In the last instalment of the focus for the month on Recording Guitars, I thought I’d help you out with some awesome tips I’ve accumulated throughout the years that have helped me no end to make sure the tones I’m working with are as close to the ones in my head when I first set out.
It’s really easy to find yourself towards the mid-end of a mix and fighting the urge to redo all the tones, or make drastic changes to the mix, because the guitars are either not fitting into the overall composition, or not having enough definition, or many other reasons. Today, I’m going to try and give you the best advice I can, that I bring with me to every session I work on.
Let’s dive in!
Understanding Guitar Tone
The key thing I think we all have fallen into the trap of when first starting out is thinking there’s too much mid range on the guitars, or overcompensating for this more than is needed and ending up with a very shrill and harsh tone. The simple fact is, guitars are a midrange instrument. In fact, most of the tone is in the 200-1.7Khz range, with the rest of the lower bass and upper mids being only a ‘designer factor’ in the end.
What I learned eventually is that if you can dial out some of the harsh frequencies by only making minor adjustments, you will have a good tone to work with. Most of the time, I’ll attenuate somewhere in the 2.7Khz range, maybe another between 3-5Khz, and I’ll use fairly medium size bell curves at no more than say 2.5Q to dip out between 2-3db. After that, a simple high and low pass to take out the rumble below 80hz and unnecessary fizz after 10-11Khz, things fit fairly well for me most of the time.
The trick is to make these minor EQ moves, evaluate the mix in context, and if something is not right; revisit the source tone! The head is an obvious place to start, and a few simple rules will help you evaluate faster, but these are loose rules so use your ears:
- Too harsh still? If you’re using a boost pedal, dial back on the tone dial if it has one. If not, try dialing back on the treble, and raising the presence, or vice versa. If it’s still too harsh but you’ve got closer to what you want, move the mic away from the center of the cone a little more, or swap out the mic.
- Too much lowend? Dial back on the bass control, or better yet, if there is a depth control on the amp as many modern ones have, ease off on it. Sometimes, moving the mic further away will give you less bass and a more pleasing result thanks to proximity effect.
- Too much mid-range? Try dialing back on the midrange control, but better yet, dial back on the Master volume. When the power amp is pushed, a lot of the midrange fluffiness can result from the valves in the output stage.
- Not enough midrange? If you can’t go any louder due to volume issues, invest in a loadbox. It’ll allow you to push the master dial further and give you more freedom to use the valves and the makeup of the amp rather than relying on the EQ section or post processing to get the tone closer.
- These tips are also great to put into practice on digital amps, as well as impulse responses or digital rigs!
The Omega plugin from Neural DSP is a really clear example of an EQ section that has many ways to be adjusted, but also a selection of poweramp valves and 2 controls to dial in the perfect amount of warmth from the output stage - if you're new to exploring the nature of how amps react to your settings, this is a great plugin to learn on as well as it sounding phenomenal!
Don’t Overlook the Bass Guitar
Bass guitar is a key foundation to any good guitar tone. I remember a few years ago when I was still relatively inexperienced, someone I was working with said “you’d be surprised how thin guitars often are when there’s no bass between them” and ever since then my entire view of guitar tone changed.
I remember spending the next weeks figuring out how to achieve a better bass tone rather than the scooped mess I was used to making, and when I eventually realized that there was a lot more to be had from the ‘throatiness’ of the bass tone, It suddenly hit me that at the point on the eq curve where guitar and bass overlap … and one is subtracted, the other fills the void! In basic terms it's that simple.
Above, I mentioned high passing at 80hz, a typical place you’d want the bass tone to be left to not fight with the other elements of the mix. Where you’d usually want to remove midrange on the guitars at around 500-800hz, that’s a prime area from 750-1500hz that the bass has a lot of definition and robustness in the tone. Above that, you have the more harsh range in guitar tone, around 3-5Khz, a typical place on bass amps that will allow you to push the clanginess of the bass guitar tone to fill the void in the guitars.
This is my typical sort of EQ where not a lot is happening other than the described moves above - remember to revisit your source tones if you are finding you're doing too much in post!
One similarity between guitar and bass tone is that there can be a buildup of midrange in the 350-500hz range, which can be addressed carefully and with caution. The best practice is making sure you get as close to the end result with just the recorded elements as possible - from there, you’ll already have 80% of the work done, and the rest is simply your taste preference (or what I like to call spice racking).
In any case, I hope this has helped you one your quest for the ultimate tone, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on other tips you’ve come across over the course of your years mixing; so as always feel free to reach out to my email Harri@jzmic.com or via the community to share your thoughts!