Welcome back to our ongoing quest for
silence. Last time around, we
looked at ways to reduce source
noise from our guitars, amps,
and effects by using shielding,
noise gates, and other methods.
This month, let’s take a look
at things we can do to reduce
noise after it’s been recorded
into our guitar tracks. While it
is best to reduce or eliminate
unwanted noise before the signal gets to tape or hard disk,
sometimes noise slips through.
You may not notice it until it’s
too late, or there simply isn’t a
good, unobtrusive way to control the noise at the source. In
either case, we’ll need to break
out the post-production tools
and get to work on cleansing
that pesky hiss and hum out of
Fortunately, noise is most
evident when there’s nothing
else going on. If you’re laying
down a massive guitar assault,
you probably won’t notice a
little hum in the background
until you stop playing. This
is good because it’s more difficult to remove sound from an
active part (i.e., when the guitar is actually playing) without
messing with the tone of the
guitar. It should be said that
even in the silent parts of your
guitar track, if other instruments or vocals are making
sounds, the noise from your
guitar could be masked by the
other tracks to a large extent.
In the silences between phrases
or parts, we can easily pull that
noise out with a number of
available software tools and not
taint those precious notes—if
Noise Gate. As we saw last
month, a noise gate works
much like an automatic volume control that turns off
when the guitar isn’t playing.
Noise gate plug-ins are available for most digital recording
1. A noise gate plug-in—such as this Pro Tools Expander/Gate—can be used as an automatic volume control that
turns off a track between notes or phrases to silence noise. 2. Similar to the Pro Tools’ Strip Silence operation
shown here, most DAWs (digital audio workstations) have some sort of function for stripping out the quiet regions,
where noise often lurks on tracks. 3. While tedious, the most exact method for cutting out noise is to manually
edit the track by carefully removing those areas where no notes are sounding and the noise is clearly audible.
Shown here is a guitar-solo track that’s been edited to cut out the spaces between the phrases without damaging
the surrounding notes or disturbing the timing.
software, and you can insert
one of these into the guitar
channel strip and use it to
automatically shut off the
noise. But the same caveat
we discussed last month still
applies: You have to be careful how you set the gate so the
desired portions of your notes
aren’t chopped off.
Strip Silence. This function
goes by various names depending on the DAW (Strip Silence
is the name used in Pro Tools).
First it goes through your track
looking for places where the
volume is very low—places
where you’re not playing—and
then it automatically cuts those
regions out of the track. The
effect is similar to a noise gate,
but it doesn’t require any CPU
processing power while the
song is playing back. You do it
once and it’s done.
Track Editing. If a noise
gate or Strip Silence-type processing can’t get the job done,
or if you are hearing notes
getting chopped off when they
are meant to be used, you
can resort to manual editing.
Grab your mouse, go into the
track, and cut out the regions
between notes or parts where
the noise is offensive.
The advantage to this
method is that you can be very
selective and detailed in your
editing, ensuring that notes
don’t get chopped and that the
maximum amount of noise is
removed between desired notes.
Just be careful not to get carried
away. Some noises—like finger
squeaks, pick noise, fret noise,
and more—are simply part of
what a guitar sounds like. If you
“sanitize” the track too much, it
will sound sterile.
The other downside to
manual editing is that cleaning
up a track can be a very tedious
process. So put on the football
game or favorite concert DVD
(with the volume off), get
yourself a bag of chips and a
beverage, and settle into work!
The good news is that you will
get faster and faster the more
you do it.
Volume Automation. No
matter what methodology you
use, the disadvantage to editing
tracks is that the final product
can sound unnatural. One way
to reduce unwanted noise with-
out making the track sound
sterile is to use volume automa-
tion. You can set the track’s
level to automatically drop
when the guitar isn’t playing,
which reduces the noise, but
doesn’t totally shut off the
ambience or desirable noises.
You can also shape the automa-
tion so you won’t have sudden
breaks and chops in the tracks.
Such gradual level reduction
can pull the noise back, but
will often sound more accept-
able to our ears than a sudden
cut. This also allows us to shape
the automation so that long
notes can sustain and ring fully,
and then fade naturally without
their tails being cut off.
has a new book called Guitar
Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate
Electric Guitar Sound. He is
the former Editor in Chief of
EQ magazine. In addition to
being a writer, he teaches
music business and audio recording at Indiana
University/Purdue University, is a freelance
recording and mastering engineer, and is
Sweetwater’s Editorial Director.