Pro Tips for Fixing Awful Guitar Tone

It can’t be possible – can it? Can you really take the worst sounding live-recorded guitar track you’ve ever heard and actually fix it in the mix?

Believe it or not, you really can. When you’re in a pinch where you receive a less-than-ideal guitar recording and no DI to fall back on, there are still things you can do to get the tone sounding just right in your mix. Nobody ever needs to sit through the pain of muddy or fizzy guitars like the ones you received – all of the power to make things right is in your DAW.

Start by Identifying the Problem

You can’t begin fixing anything unless you’re able to identify the issue. Is the guitar too muddy? That’s going to require some EQ to roll off some low end. Too fizzy? Same thing, but with the higher frequencies. But using basic EQ technique to clean up guitars is really just the beginning.

You need to critically listen to your guitar track before doing anything if you really hope to save it without having to re-track. Focus on the things you like about it and process it in a way that brings those elements to the forefront. Make notes about the things you dislike and take measures to dial those elements of your guitar tone back.

Almost any problem with a guitar tone can be fixed with a bit of practice and some willingness to experiment with different plugins.

Breathing Life Into Your Tone

Guitar tone is a very subjective thing, but one thing we can all agree on is that old strings tend to sound duller and less pronounced. Pair that with poor recording practices and you’ve got a recipe for cringe worthy guitars. But it doesn’t have to stay that way, even if you’re the mixer receiving the dull guitar tracks with junk strings.

Using multi-band processing, getting old strings to sound new again isn’t an especially difficult task. Using a transient designer like
Transify allows you to laser-focus your efforts on the frequency range where string brightness lives to freshen up their sound no matter your situation. It’s probably best not to rely on it when you’re in the tracking session and perfectly capable of replacing the strings, but in a pinch this trick can be your best friend!

Check out the complete blog on digitally restringing guitars here.

Reamping without a Source DI

Any mixer who’s received a live-tracked guitar with all kinds of scooped mids and other horrendous amp settings has probably had this thought cross their mind. Unfortunately, without a good DI of the source, there hasn’t been much success in finding a process that works. Instead, the task was relegated to re-tracking the part entirely.

Today, reamping a distorted, mic’d-up guitar amp is 100% possible in the box. You just need a loosely mimicked performance of your own, a guitar tone you want your end result to sound like, and this cool little trick from Nick Pilotta:

As you can see in the video, it’s incredible how much we can change a garbage tone with a bit of innovation and the processing available in our DAW.

Getting Guitar Tone Right The First Time

Look, if you’re reading this right now, you’ve probably worked with your fair share of bad guitar tones. Maybe it sounded great in the studio but just wasn’t mix-ready. Maybe your guitarist wasn’t receptive to the idea of changing his tone (no matter how much better it would make the song).

If you’re serious about getting the right tones from the start, check out our Toneforge Bootcamp course. The course contains hours of content – guides, walkthroughs, exercises & more – all geared toward helping you achieve the right guitar tone for your song every time.

Access the course as part of your JST VIP membership or get it in the JST Store today!