… whenever I work in the studio … I think about how
different layers could help me create interesting parts.
same. This is also known as Nashville tuning. A high-strung guitar
adds the jangle of a 12-string without its burly bass and low mids.
But maybe you want more bottom end. Using a baritone
guitar—a long-scale 6-string that’s tuned a fourth or fifth below
standard guitar—you can often double a line an octave lower and
thus emphasize it the way a cello player might. But unlike a cello,
you can also play chords on a baritone, and this opens up a world
of harmonic possibilities in the lower registers.
Orchestrating with the Space Ace
When I worked with Ace Frehley on his last solo record, Anomaly,
he cut an instrumental song called “Fractured Quantum” that was a
continuation of the song “Fractured Mirror” from his first solo album.
It’s another good example of studio guitar orchestration. It begins with
a single guitar panned slightly left. It’s followed by a 12-string part
playing an identical line on the right. Then more layers are added as a
single electric melody starts to take shape. By the outro, eight or more
guitar parts can be heard weaving around each other. At the end, it
breaks back down to a fade-out on a single guitar.
While we were cutting many of these tracks with engineer Alex
Salzman, Ace would grab any number of guitars—from old Les
Pauls to Strats, Teles, and acoustics. He also used one of my high-strung guitars, along with 6- and 12-string acoustics, and even a
doubleneck. Then we recorded different guitars through different
Curious about the extents to which you can orchestrate with 4-, 6-, and 12-strings? With guitar-specific tunes,
listen and try to ascertain the following:
tripled, or multi-tracked even more than that?
are they mixed?
are those effects panned?
What to Listen for in
Orchestrated Guitar Tunes
amps for a variety of tones. A lot of the electric parts were played
through a Vox AC15 right in the control room.
Although Ace had a clear direction in mind, he also spent a lot
of time experimenting up and down the neck to see which guitar
parts layered well with each other. The different tonal ranges of
each guitar, along with various amps, also helped create unique colors in the song.
Make the Most of Multi-Tracking and Education
I’ve worked with several different teachers to develop orchestration
skills, and I still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. It can be difficult and challenging, but the time spent studying and learning has
truly helped my composition ability—and my guitar work. Now,
whenever I work in the studio on other people’s tracks or my own, I
think about how different layers could help me create interesting parts.
For example, I cut a piece on my last record that was simply
an experiment in guitar orchestration. (You can get away with this
when you don’t care about “moving units.”) I wanted to write a song
that layered various forms of acoustic guitar like a classical composer
would with strings sections, but I also wanted to include real strings.
I started with a line played on a high-strung guitar. Under that,
I played bass lines on a jumbo Guild F- 50 acoustic. Together, they
sounded like one guitar. In the second verse, I played an old Fender
P bass (strung with flatwounds) to add deeper bass to the initial
tracks. In the bridge, I had the violins, viola, and cello (recorded
by David Henry in Nashville) play the melody around the guitars.
At this point, the guitars now included a doubled 12-string panned
hard left and right to make room for the strings—both sonically
and production-wise. I let the real strings take the solos (panned as
they would be on an orchestral stage), and then I mixed in layers
of high-strung, 6-string, and 12-string guitars, along with tempo-mapped delays. Each guitar part and each guitar type was carefully
chosen to add specific tones and frequencies to the production.
Orchestration studies have also helped me with mixing and production skills. To emulate the sectioned-off nature of instruments
in an orchestra, I break songs down into layers, such as lows, low
mids, mids, high mids, and highs. Each instrument gets placed on
the “stage,” or the stereo field. I separate the instruments and parts
using both EQ and panning, and I think about what listeners will
hear from a production point of view.
Here’s what I mean by thinking about it from a production
point of view: Put on a pair of headphones and listen to a few well-produced pieces of your favorite music. Focus on the specific tones
and frequencies of each instrument and where it sits in the mix.
Listen to how the layers of sound are formed.
There’s a lot to learn by just listening to the production and
orchestration of great music. Take what you like, discard what you
don’t like, and then apply it to your own recordings. Use your
home studio to experiment with various techniques you hear being
used successfully by others. Also, consider taking time to study
basic orchestration principles with a teacher or on your own. It’s
worth the time and effort.