when something is out of time, but god, it’s so much easier to say, “Oh look, there’s the transient, I’m that much later or earlier,” then push it back to where you want it to be. You still listen, you use your ears, don’t use your eyes. Don’t look in time, but it’s a wonderful vision cue.

Trey: Yeah. I have a whole video on how to edit — or how I edit guitars. I talk about all this kind of stuff, and I do a DI. I don’t ever wait until after reamping, because it’s too hard.

Warren: Last but not least, tip number five.

Trey: Tip number five has to do with the guitar itself. Muting excess string ringing and springs. Strings and springs we’ll call it. When it comes to recording super high gain guitars, and metal is, as far as I know, the highest gain that you will probably ever have to deal with as an engineer and as a producer, so what you want to do is before you start recording, make sure you have somehow silenced the excess strings.

Now, you can have that — depending on the guitar, it can be at both ends. If you have a headstock, there are little bits of string that go past the nut. You can’t mute those while you’re playing, unless you have three hands. So I put a piece of foam at the headstock. You can also use tape. You can use painters tape or masking tape, or you can get a fret wrap. What’s the company… Groove Gear Fret Wraps. That’s a commercial version.

It’s funny, you watch old videos of Paul Gilbert or John Petrucci playing in the 90’s, and they’ll have a sock wrapped around, or a tissue or something wrapped around to mute that, because they’re playing with ridiculous amounts of high gain, and those strings ringing out will make it into the recording, like, you’ll hear these little pings, or this kind of meh, and there’s nothing you can do about that.

Warren: How did that go?

Trey: [repeats sound] remix that. Anyway, if you have a Tune-O-Matic style bridge, you can also have bits of string going from the bridge to the body of the guitar, and that’s going to be worse, because it’s right next to the pickups. So some piece of foam or tape, whatever, just do it. Unless — nobody is going to know. Okay? We won’t tell. Some people are going to — I can hear the comments already like, “eh,” when I did this on my channel, I got so much irrational hate, and it’s coming, there’s nothing you can do about it, but I won’t tell if you do it, nobody is going to know, and your recording is going to sound so much better and so much cleaner so just do it.

Oh, springs. Floyd Rose or whatever. Any kind of tremolo system is going to have springs in the back. Even Steve Vai, the god of whammy bar, okay? Has tissue paper in the cavity of his guitar to silence those springs. You can also buy noiseless springs. If you use your whammy bar a lot, and it bothers you, they manufacture noiseless springs. You can get them online. I think has them.

Warren: Fantastic. Well, what an amazing top 5, part 1.

Trey: Part 1.

Warren: We say part 1, because we didn’t cover vocals, or drums, Peruvian Sphincter flute.

Trey: Keyboards. That’s a big one. Our dude Alex whose studio space this actually is, will I’m sure have some glorious tips about keyboards.

Warren: Nice. Well thank you ever so much.

Trey: Oh yeah, you’re most welcome. It was fun.

Warren: Appreciate it. Of course, leave some comments and questions below for Trey. I will coerce him into answering them.

Trey: I’ll think about it if you ask good questions.

Warren: Alright, have a marvelous time recording and mixing, thank you very much.


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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