Welcome back, one and all, new and old readers, to another installment of this month's topic surrounding the General Tips and Tricks I have found to be the most substantial since learning them or discovering them myself. As some of you may already know, we’ve already covered overall tips, and vocal tips and tricks in last week's blog post - today I want to explore an instrument close to my heart; Guitar.
Guitar is such an all encompassing topic that I could probably write a book about the way I see recording, mixing and playing guitar and bass in general in any case. So today, I’ve thought long and hard about the most defining things that make my life a lot easier as well as having made it simpler to decipher the sound in my head if it’s not happening in the moment for me or the artist I’m recording.
So, as this might be a bit of a longer one - let’s dive in!
Step Back and Take a Wider View
Often, it’s quite hard to say in words what you want the sound of something to sound like. Even now, I’ll sometimes struggle with the best way to articulate something in my head and I usually rely upon analogies or descriptive language I’ve picked up along the way through experience, but many artists won’t have that tool so widely available to them, and it’s up to us to decipher what they’re trying to say; I like to refer to this scenario as ‘like talking to a pet’ - it’s rare unless it’s food related, that you can get what they actually want right first time!
So, I’ve now fallen into the habit of always taking a broader view of things. It starts like most problem solving, whereby identifying what you think could be the issue, and then working backwards until the solution presents itself. But, to save a lot of time and hassle I want to detail a few basic things that you should have on hand that will help you in a large number of cases focused towards guitar:
- Different sized plectrums will not only feel different to play, but they will change the attack of the string and the definition of the transient. If something sounds 'scrapey’ or 'pointy' this has usually solved the problem
- Always have an extra set of guitar and bass strings that you trust in. Fo me, I love the simple D'áddario strings on both guitar and bass so I know that if I can't get the tone I know I should be able to get from their instrument; I can ask when they last changed their strings, and invariably take a moment to change to a new set.
These sound like really obvious things to mention, but it's worth remembering that these two variables can not just change the sound of the instrument drastically, but also change the attitude, inspiration, and on the spot creativity within a session (especially if it's a new artist you're working with or they are young).
I particularly like the Tortex line from Dunlop and they range in thickness without drastic shape changes.
Time Means Everything. Literally.
Now, I'm not talking about the time spent on a session or how long it takes to get the right takes; no, I'm talking about latency and it literally can be the different and deciding factor to getting those good takes! Interfaces have become so advanced today that there's not really an excuse in that part of this issue - I'm talking more about your computer, and also the latency that can be caused by your plug-ins especially.
There's a few plug-ins that will really eat up your CPU power and not only cause you to have to be more stringent about how many plug-ins you run on a session, but also can case a major issue when a track is armed to record and how long the signal takes to do that round trip from being played, being processed by software, and sent back out to however you're monitoring your session whether by headphones or speakers. Latency can really throw off a player and others are far more sensitive to the time variations available than others (this plays a big part in the real vs software amps debate).
A few plug-ins that can cause a big issue I've found are those using oversampling, those that are intensive in general to emulate what they're designed to do (like tape saturation emulations), or anything that needs more time to process the audio in a higher resolution than the way it usually would to reduce latency such as Linear phase processing compared to minimum phase processing.
Slate Digital's Virtual Tape Machine can be a real nuisance due to the large amount of latency that's added when un-bypassed.
The best advice I can give is to avoid using those plugins during the recording of the session, or bypass and unbypass to A/B the tone you have with the plug-in that is causing the issue to see if it still compliments the sound. But while recording, try to have the most basic recording chain, a little bus processing as possible, and aim for the best buffer rate - my focusrite can run a fair amount at 256 samples per second, but 512 samples per second is feasible to get away with if the player isn't super sensitive to the time delay, and if they are aim for a lower buffer rate and less plug-ins running to make the session far easier for all those involved.
Let Me Let You In On The Biggest Secret About Tone…
When I say this is the biggest secret on how to get the tone someone or yourself is after in your head, I'm not kidding with the sheer impact that this has on how it can vary. A lot of people think it's the wood, the scale length, the player (which is a fair assumption and correct as well), or the pedals or amp make or model you're using. These equate to around 20-25% of the tone in my experience, which I know many reading this might have already started an angry reply email to this blog post or snapped their phone in half from that statement… but it's true and highly tested.
In the video below, another guitarist called Jim Lill has demonstrated exactly my points over various guitar tone related topics, including arguably the most deviciver about where there's such a thing as 'tone-wood’ in electric guitars. You should definitely check out all his videos, they're incredibly detailed and thorough:
So, hopefully you've watched the above video and won't be surprised when I reveal that 75% of your tone is from your Speaker choice and your Microphone choice. I can not stress this enough either, but speaker choice or model will also change depending on the company's history including where it's made, what time period, etc. A great example of how much a speaker can change just from those variables explained is by testing out the Cali Cabs from Getgood Drums, as every single speaker and mic combination sounds different and yet, they are all Celestion V30 speakers.
As that is still such a varying part to get right, the best thing you can do while experimenting with your favorite speaker or cabinet choices, is to have a microphone that does change with when it was made, or where it was made. All our microphones have been handcrafted for 15 years now, in Latvia by our incredible and loyal team of engineers and designers, and even from microphone to microphone, year or date of manufacturing changes, the sound is always consistent and reliable no matter what the source is!
With a plethora of guitar tones and variables to get what you hear in your head out into a record, having a great mic to use on any guitar cabinet that always has ít's own consistent sound, such as the V11 or the HH1 - both revered by engineers and Grammy winners alike across the globe, is so important to get great tones, all the time.