Tips & Tricks: Recording Flexible Guitar Toneby Bjorgvin Benediktsson
Getting a guitarist into the recording studio is always a challenge. Not the typical, “oh no, one of those ego trips again” type situations, although that happens sometimes, but the “hmm I wonder what type of sound we’re going for today”.
You see, guitarists come in all shapes and sizes. And me being one as well means that I know how schizophrenic we can be as a species. We have all sorts of ideas for guitar sound, whether we want the warm sound of our valve driven crunch, or the psychedelic wash of a highly modulated guitar signal. Whatever were coming into the studio with, many engineers like having options when it comes to mixing your album.
The effect of a great guitar sound
Many novice guitarists don’t understand the complexities of dealing with a highly effected signal in the mixing stage. Say you have too much reverb on the guitar while tracking, then there is no way to take that off when you want a little less reverb in the verse compared to the chorus. Or maybe that chorus effect just sounds too bland when it’s on constantly, not giving any variation to your guitar track, droning in the background.
The best way to keep as many options to both you as a guitarist, and the engineer or producer in the studio is to keep a separate signal dry from everything else. That way you keep the feel of your performance, but you are able to modify a copy of your signal in any which way you choose after the fact.
Split your signal, keep one as backup
By using a DI box you can send your guitar signal to the amplifier for your desired guitar sound and a clean copy for future processing. Then you have a guitar that’s connected to all of your effects and sound you want in that moment as well as a clean un-processed signal that’s available for modifications anytime you feel your guitar sound just isn’t cutting it.
You play with all your stomp boxes through your amp, and it sounds great because that’s how you envisioned the guitar part being like. You flip on the overdrive in the chorus and the flangers for the solo, adding a little delay as it progresses. Maybe you have a weird Wah or whammy part further down the line.
Who knows the amount of genius you’re putting into your playing! But what if we continue adding stuff on top of the track and the production starts going in a different direction than previously envisioned? Maybe now you don’t want any overdrive in the first chorus, or you want a milder sound because you’ve decided to add a piano track to it as well.
What do you do then?
Instead of being stuck with an over-processed guitar track that now needs to re-recorded, you have the original copy of your playing (which was fantastic by the way!) that you can re-modify according to the directions of the song.
You can either re-amp the signal for a certain tone, or you can decide to produce it all inside the computer, using studio plugins to get the sound you want.
Whatever you decide to do, aren’t you glad you took the safe route and held onto a clean copy of your signal?
You’ve saved some serious studio time since you don’t have to go back in there, strap on your guitar and play everything through again. Now the only thing left to do is putting yourself in the production seat and play with your guitar tone, in the most convenient way possible.
Got any cool tricks of your own for getting that perfect guitar tone? Let us know in the comments section below. And don’t forget to check out RAE Lessons for more extensive tutorials on guitar recording and mixing techniques.