How to Get a Bigger Electric Guitar Sound Without Overpowering a Mix
These multi-tracks came to us via David Glenn Recording, David Glenn of course being a fellow contributor to The Pro Audio Files and a friend of mine. So check out his site, you can download these multi-tracks, and you can work on them too. It’s a great exercise.
This is going to be about alt-rock guitars. This is specifically pertaining to a style that we’re bringing in from the mid-90’s. That sort of alt-rock pop sort of thing that makes you think of rollerskating arenas.
Here we go.
So these guitars, they’re not bad, but they’re not great. I don’t mean in terms of the playing, I don’t mean in terms of the actual guitar tone and things like that, I mean it is good, but in terms of the production side of things, we’re a little bit at a loss, because we want a very full, thick, powerful sound, and what we’re kind of getting right off the bat is something that’s a little bit flat and a little bit two dimensional.
So a lot of the rock style of production is really, really embedded into the tracking phase, and the tracking phase, being able to get really great recordings is something that is becoming slimmer and slimmer, because people are doing it a lot more DIY, and tracking is really an experience that we get when we are interning and assisting in the studio.
So for example, with this particular style of music, I have to give a lot of credit to Denise Barbarita, who showed me a wonderful technique for getting really full sounding guitars that don’t take up a lot of space. When you have your rhythm track, after you get your primary rhythms, you then change the mic and possibly change the cab, and get something that’s a lot more band-limited, particularly to the frequency range that is really going to make the guitars cut, somewhere between that 400 to 1.2kHz kind of mid-band, so that ultimately, you use something like a ribbon, or something like a dynamic, but you kind of tilt it away so that you start losing bass and you start losing high end, and ultimately, what you’re looking for is a natural form of filtering. It doesn’t really quite sound the same when you just take the same setup and filter it, for whatever reason, and I think part of it is because you end up getting a lot more dimension this way.
So you combine that, and you tuck it under, that band limited version, and it just — it adds a sense of fullness without ever really taking up extra space in the mix. Well, we don’t have that, so we’re going to have to work on really getting these guitars to sing and come home.
So I’m going to play the guitars one more time, I’m going to bring them into the mix, I’m going to show option A, and then explain why option A is not really the best choice in this particular case.
[Option A, guitars]
So option A, and I always, always encourage people to start with option A, is to just turn them up. Let’s see what happens.
Option A is not terrible. What we could do is we could go with that, and try to get some of the mud out, and effectively, that’s what I start doing, except for I start doing it in reverse, but basically, the issue here is that it doesn’t solve the problem of the guitars kind of sounding a little flat and a little dull, and they’re also now sort of eating a lot of space, and so things are getting a little bit muddy.
So option A definitely would require some work. Now, we could do some subtractive EQ and things like that, and that’s exactly what we end up doing. So my first move is to do some EQ.
What I’m going to do is I am going to bring it up in the mix here. You can see that my gain knob is coming way up, and I am then going to suck out all of that mid-range that is making things clunky. Alright?
[mix, before EQ]
[mix, after EQ]
So I’m going to do that one more time, and I want you to listen to the vocals. Alright?
What I’d like to point out is that a lot of really cool things happen here. The first is that we never really lose the clarity of the vocals. They do sink back, but we never actually lose — we can’t — it’s not like our ear is starting to have trouble finding them, right?
The other thing that’s really cool is that suddenly, the vocals go from sounding like they’re above the track to being inside the track, so we’re really accomplishing quite a bit by turning up the guitars and taking out this muddy tone that happened to be around 350Hz. I’m also adding a tiny bit of bite in the treble range, but that’s not that significant. That was more of an after thought kind of thing.
Now, the next thing that I am doing is I am band limiting the guitars a little bit. This looks like I’m taking out a lot of top end. I’m actually not. I’m only really rolling stuff off from like, 7kHz plus, most of the guitar is not up there. It’s just to allow the cymbals to breathe, and allow the low end of the bass and kick to breathe. That’s all I’m really trying to do with this EQ. So this is not anything crazy.
The cool thing is you barely notice any difference, and that’s exactly the point. We shouldn’t notice any real difference in the guitars. What we should notice is a slight bit of extra clarity in the cymbals, bass, and kick. So that’s nothing that crazy.
So I mentioned before that one of the techniques that was used to make this fuller guitar sound is to have some other guitars playing the same part that had been tucked down to just make it feel thicker.
Well, we didn’t have that, so what I’m going to do is use the Waves Doubler. The Waves Doubler is basically going to make a copy of the signal. I’m going to detune it by a very, very small amount. So I have a minus five over here on my right guitar, I have plus thirteen. Both of these are very small distuning. Plus thirteen is actually marginally a little too much in most cases, but I’m also turning those signals way down, so what they’re going to do is ultimately make a thicker type of tone.
And I’ll bring them in and out as I play it real quick.
Now, that is a really subtle thing. This is something where I feel like you should replicate it yourself and get your ear around it, because this is really a thing where you feel it more than you hear it. It just feels thicker, it feels more alive. It also does a subtle bit of modulation, which you know, can be a bad thing, but it’s actually not necessarily a bad thing, and the very last thing that I’m going to do is use this saturator, which is sort of a compressor meets saturator, to thicken up the tone, put a little squeeze on it, and it’s going to make things even a little fuller still.
Notice we still haven’t lost the vocals. Pretty important.
So there’s a number of ways to do this. You can do this with a compressor that has a tone that you like, you can do it with a distortion that you prefer, I’ve had a lot of success with the Vintage Warmer, and I recommend trying it with this. This is a plug-in that takes a little minute to get adjusted to, but it’s really cool.
So there’s a lot of ways to do it. That just happens to be the one that’s working for me, but we’re thinking analog. We’re thinking harmonic distortion, we’re thinking crunch, we’re thinking squeeze, we’re thinking gain, we’re thinking those kinds of terms.
Then the very last thing that I want to do is to give it a sense of dimension, I’m going to add a room capture, using the UAD Ocean Way, which is a really cool reverb, and here’s what it sounds like.
[UAD Ocean Way on guitars]
It creates a super realistic sounding room. It’s pretty incredible how much that sounds like a real room, and I’m using the far away capture setting using re-mic mode, because this to me sounds the most similar to that Arena Rock kind of room tone. Obviously, we could use springs, we could use plates, but in this particular case, I want a big room kind of sound, and I don’t have it up very loud. It’s about 11 decibels down from the original guitar capture, but when I bring it in, it does certainly make a difference.
Now what I’m going to do, because you might be saying all of this stuff is really subtle, right?
What I’m going to do is I’m going to take my doublers off, and my Vintage Warmer effect off, because those are the subtlest things, and I am then going to bring them back on, and the difference will be much more pronounced.
[mix, before and after doublers and Vintage Warmer]
So there are two take aways here. First, the techniques that I’ve shown you. I think that these are things that you should experiment with, I think you should log them into your toolkit, and use them when it’s appropriate, when you’re trying to create these effects.
The other thing is that all of this comes from a background of experience and knowledge, knowing what I’m trying to go for. Knowing how I would do it in an ideal situation, and ultimately, trying to replicate it through the mixing process.
Now, best case scenario, we get it right in the tracking and production phase, but mixing exists so that we can further the tracking and production phase, so if something didn’t happen, like extra guitars weren’t tracked, then we figure out a way to work around and create a similar effect.
Does it sound the same, no. Sometimes it sounds better actually, but the point is, that’s what we’re going for. We hear in our heads what we want, and then we experiment and try to get there.
Alright guys, hope that you learned something. Until next time.