As someone that’s recorded and mixed a lot of guitars, I can tell you that there’s a major difference between having multiple guitar tracks layered together in your mix and having a good, balanced guitar mix. One requires some attention to detail while the other doesn’t require much of anything at all.
So how do you make the shift from tracking as many takes as possible to being selective with the layers that make it into your track? What are the characteristics you need to be looking for to be an effective producer and engineer?
Start With Distorted Tones
Let’s face it – no matter how tight and responsive an amp is to your playing, there’s only so many distorted takes you’re going to be able to use together before things start to get muddy. For this reason, you need to take extra care that distorted guitar tracks are each adding something noticeable to your guitar mix.
Many engineers tend to stick to the highs and the lows to make this happen. What do I mean by that?
Let’s say you’ve got two rhythm guitar tracks on each side of your mix (hard-panned). Rather than simply doubling the track for a bit more harmonic variety, you could instead change your amp’s settings so that one take focuses on the higher end of the frequency spectrum and the second fills out the bottom. This method of recording ensures that the two takes don’t cause phase issues, cancel each other out, or cause muddiness. They can both be the same exact riff, but the frequency separation instantly cleans up the space between them.
Another way to ensure your distorted guitars play nice in the mix is to really focus on the performance. Having a consistent player that can nail the timing each time you hit record is great, but most of the time a bit of editing and alignment is required to really get everything pocketed as it should be.
Clean Guitar Layers
Often in dense mixes, dynamics fall by the wayside simply because of the amount of instrumentation you’re trying to fit into the mix. Huge drums, massive bass, and thick guitars/vocals all get glued together with compression, which can kill your dynamic range.
What many hard rock and metal producers have realized though is that there’s more to dynamics than bouncing meters and SPLs – you can use tones and arrangement techniques to create dynamics in a track.
Case in point – clean guitars. When you’ve got a massive metal mix driving along, a clean bridge can be the perfect dynamic juxtaposition to the otherwise dense song. Having an ambient transition with spacey guitars laden with reverb and delay can be just the thing to give your listener a chance to breathe. Best of all, these types of dynamics make the inevitable snap back to the heavier, distorted guitars that much more impactful.
Just check out how Lucas Moscardini is using Toneforge Jason Richardson to create dynamic cleans and massive distorted guitars all in one place:
Cleans don’t just have to live as a bridge element either. Lots of bands today are opting for a more heavily compressed lead tone that sounds super clean in comparison to leads of the past. The result is a wider frequency spectrum for those lead guitars – something jazz players have been taking advantage of for decades. Combine a great, clean lead tone with a 7-string or 8-string guitar and you’ve got one of the most expressive and unique setups available today.
Modern Guitar Mixing
Modern problems require modern solutions – and that’s especially true in the music industry where the loudness war and digital streaming are forcing us to squeeze as much as possible out of each and every song.
If you’re a guitarist looking for everything you need to tone-match your favorite sounds, record & mix them, and end up with a final result that could be heard on any of your favorite levels, Toneforge Bootcamp is just what you need. Inside the course you’ll get all of the guidance and resources you could want to master guitar tone – from impulse responses to tone packs, presets & cheat sheets.