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Tips for Mixing Guitars

Transcript
In this video, I’m going to show you some tips for mixing guitars. I’ll be using Neutron 2, but you can follow along with whatever plugins you have at your disposal.

A fast and simple way to get guitar tracks nice and wide is by using the width slider, which is right down here. It’s not flashy. In fact, you might have easily overlooked it. Now, I bussed my guitars to a submix, which means that all of these guitars — guitar 1, guitar 2, and guitar swell are being bussed to a group with its own Neutron 2 instantiated, which we’re seeing right in front of us here, and by using the width slider, a quick swipe to the right and things really open up. Have a listen.

[guitars]

Now, let’s do a before and after. Here’s a before with just the soloed guitars.

[guitars, without widening and with]

And here’s a before and after in the mix.

[mix, before and after widening]

When dealing with guitar submixes, you’re often presented with a complex combination of frequencies, positioning, and dynamics. If you need some direction, Neutron 2’s Track Assistant can get you started after just a few basic questions.

Now, most people think of Track Assistant as a kind of tool for individual instruments, and while it is great for that, placing it on a subgroup or submix can be just as helpful as using it on a single track.

So once you have your returns grouped, using Neutron 2, open Track Assistant and just answer a few questions. The first thing I’ll do is tell Track Assistant right away that we’re going to process some guitars by choosing guitar from the dropdown instrument menu.

Next, I’ll choose a style of processing that suits my song. In my case, I’m going to go for a style of upfront and an intensity of high.

Now, if I’m not playing any music, Track Assistant will kindly tell me to get some audio running so that it can listen and create a custom preset for me. So for example, if I press next with no audio playing, I get this little dialogue, so we’ll get the process started and I’ll hit the spacebar.

[guitars]

So only after a few seconds, we have a custom preset created for our guitar submix. Now, we can use this preset as a starting point and tweak it further. We can disregard it completely and start from scratch, or just accept the changes and keep mixing. It’s all up to you. Now, let’s hear the before and afters.

First, just on the guitars, and then throughout the whole mix. I’ll press accept, and here’s just the guitars.

[guitars]

So it sounds like those guitars are much more saturated and definitely up front.

Now let’s do a before and after in the mix.

[mix, before and after Track Assistant]

So when you need some direction for subgroup mixing, get started with Neutron 2’s Track Assistant.

When playing acoustic and electric guitars, the intensity of the attack is influenced by many factors, including the properties of the pick, the gauge, age, and material of the strings, pickup selection, playing technique, and much, much more.

Now, if the attack is overpowering and distracting, or too subtle and soft, try using the transient shaper in Neutron 2 to adjust it.

For example, in this track, the down strokes on this guitar are a little harsh and overpowering. In fact, the whole character of the guitar is a little intense. So I can use the Transient Shaper to tame those harsh attacks.

Listen to those down strokes of this guitar before I use the Transient Shaper in Neutron 2 to tame them.

[guitar, before Transient Shaper]

Here’s after.

[guitar, after Transient Shaper]

So I achieved this softer sound on the down strokes of the guitar by pulling down the attack of the transients in the low and mid bands right here.

If I double-click them, I can return them to their default position, like this, and all I did was slide them down to a point where I felt the guitars’ attacks were much softer and less pronounced.

Now, you might want to leave one of the bands alone, depending on the nature of the guitar track. In my case, I could see that the attacks were quite present in the low and mid bands, but in the upper bands, they weren’t too present there. And also, I can solo any of these bands by pressing the S button here, for example, which corresponds to this treble, or high band, up here.

If I press play with this button engaged, we’re only going to hear the content in this frequency selection.

[guitar, high frequencies]

I can do the same thing for the mid.

[guitar, mid frequencies]

And lower band.

[guitar, low frequencies]

I can also bypass the effects of the changes that I made by lowering the attack by pressing this B button while I’m still soloed in the lower band. So now the move that I made here on the attack slider is bypassed so we’re not going to hear it.

[guitar, low frequencies]

And now if I unbypass it, we can hear the effects of me lowering the attack on just that slider in just the low band. Now what if I wanted to do the opposite? Let’s say increase the punchiness of those down strokes and the overall character of the guitar.

I can go the other way on the sliders, like this.

Now let’s hear that before and after. Here’s before.

[guitars, before attack increase]

Here’s after.

[guitars, after attack increase]

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So by using this multiband Transient Shaper in Neutron 2, we can help the guitar settle into the mix, or help it totally stand out in the mix.

Guitarists hop around the fretboard a lot. They never stay in one place for very long. As they’re moving up and down the neck playing their fingers off, some instruments produce drastically different levels. Sometimes, it’s a zone of just one or two frets on the low strings that yields a noticeably louder sound, and with more low end than sounds appropriate.

Neutron 2’s Dynamic EQ allows you to control those resonant low frequencies, without removing them throughout the entire performance.

Now, they could be low or high, but have a listen to this guitar passage and see if you can pick out the louder notes in the riff.

