8 Ideas For Building A Better Guitar Mix
In rock & metal, your guitars are your lifeblood. Sure, the vocals are the focal point at the center of the mix, the drums need to sound big, and the bass needs to be full and powerful, but guitars are the one element of your mix that can be stacked one on top of another filling out a huge amount of space in your mix.
Adding all of these stacks can be a huge time-consuming process, and it’s easy to loose inspiration when tracking the same thing over and over again. In order to keep the creative juices flowing, here are eight of the biggest ways you can add variety and depth to your wall of guitars:
8. Double Tracking
Perhaps the most commonly used technique; double tracking is a great way to add variety to your guitar sound. By tracking the same exact thing twice, you end up with small variations in timing and tone. These variations give you harmonic complexity, making your listener’s ears perk up.
Double tracked guitars are often hard-panned left and right to create a pseudo-stereo guitar tone.
For those that don’t play consistently enough to double-track effectively, or those that are under a time crunch in the studio, time shifting can be a great alternative. Time shifting involved making a duplicate of your guitar track and nudging it a few milliseconds out of time with the original. The offset created should have similar tonal characteristics to an actual double-tracked guitar.
A word of caution: If you’re time-shifting guitars, make sure you’re checking for phase cancellation between the two tracks. While a little cancellation is inevitable, too much won’t do anything to improve your sound.
Another option for those limited to a single guitar track is to use a slapback delay to create a copy of the original guitar. When done correctly, this slapback technique remains relatively transparent, with a fast delay time and similar volume to the original.
If you’re looking to make a copy of your guitar using a delay, create a send from the original to a new aux track set to nominal gain (0 dB). Then, add your favorite delay to the aux track and set it to a super short delay time (10-20 ms should suffice).
One of my favorite plugins for this is SOAR because of its tape delay features. By adjusting the age and contour of the tape, I can actually add some harmonic variation to the aux track as opposed to a traditional delay that would just make an identical copy.
Like peanut butter and jelly, reverb and delays always find their way into these lists side by side. If one is going to give you width, you might as well use the other to create depth!
A good reverb is going to place your guitars in a room – but the room selection is up to you. If you’re feeling like your room needs to set the vibe of an intimate performance, go with something small with plenty of early reflections. If you’re going for over-the-top superstardom, a cathedral or stadium setting is completely acceptable.
4. Spatial Widening
Widening is a tool that can be used just as easily as a reverb or delay in the mix. A spatial widener can be added to almost any track in your session – mono, stereo, aux, etc… Wherever you see fit!
My only caution with a widener is on a mono track, where you should be sure you’re using a mono-compatible widener like SideWidener, without it, you might end up with something that sounds great when played back in stereo, but disappears completely when listening on a mono speaker (like a cell phone).
3. Lots of Amps
Sometimes the most exciting way to add variety to a guitar tone is running it through different amps! Using virtual guitar rigs like Toneforge Menace and Toneforge Guilty Pleasure, you can get all kinds of distorted, high-gain options, as well as cleans and everything in between. By having these amp options in-the-box you can do some non-destructive experimentation to find the tones that work best for you.
2. Supplements with Impulse Responses
Amps alone are only half the battle – you can get just as much variety out of a good impulse response pack. Impulse responses commonly get overlooked when engineers and mixers are looking to add new sounds to a mix. Instead, they just find a setting that works once and don’t revisit it.
If you’re looking to add another guitar track, you might as well take the time to find a new cab that works for it. Using the same cab over and over in a mix can begin to sound stale, but adding variety will help the overall depth of your guitar tone. When it takes 30 seconds to toggle through 20 tones, don’t you think it’s worth the effort?
1. Finish as a Single Instrument
Much like your drums should be bussed down to a stereo aux for group processing so should your guitars. With all of these tonal variations and options, you need something common to tie them all together. Most of the time, this will come in the form of bus compression.
Tools like BG-Guitars are optimized for these exact situations, and glue your guitars together in a way that sounds full and harmonically pleasing. Consider it the icing on the cake, whether it’s a single-layer or some towering creation of your own.
Did We Miss Anything?
Are you doing anything else to create a fuller, wider guitar mix that I forgot to add here?
If so, let us know over on the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum, where engineers and producers are sharing their experiences each and every day.