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Mixing Distorted Electric Guitars

Thursday 5th July 2012 Hints And Tips

Part 1 Basic EQ techniques. By Keith More

Rock, metal, punk and indie guitars tend to sound best as a pair of almost identical but separate takes panned hard left, hard right. If you only have one guitar part you can fake a stereo pair with a delay which we'll go into later. The centre position of the mix should be reserved for kick, snare, bass and vocals only. Set your DAW to pre fade listen and check the recorded guitar track isn't peaking (Going into the red). If it is, you need to repair or replace. If the guitar has been recorded too quietly you should normalize it to around 75%. Never ride the fader passed 0dB in the mix as this can digitally distort the output . Solo the guitar track and delete any noise in the sections where the guitar isn't playing. Its a good idea to start work on the guitar sound after you've got the kit and bass sounding great together. Always start with the guitar flat (EQ out) as the recording engineer may have got it just right. If the guitar does need some work I tend to start the signal chain with an EQ strip. My personal preference is the SSL 4000 E series for distorted guitars and Waves do an amazing plug in version of this. Don't worry if you've not got an SSL though as you can get great results with any generic four band EQ. Listen to the guitar track in solo mode and engage a Hi Pass filter (HPF). This is used to get rid of any low end information which will interrupt the kick and bass frequencies. Set it to a sharp curve if you can, and find a cut-off point somewhere between 70-100 Hz.

The idea is to clean up the low end to make sonic space for the kick and bass without making the guitar sound thin. Take solo back off and double check with the rhythm section. Feel free to experiment until you find the sweet spot. This will work well for guitars in standard or drop D tuning. Low tuned metal guitars are much more complicated though, and really do require an experienced mix engineer to make them sit. I tend to go for subtractive EQ as it sounds more natural. I think of the effects of EQ as yin and yang and what I mean by that is, by reducing low end EQ, I'm increasing the perception of the high end, reducing the hi end increases the perception of low end, and reducing the mids increases the perception of lows and highs. Always be aware of this when applying EQ. Also, when you apply any EQ, either subtractive or additive, you are changing the gain of that channel so always check for digital peaks and reduce the output volume of the EQ plug in until the dreaded red light disappears! 

Getting it right.

If the guitar sounds muddy or dull (Like putting your hand over your mouth when speaking), solo the guitar track again and engage the low mid band (LM) on your EQ. The problem areas are usually around the 200Hz300Hz region (Although it can go a bit higher or lower depending on the recording). Start at 200Hz with a medium Q and reduce the gain of that frequency by around 3dB. Then sweep the frequency between 200Hz-300Hz to find the sweet spot. Now try sweeping the Q from narrow to wide to see if you can get the sweet spot sweeter and finish by sweeping the gain (Always subtractive i.e. -dB) to get it spot on. Feel free to experiment a lot with this EQ band and remember to take into account the Yin and Yang effect. Also, take the guitar out of solo and see how it sounds in the track. If the guitar sounds too bright or harsh, engage the high frequency (HF) band. Dial in 1.5kHz and select shelving type. Pull down the gain by a couple of dBs and sweep the frequency between 1.5kHz and 5kHz to find……...you guessed it, the sweet spot! Then adjust the gain to taste. If there are still some very high frequencies which are interfering with say, the cymbals, you can engage a low pass filter (LPF) and trim off at somewhere between 6kHz-10kHz. It's suck it and see I'm afraid, so let your ears tell you when its right.         

Cool EQ trick:

If you want to make the guitar sound harder and more in your face, engage a notch filter and sweep between 1kHz-2kHz to find the SWEET spot…..Im getting sick of that phrase too! This gets rid of some of the air type frequencies and should make the guitar feel more direct. This trick works best with quite heavily distorted rock/metal guitars but not always, so tread with care! O.K. presuming youve recorded a stereo pair of guitars with the same tone each side. Take the guitar youve been working on and pan it hard right. Now copy all the EQ settings to the other guitar track and pan that one hard left. At this point I usually darken the left side EQ with a medium Q at around 2kHz which should make the guitars appear wider. Not much, just about -1dB should do it. You can also move the LMF a tiny little bit on the left guitar to help separate the guitars even more. Say youve set it to 250Hz, well just move it to 255 or 245Hz and that should do the trick. Fake stereo guitars: Create an aux buss channel, select the buss input and put on a short delay plug in of around 20ms on that buss. Set the output of the delay to 100% wet and if you have depth and rate controls, set the depth to around 15% and the rate to around 1.0Hz. The delay feedback should be set to zero. Send the main guitar to that buss input and set the buss output fader from the main guitar track to 0dB. Please note, this isnt the main guitar fader, its the fader sending to the delay buss input. Pan the main guitar hard right and the delay aux hard Left. Bingo! Stereo guitars...…ish! Adjust the Main guitar and delay buss faders until they sound about the same volume in each speaker. You can also apply a one band EQ after the delay to darken the left side EQ with a medium Q at around 2kHz which should make the guitars appear wider. Not much, just about -1dB should do it as before. Enjoy! Keith. 

Keith is a mix engineer that can make you tracks sound kick-ass!

Contact him by licking here: http://keithmore.net

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