The Beginner’s Guide to Guitar Post-Production

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Great guitar production is a very subjective and highly debated topic. You’ve got traditionalists that try their best to make the guitar on the recording sound exactly like the live guitar being played through the amp in the room. Others take their guitar productions to new heights with crazy studio tricks and production techniques that supplement the guitarist’s abilities.

This post-production approach to guitar isn’t new – the virtuosos have been using it for decades. Some of the biggest names in the guitar realm know that the studio is just another tool to use for new sonic exploration, and that’s a big reason studio albums from the likes of Buckethead, Steve Vai & Joe Satriani have all kinds of techniques applied.

These guitarists know that the studio effect can add to their sound and they can work to add it into their live sound later. This is a massive shift for traditionalists that would never want to do something in the studio that couldn’t be replicated live in a heartbeat.

Let’s take a look at two of the biggest post-production techniques being used on guitars today.

Reversed Parts

Digital effects processors have begun implementing replicas of some studio techniques, but in the case of reversing a guitar part, nothing is more effective than your DAW at making this happen.

Ambient swells & swirling complex tones are the first thing that should come to mind here. From a mix perspective, reversed audio can be confusing at first. It’s not surprising – the attack comes at the end, the tail at the beginning… What are you supposed to do with that?

There are two ways to get an effective reversed sound. The first is to do all of your processing prior to reversing, print down to a new track (effects and all), and then reverse the freshly printed track. This will give you an exact copy of the audio in reverse, which you can chop up and use as you please. A lot of engineers don’t leave reversed guitars in the exact same spot – instead they’ll effectively “sample” the reversed guitar and place it where they see fit.

The second approach combats one of the biggest problems with reversed audio: their sharp cutoff. Because the attack comes at the end, reversed guitars can sound abrupt and harsh. To fix this, engineers will sometimes add time-based effects to offset the choppiness. Reverbs & delays applied to reversed tracks can soften the edges, making a more usable reversed guitar.

Experiment: Try applying a reverse delay swell to your guitar solo.

Stutter Edits

Stutter edits aren’t exactly new to the guitar universe – they’ve just referred to them as killswitch effects since before we were actively using them as a production tool. Whether applied through a stomp box or by toggling between two pickups (one on, one off) this technique has been around for decades.

What’s new though, is the level of accuracy we’re able to achieve in-the-box without sacrificing the performance. Imagine a guitarist trying to shred out a bunch of notes while simultaneously fussing with his toggle switch. By moving the stutter into the recording session, you can get perfectly timed stutters without losing the performance.

These edits come with their own flexibilities in the studio too – speed is no longer a factor as you have control down to the millisecond. You can move notes around to recreate an all-new stutter pattern and more. While I wouldn’t recommend doing this without consulting the artist, if what you’re doing supports their artistic vision you can really get some complex, interesting sounds with these kinds of edits.

Check out Nick’s approach to basic guitar solo stutter edits here:

See how much of a difference a 32nd note stutter can make to add complexity and depth to a simple solo?

Want More Guitar Post-Production Tips?

These are a couple of my favorite guitar production tricks, but there are dozens more that you can achieve with virtual guitar rigs and other common studio plugins.

If you’re interested in a more detailed guide walking through all of the post-production tools I use for guitars, let me know over in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum and I’ll keep them coming!

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