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The Recording Studio: Tips & Tricks

This month, I thought that I’d talk about something VERY important to every one of us, the recording studio. Your first trip to the studio can be a real eye opener if you are ill prepared. Nothing sucks more than paying someone a high hourly fee to record you and you can’t play your parts for some reason (not enough practice, your nervous, pressure, fight with girlfriend, ect…). As you mess up take after take, your band is going to sit there with their arms crossed, planning ways to kill you afterwords.

So, what are some things you can do as a guitarist that will make your recording experience positive?

The Metronome

I know, I say it all the time….. use that evil click box. SO JUST DO IT! Believe me, the click track isn’t going to slow down or speed up in the studio. Your drummer isn’t either (hopefully haha!). If you are going to double track your guitar parts, you better be a machine. The studio can be an intimidating environment when you have 7 people sitting around you with their arms crossed glaring at you every time you miss a note. The more your practice being perfectly in time, the better chance you have of nailing your parts in one take.

Tone

At this point in my life, I have spent a lot of time going to live gigs, recording bands, playing shows, listening to other band’s promos, and listening to professionally recorded CDs. In my many years of musical experience, one phenomenon has withstood the test of time. Most guitar players have bad tone. I just don’t mean bad tone, I mean god awfully hideous tone. Having terrible tone is the equivalent of not knowing how to count to 10 in a math class.

Guitar players for the most part don’t know how to make themselves sound good. Now people will tell you, the tone is in your fingers. This is true. If your vibrato sucks, then it sucks. Work on it. But, this is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about stomp boxes, amps, preamps, ect.

So what makes me so sure that I know what I’m talking about? Heck, isn’t good tone subjective to the individual’s preferences?

For the most part, yes. But, what I will tell you is some guidelines that will make you sound either good, or bad.

1) If you are playing heavy metal and you have an amp with a lot of gain on it, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT turn the gain up on your amp to 10 in the recording studio!! Having more distortion will NOT MAKE YOU HEAVIER!!! It will just make you sloppier. As a matter a fact, the less gain you use (to a certain point), usually the better the recording will sound. When you over saturate your guitar, it is going to sound very muddy and sloppy. When finding a tone, start with your gain on 10, hit a chord and roll of the gain till you can hear all the notes shine. Find the spot where you can still get good clear artificial harmonics, but if you do a palm muted stop, you aren’t going to get a sloppy mess at the end of each note.

2) I laugh when someone comes into the studio with their amp settings that go like this: Bass 10, Mid 0, Treble: 10

Guys, THE FIRST THING THAT GETS CUT OUT WHEN MIXING GUITARS IS THE LOW END. Go ahead, be an ass, turn that bass up to 10 on that amp. Nearly every engineer I know cuts the bass out of the guitars immediately when mixing. The bass guitar should provide the low end. Low end on guitar is best when it is balanced and the tone is rounded out. Give your bass player some room to shine in the mix. If you want to be heavy, then put some mids into your tone. The midrange is where your heaviness and articulation comes from. If you record with more midrange in your tone, your riffs will be cleaner and heavier. You can always subtract midrange later in mixing. Recording with midrange will give your guitar more accurate response. So even if you don’t want any mids, still record with some just to make your guitar tracks tighter and subtractive eq them later.

3) Tube amps kill solid state amps. Do I even need to say this? Get rid of your pedals, and all that fancy crap, and get yourself a nice tube amp. Over the last 6 years, I’ve played just about every pedal, every amp, every preamp, and anything else you can think of. I could NEVER find ‘my tone’ as everyone calls it. It is very frustrating. The key to getting good tone is first playing every amp possible. Make pilgrimages to music stores that carry brands you haven’t played if you really need to. Just make sure you find out what kind of amp you like. Once you find your brand, find a good preamp/power amp, combo, head, or what ever you like.

Example: After listening to Dream Theater and Metallica, I found that I love Mesa Boogie tone. So I played every model I could find. As soon as I played a Triaxis preamp, BOOM, I found cool tone in less than 10 minutes. You can’t even imagine what its like to search for a tone for years then just find it in 10 minutes. It’s almost depressing!! Once you play a high quality tube amp/preamp, you will never go back to anything else.

The bottom line is pedals usually SUCK for distortion. They are good for a volume/gain boost on your amps natural drive section (Ibanez tube screamer is awesome for this). This is a good trick to get some extra sustain out of your amp. Turn the distortion to zero on the pedal. Turn the volume up from half to max. Turn the tone to the fatter end. Then run your guitar into that, and the pedal into your amp’s natural distortion. The result will be just the amount of boost you need for that solo.

4) Speaking of tubes, make sure you re-tube your amp before you go into the studio. This is something we all seem to forget. Nothing sucks more than having a tube go on you when you are in the middle of a perfect take!

5) Floating tremolo bridges never sound as good as fixed bridges. I never really noticed how much of a difference there was until I plugged 2 different guitars into the same rig. A floating bridge just kills the tone. Record your rhythm tracks with a fixed bridge guitar. Do yourself a favor.

6) Did I mention to restring your guitar before you record.

7) It sounds great live, but it sounds like crap in the studio! Ever happen to you before? Make sure you write out your live settings, because your probably going to have to tweak some things in the studio.Each venue sounds different and your amp needs eq for each room you play.

It is all about options!

Make sure that you have plenty of options in the studio gear wise. As simple as this sounds, it is important. So many times I’ve been in the studio going, I wish I would of brought this guitar, or that amp. Bring it all, you might need it. You may have a guitar that plays great, but sounds wretched in the studio.

Red light syndrome

Some people have red light syndrome, and some are born studio musicians. For those of you who get really nervous when your recording, you are in for some trouble. The thing that sucks is that you don’t know if you freeze up when that button is pushed until you’ve actually done it. So how can you prepare? Simple, get yourself a cheap recorder. Have your band come over and practice recording on the 4 track tape player. Practice makes perfect!

Another tip is to practice to the point where you can almost play your music in your sleep. You should be well practiced before even thinking about going into the studio. Especially if your a technical band. Don’t expect to be a prog metal band and go into the studio and nail everything in one take. It isn’t going to happen. So make dang sure that you can nail that really hard part in your solo that you always mess up.

Learn about production

Take the time to ask questions and learn about the recording process. Ask the engineer questions like: “why are you putting that mic over there?” It really helps to have a good understanding of what is going on. If you know how to make your guitar sound rig sound great in the studio, then you will spend a lot less time experimenting and save money! Learn the recording terminology also. What is an overdub? What is a click? ect…. Know these things.

Know your budget

Here is a good rule of thumb. Estimate how long you think you’ll need in the studio to finish your project, and double it. It is amazing how many things can go wrong when recording. If you have 1,000 dollars to spend, book 500 dollars in time. It is a good feeling to know that you can go an extra hour or 2 if you really need to. Nothing sucks more than not having enough money and saying “it is good enough.” You will never forgive yourself for making that mistake on your solo or whatever it may be.

Hopefully this have given you all some good insight.

Questions? Comments?

webmaster@insaneguitar.net

www.myspace.com/joelwanasek

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