[guitar]

Now to really hone in on where we might be getting those loud, sour, if you will, frequencies, I can use the Option, or Alt on a PC, and click function to sweep around the frequency spectrum.

I’ll do that right now.

[filtered guitar]

Now after that Option+Click technique, I think I have a pretty good idea of where the sour notes are, but if I needed a little extra help, I can use the EQ learn function in Neutron 2.

So when I press this Learn button, the EQ nodes are going to move around and eventually settle over areas of sonic importance like a resonant peak, a rumble, etcetera.

Before I press learn, I’m just going to enable a few more nodes to get a more complete picture here. I enabled node 6 and node 8, and let’s turn on node 4 too.

Now, when I’m ready, I’ll press play, then I’ll press the Learn button to get the process of EQ learn started.

[guitar]

Now again, using the Option+Click function, I’m going to see where those nodes have landed.

[filtered guitar]

So I definitely think that that node 6, we’re hearing a little bit of sourness, so I’m going to dip this node down and I’m also going to make it a dynamic node by pressing, “Dynamic Mode” right here.

Now that I have this pressed, what’s going to happen is this node is going to suppress harshness only when the frequency energy gets passed a level, which triggers the filter via the threshold right down here.

I’m also going to dip at 7 over here, because I’m hearing a little bit of harshness there. I’m going to do a little bit more tweaking. First turning this into a dynamic node as well, and then I’ll see where we stand after that.

[guitar]

So I have made some cuts dynamically to notes six and seven at around 2,000 and about 2,600Hz. Let’s do before and after to hear if we’ve reduced the sort of harshness of those sour notes. Here’s before.

[guitar, before dynamic EQ]

And here’s after.

[guitar, after dynamic EQ]

And now I’ll do some before and afters on the fly.

[guitar, before and after EQ]

So to my ears, the guitar passes still sounds great, but we’ve managed to sort of dip out those two really sort of harsh frequencies and make this track work a little bit better in the mix.

Sometimes, mixing is all about prioritizing certain elements over others, and in the case of a guitar and a vocal, usually it’s the vocal that needs to be in the spotlight. But we don’t want the guitar to disappear altogether. By using the masking meter and dynamic frequency sidechaining in Neutron 2, we can ensure that the guitar and the vocals sit together well in a mix.

Have a listen to this before and after. In the before, I want you to listen to how the guitar and the vocal are almost overlapping with one another. Here’s before.

[guitar and vocal, before processing]

In the after, listen to how the vocal and the guitar are no longer fighting for space, specifically in the mid-range, thanks to Neutron 2. Have a listen.

[guitar and vocal, after processing]

So now that vocal is much more clear and up front, because it’s no longer fighting for space with the guitar in the mid-range. Let’s do some quick before and afters so you can really perceive this effect, starting off first with the before.

[vocals and guitars, before and after]

Now let me show you how I achieved this separation. The first thing I did is I wanted to see if any masking was occurring between the lead vocal and the guitar number 2. So I went to my lead vocal track, which is right over here, and I instantiated Neutron 2. So we see that we have Neutron 2 on this track. It’s named Lead Vocal.

Now the next thing I did was I opened up the masking meter in Neutron 2 by pressing the masking button right here and choosing lead vocal. So now I see my lead vocal’s Neutron EQ right below my guitar number 2 EQ. When I press play, I then look to see if there was any visual feedback indicating masking between these two tracks. In other words, I’m looking to see if there are any frequency collisions between the guitar and the vocal track.

[vocals and guitar]

So at iZotope, we call these white flashes, “Northern Lights,” which are indicating where some masking might be occurring. Frequencies colliding with each other causing muddiness. Now if I up the sensitivity meter here, I can see an additional layer of visual feedback with these little pink chutes that emerge.

So these pink chutes indicate critical masking that could be occurring. Now, as we observe this visual feedback, I should point out that the goal of the masking meter isn’t to make the Northern Lights or the pink bars disappear, but to use them as a guide to help make an informed decision about how to make your mix better.

Now getting back to working on the guitar and the vocal, I decided to make a dip on node number 3 on the guitar, because usually, a vocal and a guitar share a lot of information frequency wise in the mid-range, and remember, I want the vocal to stand out in that range, not necessarily the guitar, but I didn’t stop there after making this dip. I also decided to make node number 3 a dynamic node. Now, if I go down here, I can toggle between dynamic and static node mode by pressing this button.

After that, I sidechained it to the lead vocal, so that every time the vocal has some activity in that range, the guitar dips at around 1kHz or so. I did that by going to the sidechain input and choosing my lead vocal.

Then I went down and chose, “External Full.” So again, every time the vocal is active in that specific frequency range, node number 3 dips down dynamically to let the vocal through the guitar part.

Again, here’s before.

[vocals and guitar, before and after]

Thanks so much for watching this video. I hope that the tips and tricks that we showed you here empower you to mix guitars more creatively and more confidently.

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