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Getting Better Guitar Tones in the Studio

Working my tail off in the studio myself this month, I don’t have much time to write out a long column. But, what I will do is give you all some ideas to get better guitar tones on your recordings, whether it be on a professionally recorded CD release, or your home demo.

There are an insane amount of things that effect your tone. Getting decent tone isn’t hard. Getting ‘great’ tone is. What is ‘great’ tone? Well, no one has agreed on that for more than 15 minutes since guitar was invented. Find a CD that you think has amazing tone. That is great tone in your eyes.

Getting great tone is a game of details. Having a nice expensive amp, a custom guitar, and a world class facility at your disposal is a great start!. But…..let’s face it, none of us probably have most of that stuff. So, being at a disadvantage already, we need to remember a key thing….

There are exactly 1 million things that effect tone: The player, the pickup, the wood, the cable, the amp, the room, the mic, the pre, the eq, the medium recorded to, the engineer, the mix engineer, etc…. The list goes on. Realizing this from the get go will save you a lot of pain.

That being said, a great engineer once told me: “a 5% improvement in 10 different places in your recording chain will yield a 50% increase in the net result of your recording.” Here are some ideas to help get you ahead in this game of inches:

– Get a SHORTER CORD. Preferably something like lava guitar cable (YES IT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE!!! I was blown away by the differences between cables when I actually tried some different kinds out). Unbalanced 1/4 cables annihilate your tone over distance. The Shorter the cord, the better you are. Play a 50 foot stage wire and then hook up a 15 foot monster cable. If you can’t tell the difference, then get your ears checked. There is no hope for you.

– If you have a tube amp, make sure you have re-tubed it before you record. New tubes = better tone.

– Experiment with different pick / string combinations. Find what works best for the type of music you are recording.

– A good part of your tone is in the players hands. You may have a cheap guitar and a cheap amp, but a good player can make it sound good. That doesn’t mean your going to get Metallica guitar tone with a Samick guitar though a Pignose amp. That rig simply doesn’t have the gain structure necessary. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t get some mean sounding guitar tracks.

– When micing the cab, find the point in master volume where the speakers starts to excurse. By that, I mean where they move in and out rapidly. Speakers flatten out and add a sort of natural compression at this point. Turn your amp out loud enough to get your speakers moving. This will make a HUGE difference in your close micing tone. Don’t believe me? Slap up a mic, record a track. Then turn up the volume to the excursion point, rerecord the same thing. Sounds MUCH better hey?

– Find the best speaker on your cab when it is at the point of excursion. Put some plugs in and stick your head against that thing. Some speakers are too soft and sound tubby in the low end. Some are too stiff and hard sounding. Find your best speaker (if you have more than 1).

– When micing, have someone sweep the speaker with the mic while you play. Listen to the tone coming out of your speakers. You will begin to hear different tones. Pick the one you think sounds best and have your friend lock the mic stand there.. IMPORTANT: Do NOT pick the hottest sounding spot where the sound is the brightest. Many people make this mistake!!! All that high end fizz is useless in your mix. Do you look directly into the sun with a telescope?? Didn’t think so. If you want to add some high end into your guitar tracks, you will now have the option later on because you didn’t aim it at that spot. Try to find a spot with a nice balanced and full sound.

– Practice to a metronome. This one is obvious. Need I elaborate?

– Start with a good sound coming from your amp. If your amp isn’t producing what you consider “your sound,” then you aren’t going to be happy with your guitar tracks from the get go. Do your best to find “your sound” regardless of the rig you use.

– A real amp pushing a speaker will pound the living piss out of a digital modeling amp, any day. Remember that discussion about the excursion point? No modeler can compensate for moving real speaker excursing away. Don’t agree with me if you want. I know I just opened a big can of worms, but I could care less. You will be briefly beaten, killed, and then exhumed for further beatings plus 15 lashings. :) I’m, not saying that digital modelers are good! I have a pod, I love it. But, if we are going for as close to ‘great’ as we can get.

– Always remember that in a mix, the bass guitar is a good part of your guitar tone. So don’t you dare turn your bass to 10, mid to 0, and treble to 10! We would have to exhume your corpse again for another set of beatings. Get some of your low end from the bass guitar. Guitar is a mid range instrument. Lower your bass knob, and put some mids in your sound. It will sound better on a recording. The scooped sound is better for jamming on your own.

Well have fun with her. Go make some good sounding guitar tracks. The best way to learn is to do. Until next time……

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