A new month is upon us, and with that, a new focus for it. This month, we’ll be focusing in one one of the main reasons a lot of us even get into recording, mixing, or general engineering in the first place!
Recording guitars and searching for the tone I hear in my head has been nothing short of bittersweet - you can find the tone you love one day, and struggle for weeks in other cases. What I realised (thankfully) somewhat early on, is that I didn’t understand what I was trying to achieve, as much as just experimenting until a happy accident occurred. So, with that, let's talk about recording guitar, and understanding how to achieve whatever you’re after!
Understanding Amplifiers and Their Make-Up
First, in order to understand the tone we’re after and how to obtain it,we need to break down what it is we’re ever after in the first place. By that, I mean that for the most part, there’s an inspiration that occurs through listening to our favourite artists, and we want to seek something similar to what inspired us - so the first route is a little research.
What you’re trying to look for in this portion of the journey is data - What guitar are they playing? What pickups are being used? Do you have something Similar? Are there pedals in front of the amp? If so, what are they - overdrive / distortion / compression, etc.?
After you’ve nailed most of that info, you can start to look more into the amplifier itself, and above all information, the ‘geography’ of its design. One of the most key elements is where the company that created that circuit originated from, hence the terms British sounding, American sounding, or German sounding amplifiers; such as Vox or Orange (British), Fender or Peavey (American), or Engl (German). Once you ascertain that, you can start to substitute amps you don’t have available for ones you might have that would work just as well.
The Fender Deluxe Reverb is one of my favourite amps simply due to how versatile it is. Everything from clean to high gain with the right pedals in front of it!
The last key thing for me was to understand the type of distortion being used. It’s quite impossible to have a completely clean guitar tone, or mic recording for that matter due to the inherent distortion that occurs through the signal passing through a series of components in a circuit - even a straight DI guitar recording will have some type of distortion thanks to preamps. So now we’ve established that, we need to funnel it down further; i.e. is it as clean as it can feasibly be? And is it closer to a crunch or saturated tone if there is distortion? To fine tune the latter question, imagine distortion or saturation as if it was grains of sand - does it sound more like a rocky beach sound, or closer to a fine saturated Caribbean beach?
Cabinet and Speaker Choice
The same ‘Geographical’ location of the speakers and cabinet choice is appropriate to discuss here as well, but age also plays a large part in this portion of the hunt for the perfect tone. Those speaker companies such as Celestion that once manufactured all speakers out of the UK have now chosen China as their main base of speaker manufacturing; however, many companies will still create the cabinet housing in their respective countries and pop the speakers in made elsewhere.
Due to this shift, there’s a clear defining era in which the best versions of cabinet manufacturers' products reside, and it’s typically before the start of the millennium. Mesa Boogie is a great example of this and our friends at Getgood Drums and Plugins created an impulse response library featuring the best speakers they’d found after many years of meticulous testing and research. It’s honestly the best example of how the difference in the make-up of the actual speaker, such as the paper, the magnet, and more can greatly affect the resultant sound, let alone the age and when or where it was made - so make sure to check them out if you haven’t already!
There’s many, many different speakers, sizes of the cabinet or the speaker diameter, age, location of the main parts that create the makeup of the overall cabinet, and much more to take into account, but if you are trying to just get close my best advice would be to follow the same rule of thumb as above, do some digging and try and account for as much data as you can.
The search for the perfect tone, or the tone we hear in our minds is not just never ending, but it’s also always changing and that’s important to keep in mind. Your tastes in music will change just as much as you grow and it’s only right that should you being starting off down this path that you’re both warned of the road ahead as much as I encourage you to walk that path as well - for me, it led me to this point,passing on the metaphorical torch as it were.
So now, go and seek that tone, and until next week, stay creative!