How to Digitally Restring Your Guitar
You guys must think I’ve lost it, right? Why else would I be talking about putting strings on an instrument that was recorded a month ago? Stick with me, because this one could really salvage some of your mixes…
Let’s step back for a minute and look at a guitarist that we’ve all met at some point. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Rusty.
Rusty absolutely hates changing his strings. He’s under the impression that between all his pedals and gain, nobody’s going to hear the difference between a new set and the ones he’s had on his guitar since the last tour in 2015.
Rusty’s mantra is that he’ll play his “lucky strings” until they break, and even then, he’ll have to consider if he needs to restring, or if he’ll just switch to his other guitar (spoiler: those strings have been on there since he bought it off Craigslist in 2010).
I know you already get what’s wrong with this picture, but like I said from the start, Rusty’s parts have already been recorded. We’re in the mix now, and wondering why anyone would’ve agreed to recording these dull, lifeless parts. Hindsight is 20/20, so how do we fix this mess?
Replacing Strings with Transify
When you find yourself in the ruts of well-recorded, poorly maintained guitars (or other stringed instruments) it’s easy to get disheartened. You know that the intentions were good, but the execution missed a step somewhere along the way. It’s not limited to guitars – but for instruments that are difficult or expensive to restring too (looking at you, $50+ bass strings).
Luckily, multi-band transient processors can pump some major life back into dull strings. What can a tool like Transify do that other plugins can’t?
Since you’re isolating frequency bands, you can treat just the range of the transient that is missing in the guitar tone. For dull guitar strings, this usually means a bump around the upper-mid range. Playing around with the attack and sustain can result in a natural sounding guitar tone than you’re able to pull out of a take with dull strings.
Is it a replacement for proper guitar maintenance and restringing before a recording session? Not at all, but it can certainly save you in a pinch and can save you a ton of time that would otherwise have to be spent retracking guitars.
You’ll need to play with the cut-off and frequency bands depending on the tuning and instrument, but with a bit of critical listening, finding the missing transient content can become second nature.
Still Not Getting Your Desired Result?
Transify includes a clip circuit for especially difficult sources that need a little more push. More often than not, adding a bit of frequency-specific peak clipping can help put your tone in the right zone.
If that doesn’t cut it, you may have to step back and analyze what else is potentially “off” on the track. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of enabling a different band in the plugin and dialing back some sustain there.
Important Reminder: Digital Restringing is Not A Permanent Solution
Once you’ve fixed the problem in your mix, it’s important that you provide feedback to whoever was responsible for the recording. If you recorded the guitar yourself, you’ll want to let the guitarist know to restring before his or her next session if they want the best results.
Unless your guitarist likes their “lucky rust”, most are open to doing what it takes to get a good recording (especially if they’re paying you for it).
Do You Know a “Rusty”?
Friends don’t let friends record with dull strings. Feel free to forward them this post so they know what a headache they put you through each time you need to fix it in the mix for them. They’ll appreciate you more for what you do, and you’ll always be able to remind them about what you told them regarding new strings at each session.
It’s a win-win for everyone, except Rusty’s old strings in the trash.