G UITAR TRACKS
Stellar Guitar Recordings, Part 2
In the last issue, we looked at a number of to get a stereo spread while maintaining
things you can do to improve the quality of presence (or double the part by playing it
your recordings. This time out, let’s continue again, then pan the results left and right).
that theme, with more suggestions that will
make your recordings sound even better!
Often, carving some midrange out of the
rhythm guitars and keyboards will let the
vocals and solos sit better.
I recently had a session in my studio where
the group just couldn’t get it together with
a click track. And the problem was, without the click, they were noticeably rushing
songs. Sit down individually and as a band
and practice with a metronome or other
tempo guide. There’s an art to maintaining feel while playing with a click, and it’s
an ability that pays off handsomely in the
studio. Even if you don’t want to rigidly
maintain tempo (sometimes it’s nice to
push a chorus or solo a bit, for example),
try starting with the click playing in order to
establish the tempo, play with the click for
16 or 32 bars, then drop the click out.
Shake That Rattle
Be sure nothing in the room is vibrating or
rattling when you wind your amp up. It may
not seem like a big problem if something
rattles in the room when you play, but such
sounds will haunt you later in the mixing
process—and there’s no way to take them
out after the fact.
A mix will be
if it’s carefully
part in its place
to the whole.
Adjust the Contrast
Consider the dynamics of the song. If everything is loud all the time, nothing ends up
sounding loud—there’s no context. But strategically working smaller, quieter sounds and
sections against loud sounds and sections
creates contrast that makes the small seem
intimate and the big seem even bigger. Part
of this is musically arranging the song well,
but tracking the best sounds for each instrument in the context of the arrangement and
the song is also important.
For distorted parts, try recording with
30–50% less gain than you use on stage
or in rehearsal. You’ll be surprised how
much tighter, punchier, and bigger your
guitar tracks will be. (I know, you need your
gain… trust me, try it.)
The Performance Rules
I just finished re-recording the basic tracks
for a songwriter’s album. The first time
around, we recorded the drums first, then
added the bass a few weeks later, then layered the other parts on top. We did a lot of
editing to get everything rhythmically and
musically where we thought we wanted it.
But the results were lackluster.
Experience a Reverb-free Existence
Some guitarists love the spring reverb in
their amps, and that’s cool! But for recording, consider laying down the tracks dry.
The problem is that spring reverb just isn’t
controllable; by its nature, it’s a “wash” of
ambience around the notes. Unfortunately,
that wash can really make a mix a mess. A
dry track will jump out more, have more
punch, and will “sit” better in many mixes.
You can always add reverb in later. On the
flip side, if you want a part to sound distant
and amorphous for the sake of a particular
musical idea, dial in that spring ‘verb!
The second time around, we recorded
the drums, bass, and scratch guitars and
vocals all at once. The result is more
natural feel—a performance captured,
rather than created. Tracking multiple
parts at once may mean compromises—
mic bleed, etc., but many times the
results are worth any compromises.
We all want our parts to be massive. Sad
to say, not every part in a mix can sound
huge. If the drums are massive, the bass is
massive, the rhythm guitars are massive,
the keyboards are massive, and the acoustic guitar is massive, there’s just no room
left for the vocals—or worse yet, the guitar solo—to be heard! A mix will be more
effective if it’s carefully assembled, each
part in its place and contributing to the
whole. This may mean, for example, cutting
the highs on the bass and cutting the lows
on the rhythm guitar so the two stack well
together and can both be clearly heard.
Click here to read part 1
Stereo guitar rigs sound great on stage, but
in the studio, they can lack punch and presence compared to a mono version of the
same tone. You’re often better off to record
mono guitar parts, then use studio effects
Mitch Gallagher is the former Editor in Chief of EQ
magazine, and is the author of six books and over 1,000
articles on recording and music technology. He has
played guitar—from metal to country to big band to
classical—for more years than he cares to remember.
He is the Editorial Director for Sweetwater in Fort
Wayne, Indiana. You can reach him at mitch_gallagher@
sweetwater.com or at mitchgallagher.com.