Guitar Editing Essentials

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As many self-recording guitarists learn quickly, getting a great sounding performance into a mix is way harder than it might seem. It’s not as if you can simply plug in and play – you’ve got to take into account a whole slew of techniques that aren’t required when you’re not the engineer and all you have to do is worry about your performance. 

For this reason and more – the stakes are higher than ever when tracking guitar parts. Fortunately, the barrier to entry is lower than ever too. 

With a bit of understanding about what goes into the editing process for recorded guitars, you can easily set yourself up for success by creating an amazing guitar mix regardless of if you’re brand new to recording or a seasoned professional. The industry is constantly moving toward this streamlined approach where the people who can wear many hats are gaining the most traction.

Don’t get lost in the shuffle and get your best guitar recordings yet by implementing these essential guitar-editing techniques. 

Your DI Signal Is Important 

There are so many producers and engineers out there today who don’t seem to give enough credit to how much your tone is affected by poor quality components. It’s not that the Hi-Z input on their interface won’t work, but you’ve got to question how something made to support a guitar signal, line signal & any instrument input you can throw at it will live up to the task of servicing all three categories.

That’s not to bash them – most of these manufacturers have done a great job creating something portable and powerful, but they just can’t measure up to the dedicated devices.

While a couple hundred dollars for a dedicated DI might seem steep when you consider the price of most entry-level interfaces, they’re truly a key element of your setup if you’re doing a lot of direct recording. We even have a guide to help you pick the right one.

At the end of the day, the cleaner and better defined your signal is, the easier time you’ll have editing it. Clean edits require obvious and pronounced transients. They demand a certain level of quality or you’re at the mercy of freehand edits and lots of guess-and-check work. Your software works its best when you make it easy for it to interpret the incoming signal.

Common Editing Techniques

If guitar edits (and really most instrument edits, for that matter) could be boiled down to just two things, it would be cutting and stretching.

The whole editing process can take as much or as little time as you have to commit to it, but I can speak from personal experience and say that every little bit helps. Having tight, pocketed guitars doesn’t happen naturally – even the best players have some variations in their performances.

Start with the essentials of editing: cutting and stretching. 

Making Cuts In Your Guitar Tracks

Cutting is the process of making a destructive slice in your audio track/waveform. The process is rooted in the analog realm of tape, where physically cutting the tape would allow you to slip forward and backward in time by miniscule increments.

In your DAW, these cuts are far more refined and a bit less destructive than they used to be. Most DAWs have a Heal feature in the event you misplace your cut and need to start over. Once cut, you’re able to slip or nudge that separated audio track forward or backward to find it’s sweet spot on the grid. 

If you’re just starting out with cutting audio, I have two recommendations to make:

  1. Be cautious of leaving empty space in your tracks (stretching audio can fix this)
  2. Make your cuts in pairs to prevent moving more of the track than you intend to

Follow these two guidelines and you’ll find yourself able to chop up any guitar track in no time.

Stretching Your Guitar Parts

While not as destructive as cutting, stretching audio can be a great way to get it to fit perfectly into your mix as well. There are tools available that will allow you to transform your guitar doubles to align with a reference track, but plenty of engineers are using default DAW features to drag parts out just a little bit longer and shorten parts that ring out just a bit too long.

Just like with cutting, you never want to bite off more than you can chew. Focus on making small edits with anchor points on both sides as you start working with the timing of your guitar tracks. Stretch something too far and you’ll introduce artifacts – inconsistencies in your signal that make it obvious it’s been edited. Your end listener will never notice subtler movements – they’ll just think your guitars are played extremely tight & consistent. 

Have The Right Post-Edit Chain

After you’ve completed your edits, it can be useful to listen back to each track in isolation. Listen for imperfections that could still be in your signal before you go into a virtual rig or back out to a live rig through a reamp box. It’ll be easier to clean them up here than after they’ve been compressed, distorted & run through other effects.

Many engineers choose to stay right in the box to avoid any degradation of their signal and to work with a full-spectrum source (the DI track). A DI recording will often remain clearer, especially in the lower register, than a live-tracked instrument simply because those speaker cabinets don’t reproduce sound accurately outside of what they’re rated for.

Guitarists like Misha Mansoor recognize this issue with their extended range guitars that often go beyond what a regular guitar cabinet can handle, which is why they choose virtual guitar rigs and digital processors time and time again. It’s not that you can’t get a good sound from a live amp – you just gain so much more flexibility in the box. 

Guitar Tone Made Easy 

While editing clearly plays an essential role in your overall guitar quality, the tracking process and the mixing process are just as important. If any one part of the process is broken, the rest of the efforts won’t have nearly as much impact. It’s why you need to be equipped to take your guitar tone from start to finish in each and every session, even if you’ll ultimately be handing it off to someone else to work their magic. 

If you’re looking to gain insight into the parts of the guitar recording and mixing process that you don’t have exposure to today, look no further than our eBook, The Ultimate Tone Bible. Inside, I give you over 50 pages of professional tips and tricks for the best DIs, cleanest edits & heaviest guitar mixes imaginable. 

Get your copy today!

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