Guitar production is key to a great rock or metal mix, and there are certain elements of tracking and mixing that have become commonplace in modern productions. While some of them are age-old tricks that have been modernized, and others are new techniques that engineers couldn’t have even dreamt of a couple decades ago, these practices are something you should be putting in place on every session you hope to see the light of day.
If you’re not, you’re going to be missing out to your competition.
Bigger, Wider Guitars
Huge guitars are nothing new – the wall of sound has been something engineers have strived for since the 60s. For modern rock & metal engineers, the wall of sound can most commonly be achieved by doubling (or even quad tracking) your guitars.
By tracking the same performance more than once, you’re able to achieve slight timing and phase variations that copying & pasting alone cannot attain. Even the best guitarists won’t be able to lock into a phase-perfect groove for an entire song, and that’s exactly what we want.
These double tracked guitars give us a thicker, fuller sound that we can pan wide to create width and depth in our songs. But double tracking alone isn’t enough…
Creating Tonal Variations
Tonal variety is the second half of an ideal double tracked tone. By capturing two performances, you’re picking up on the timing differences, but your tone is going to be nearly identical. For the average listener, this isn’t enough to distinguish between the two. Instead of sounding wider and fuller, it will just sound like something weird is going on with your guitar.
By treating your guitars differently through virtual guitar rigs and dynamic processors, you can add the variety needed to separate the two with just the right amount of variety.
Some of the simplest tricks are using different amps on each track. Try loading up Toneforge Guilty Pleasure on your left rhythm guitar and Toneforge Menace on the right. You don’t even have to change any settings to hear a difference – the amp circuitry does it for you.
Dialing in the right tone on the left and the right takes a bit more practice, and variety can be achieved without using two completely different amps, but you’ll need to trust your ears and intuition to get there in each mix. For more ideas on adding variety using multiple amps, check out Nick’s guitar production tips:
Once you’ve got a full, wide guitar mix, there’s still more you can add to give those performances depth. Just like a great vocal, a guitar can reach superstardom through the use of time-based effects.
Tools like reverb and delay do a lot of heavy lifting regardless of the instrument they’re being applied to, but for guitars, they can be the difference between a professional sound and an amateur sound.
Guitars don’t need to be drenched in either effect to sound good. While a long delay tail and big cathedral reverb might help your guitars sound ambient and spacey, for all other practical purposes they’re not going to be as much use.
Instead, you should be using time-based effects to put your guitars in a common space, whether it be a small tracking room or a large stadium, the key is consistency. Then, when it comes time to break out the big guns and launch your guitar tone into the stratosphere, feel free to load up the maximum delay time on a tape delay like JST SOAR and let your guitar go wild!
Are you keeping up with your competition?
Mixers and producers are becoming more and more common, but knowledgeable ones that know what they’re doing, and more importantly why they’re doing it, are always going to have value in the music business.
If you’re looking to stay ahead of (or at least keep up with) your competition, come join the conversation with thousands of engineers and producers in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook.