The Music Espionage

Electric Guitar

The electric guitar is such a diverse instrument with a wide range of elements to consider. If recorded D.I you will be adding the main timbre and effects during the mix, if you recorded the amplifier and FX pedal using a microphone and output, it is all about balancing and using the EQ to remove anomalies for all other elements of the track. Naturally this will affect how you approach the mix and what elements you want to shine through and become more significant.

You will often find that after a standard session in the studio with a guitarist you have ended up with far more guitar tracks than you ever intended. Bloody guitarists! Now you have the task of balancing these numerous takes and double-tracks to make sure they all fit clearly within the mix. This can get difficult with a two-guitarist band, you have to carefully separate the two very similar sounding instruments and make sure both are not masked and contribute to the overall mix.

EQ and Frequencies:
Electric guitars never follow a set pattern. The tones and the balance of these frequencies varies so drastically from track-to-track and genre-to-genre, that you will never use the same settings twice. However, like all instruments there are some elementary and fundamental areas to listen out for.

There will be little other than hum and noise below the guitar’s fundamental frequency, so it’s often worth filtering below about 80Hz. However, most guitar sounds can be warmed up with a boost at around 125-250Hz.

In the low register the bass and lead guitars share a deal of frequencies. If the two are performing a similar phase, for example a rhythm electric guitar playing power-chords and the bass playing motifs around the root notes, the two will share much of the same frequency space. You need to think carefully about which needs to take centre stage in the mix as you may find masking between the two.

The image below shows the standard areas that these two instruments share within the frequency spectrum. You can also hear from the example that between 100 and 350Hz the sounds blend the worst. This would leave the lower frequencies muddy and without defection if left to mask like this. Some guitars do not sound good with a low shelf cut at 200Hz. So you need to use your ears when doing the adjustment. Sometimes you might want to start cutting starting 150Hz or even 100Hz, it depends.

The electric guitar is a mid-frequency instrument and therefore has a lot of energy in the middle of the frequency spectrum. For extra oomph and body-thickness try enhancing a few dB’s around 240 Hz and if your guitar lacks bite I would scan through the areas around 2 – 3 KHz. Nevertheless, no matter how dirty and crunchy you get the guitar sounding in a rock/metal track, all distortion adds unwanted harmonics to the mix. The other main thing to take into account is that the frequency response of most guitar speaker cabinets rolls off pretty steeply above 4kHz, and so your best choice for emphasising the crispness and attack of guitar sounds is a boost at 3-5kHz frequencies.

– Audio example of how much the guitar and bass will mask if no EQ is applied.
[audio:|titles=4. Bass and Guitar Masking]

High pass filter or a low shelving filter with cut off frequency at 200 Hz (for all applicable genres)– this will roll off guitar low frequencies (the bass) which can conflict with bass guitar sound.

Here are a few principal frequencies to consider when starting with the EQ.

Dynamic Shaping:
Occasionally electric guitars, though overdriven guitar sounds tend to be self-compressing anyway. If you look at the waveform of a distorted guitar track it should be pretty much solid blocks…. its already squeezed to the max by the amp distortion and the speaker, further compression will do little. Nevertheless clean guitars are more dynamic and may need compression to even them out a bit and pull them up in the mix. Try getting a gain reduction of around 10dB, maybe up to 15dB or back off down to 5dB depending on the song. Play around with the attack and release. If there are big transients you can put a fast attack to catch them. If you only want it to work on the peaks have the release on a fast setting as well.
Double Tracking:
When you need a thicker sound, try real double-tracking rather than ADT (Artificial Double Tracking). In other words, play the same part twice over on two different tracks. Depending on the player, you may get better results by muting the original part until the new part has been recorded. If real double-tracking is too difficult, use a pitch-shifter to add a small amount of delay and detuning to fake the effect more convincingly than chorus.

The double tracking effect…

Because it is impossible for a performer to sing or play the same part in exactly the same way twice, a recording and blending of two different performances of the same part will create a fuller, “chorused” effect with double tracking. But if you simply play back two copies of the same performance in perfect sync, the two sound images become one and no double tracking effect is produced. However, if two identical performances are copied and played back, with one of them slightly out of sync, the sound image would alter and widen, similarly to double tracking (recording the same part or phrase twice), and add more colour to the instrument.