5 Ways to Spice up your Guitar Recordings in the Studio
When it comes to the electric guitar, the difference between a live recording sound, and a polished studio sound, is often in the production and overdubs. This informative article about the electric guitar recording process is meant to explore several areas of guitar tone in the studio which you can use to make your recordings more interesting and sound fuller.
Overdubs are the overlaying of additional tracks, or punching in parts later for added effect. You’d be surprised the amount of variation in tone you can gain with your existing equipment, and you know how they say its not the tools its how you use it, well, you might not being taking advantage of some interesting possibilities for the guitar recording process
Keeping It in Perspective
Its important to note that there is a gray area between not doing enough overdubs, and way over doing it. If the engineer is using 2 or 3 mics, layering and layering more can become problematic as the mix falls into the wall of mush territory. Keep thinking about “whats the main focal point in the mix at this point” if you’re having trouble articulating that, or if there are too many different things going on, its likely going to be lost by the listener. If you have to turn it down so low you can’t even hear it, what’s the point? It’s likely unnecessary and should just be muted. Humans are pre-programed to recognize voices. If the main “voice” of the sound is lost, then you have lost the essence of the song . People may hear it as a cloud of different voices murmuring and mumbling together instead of a clear focused idea. So keep that in mind as you’re experimenting with the layering 9 guitars together….
Its important the solos and lead parts are noticed and able to be heard by the listener. We almost always recommend overdubbing solos, which lets you really perfect it as you would a vocal take. Though if it’s a more textual lead part, that is perfectly fine to do while tracking live. We always save the original take don’t worry. During solos, its common to switch to an overdrive channel, or hit a gain pedal for some extra gain. Thats great, don’t hold back. Unlike in a live scenario, we can turn the gain volume down. You can go all out without exploding your head behind the safety of two layers of double paned glass doors in our guitar room, and wear headphones at a comfortable volume outside. Gain is a matter of personal taste, and style, but gain can really make the guitar cut through the mix, and hitting the power tubes hard can saturate the tone into rich harmonic distortion, making it sit better in the mix. Gain has a funny way of making things sound louder, but if too much gain is applied, the detail can get lost, so careful there! Wild gain staging can result in some pretty awful results, and gain and distortion is going to happen at every stage from the amplifier, to the mixer, to the speaker, so going easy on it, and then adding even more gain and distortion in the mixing process can be the safe option; while capturing the perfect tone coming right out the the amp is the most ideal and efficient option. My advice would be if you have cheap solid state stuff, feel free to use one of our many tube amplifiers, but if you have decent equipment, killer pedals, and great tones, rock it out!
Di Boxes and Reamping
The best of both worlds option is to take a Guitar DI. DI stands for Direct Injection, but a better explanation would be it is a small box with a transformer to take a 1/4″ instrument cable to XLR (aka Mic Cable) and is recorded along with a microphone . The engineer can record the direct signal from the guitarist’s pedal board going into the amp and then use that signal to either record with other amps at another time. Another great use for the DI is to blend with the original signal. With high gain tones you can loose a lot of definition, blending a little bit of the DI back in can make this is an easy way to experiment with a lot of tones. If you are unsure about your amplifier, or want to experiment with other tones after the fact, I usually prefer a passive DI box right out of the pedal board or tuner pedal.
Overdubbing a double take, or double a rhythm part over top of a another rhythm or ambient spacey part can be really cool. A popular pop-punk or even hardcore rhythm part may feature identical parts, two separate takes, panned hard left and right. If you want to make a part sound wide and cool in the headphones, try doubling a chorus, or if there is a dreamy ambient part try a second later. Delay and reverb can enhance these parts even more.
Is there a heavy part in the song? Adding layers of overdrive, distortion, or fuzz takes can be interesting. If you’re loosing clarity, try cutting the reverb to a lower amount or removing some effects to enhance the bite of the distortion. Consider changing the tone on the amp knobs, switching pickups, how you driving the amp, and whether you are using pedal to do so, or even switch guitars. Some guitars sound thinner and more jangly, while others have fuller tones, so consider what would sound best for the part.
Cut the Crap
Do sloppy parts over. If its worth doing, its worth doing right. You don’t have to be perfect, but if everyone is going to notice, and especially if other band members and the producer or engineer thinks it sounds off, or out of tune, do it over. It will likely cost more time and money to try and fix a poor performance, and will always sound better to just do it over again. If you notice your tuning was way off, its essential to just admit you need to do it over than to let it clash with the other elements of the mix. Nit picking can get annoying if you haven’t practiced enough, but most people do well with a “compiled best out of three” for important parts. Having the time to redo mistakes should be factored into your plans for the recording. Some times less is more, and we all try things that don’t work, or miss a note here and there, but experimenting can lead to unique and exciting things as well. No worries if you make a few mistakes along the way. Just relax and do what you do no pressure.
If you’d like to talk about how we can help you record guitar or anything else, contact us!