Get Big or Go Home
Bigger is always better. Okay, maybe that
sentiment isn’t 100% true, but more times
than not when you’re dealing with guitar
tracks, you’re looking for the biggest, thick-est, punchiest, sounds you can get. Here
are some suggestions for making your guitar tracks so fat they should appear on The
Make it big at the source.
While we can do a lot of magic and reconstructive surgery with plug-ins and other
studio tools, it’s a law of nature that the finished result will only be as good as the original source. Get your guitar sounding huge
when heard through the amp, in the room.
Then, do your best to capture all that corpulent majesty with your microphones—get it
down onto tape or hard drive as big as you
can, so you have a great foundation to work
from. This means choosing the right guitar
(with the right pickups, etc.) and the right
amp, using the best mic or mics, choosing a
full-sounding mic preamp, and so on.
Use the room.
Adding some natural ambience from a room
mic or mic that’s back a few feet from the
amp can really increase the sense of size and
space in a recording. Record the ambience
mic or mics to separate tracks, so you can
blend them in to taste later. Try putting the
dry/close-mic’d track on the right side of the
mix, and pan the ambience to the left side
(or vice versa).
An old studio trick is to record a part, then
go back and record the exact same part,
with the exact same guitar tone, onto a new
track, so you end up with two nearly identical versions of the same thing. When you
mix those two tracks—either panned left
and right or layered right on top of each
other in the stereo field—the small timing,
tone, and pitch differences between the two
tracks result in a much bigger sound than
either track by itself. Some producers like
to add even more doubled tracks—making
three, four, or even more passes on each
part—but in my experience, you quickly
reach a point of diminishing returns, where
you sacrifice clarity and presence for a small
amount of additional thickness.
Layer different tones.
While doubling parts works great, sometimes you can get even better results if you
change the tone of the doubled part. This
might mean playing it the second time with
a cleaner sound, with a dirtier sound, or
even with a completely different guitar or
amp rig. Try playing a part with a Les Paul
through a Marshall, then double it with a
Here are some
making your guitar
tracks so fat they
should appear on
The Biggest Loser.
Tele through a Twin, or some other combination. On mixdown, blend the tracks to create
a huge sound that includes the best of both
tones. If you’re recording a crunchy rhythm
part, and getting your dirt from pedals, you
might record one pass using a Zendrive,
then a pass through a Tube Screamer, then a
pass through an OCD, each set for a slightly
cleaner than normal sound. Pan one hard
left, one hard right, and one up the middle
for a wide, thick, vast tone.
Use multiple amps.
Try splitting your guitar’s signal so it feeds
two, three, or even more different amps—
maybe a Marshall through a 4x12” cab, a
Deluxe 1x12” combo, a little mini amp, a
modeled amp, whatever you have available.
Set each amp for a great tone and mic each
one up so it can be recorded to a separate
track. During mixdown, you can combine the
various amp tracks to create a “super tone”
that contains the best tonal components
from each source.
Work the arrangement.
Instead of recording an exact double of a
part, record the first pass, then record the
double an octave higher, or with different
chord voicings or inversions. Experiment
with the double coming in and out of the
song to reinforce certain sections.
As an example, some of the biggest crunchy
rhythm guitar tracks I’ve recorded using
these tricks consisted of an original track
featuring a Les Paul through a Boogie Mark
IIB, doubled by a superstrat through a
Marshall, then those two parts each doubled
with a slightly different tone, played higher
on the neck using inversions and alternate
voicings. A bit of compression, a short delay
or two, careful panning, and a couple of
reverbs were used during mixdown. The
results were simply massive!
Fortunately, with today’s hard disk recording
systems, we have plenty of tracks to work
with. If you try something and it doesn’t
work, who cares? Move on to another track
and try something else—experiment! One
last tip: keep all your “failed” experiments;
you never know when one might work perfectly later in the production process.
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.