If you’re into cooking, you probably know about roux.
It’s a simple mixture of fat—
usually butter—combined with
flour and used for thickening
up sauces. Also, many sauce
recipes (especially Chinese
styles), will call for adding
cornstarch near the end of the
cooking process to help thicken
things up. I certainly don’t recommend pouring roux or cornstarch into your computer or
hard drive to thicken your guitar tracks, but there are some
things we can do to add mass
to our tones in the studio.
Get it right from the start.
It’s much easier to capture a
fat-sounding track if you have
a good, thick guitar tone coming out of your amplifier. It’s
worth taking the time to find
the right combination of guitar,
amp, and pedals to ensure you
have a thick tone at the source.
For me, “thick” usually means
humbuckers or P-90s, but you
can also get fat sounds out of a
guitar equipped with Fender-style single-coils, if the amp
provides some additional girth.
I find that a resonant instrument, such as a lightweight
solidbody, a semi-hollow or
chambered axe, or a hollowbody gets a fatter sound than a
heavier, more inert solidbody.
Capture the sound well.
Revisit the past few installments
of Guitar Tracks at premierguitar.com, and you’ll find
many suggestions for mic’ing
techniques and mic selection.
Jimmy Page got huge tones
out of a tiny Supro amp and a
Tele, and one trick he used was
distant mic’ing. On those early
Zep albums, he lived by the old
studio maxim, “distant makes
depth.” So go ahead and try
mixing in room mics along with
the close mics on your amps.
Compare and contrast.
When you’re arranging your
songs, mix in some thinner,
Want fatter rhythm tone? A
good 12-string in dropped
standard tuning, a 12-string
capo, a flexible pick, and a
decent mic will let you layer
huge chimey tracks you can
pan off to the sides and mix
behind your main guitar or
vocal tracks. With a little
thought, you can use the
capo to generate several different parts that each feature
ringing, open-string chords.
The triangular pick is a . 50
mm Dunlop Tortex—ideal for
Photo by Andy Ellis
lighter sounds along with your
fat and heavy sounds, giving
each one its time in the spotlight. If you follow a thin, light
tone with a fat, heavy one, the
latter will sound even fatter and
thicker than it would if it was
surrounded by other fat tones.
Split it. Create a stereo version of a mono sound. A common way to do this is to use a
very short delay—try between
12 ms and 24 ms with no feedback or regeneration. Just place
the dry sound on one side of the
stereo field and pan the delayed
sound to the opposite side.
There are some cool variations of this technique, including the old Van Halen trick of
panning the dry sound to one
side, and its reverbed counterpart to the other. You could
also go dry on one side, with
chorusing, flanging, or phasing
on the other. Try copying your
track and placing the original
on one side, with the copy on
the other, nudged a few milliseconds earlier or later. Then
cut some frequencies and boost
others slightly with a multi-band equalizer on the original
track. On the copied track, cut
and boost the opposite frequencies by the same amounts.
Double up. Record a pass
of your guitar to one track and
then record a second pass to a
second track. Playing the second track as close to the first
as possible will result in a big
sound. Varying the second track
slightly (not going for an exact
duplicate of the first) can give
you a different, bigger sound.
Then pan the two tracks opposite one another in the stereo
field. Instant thickener!
A variation on this technique
is using a completely different
guitar voicing for the second
track—maybe a totally different
guitar and amp. You could even
play an octave up or down on
the second track. Fine-tune the
two sounds so that they complement each other in the mix.
Layer it. Why stop with one
double? You can add more doubled tracks on top of the original, be it multiple octave-up
versions, octave-down versions,
and so on. Keep in mind that
there is a point of diminishing
returns—the sound can get so
washy that you lose presence.
The trick is careful mixing.
I once created a huge guitar
tone by playing the basic track
and panning it to the center,
and following that by playing
a double for each side. These
were mixed back in volume
from the original. Then I played
an octave double—using an
inverted chord voicing—twice.
These two tracks were also
mixed way back in volume
compared to the original. The
result? A full, thick sound that
didn’t come across as overly
processed or multi-tracked—the
original track carried the day.
The doubles were there for
added heft, harmonic content,
depth, and width.
MITCH GALLAGHER is
the former Editor in Chief of
EQ magazine and the author
of six books on recording
and one instructional DVD
on mastering. He operates
MAG Media Productions
and the Sound Sauna studio, and is
Sweetwater’s Editorial Director. His upcoming
book is Guitar Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate
Electric Guitar Sound. mitchgallagher.com