Mixing Rhythm Guitars
There is a bonus feature, which features my approach to micing guitar cabs and there are so many ways to do that, but it's a way that we used, when we miced up the guitar cabs, that we used for Juggernaut and the result of having a really balanced guitar tone is that there's really very little that needs doing in the mix, so I don't know if this is gonna be surprising to some of you guys, but the sum total of all of the EQ, that's being done on our rhythm guitars is these things here, there's just a little bit of extra boost being applied higher up in the range, a tiny bit of boost in the mid range and then it's just been high passed and low passed, but what I kind of want to talk about more than the EQ, that we're applying to the guitars though is just the methodology behind tracking professional guitars for recording, we spent the best part of, I wanna say five or six weeks tracking just guitars and bass for this album, you know, to some people, that might seem like a huge amount of ...
time, but what I really meant was we got to go very, very in depth on making sure that the takes were really good, making sure that the tones were really good and getting to experiment a lot with things like analog effects, like delay pedals, which feature quite heavily in the textural guitar parts, that we'll get into in a little bit in this song. So there's kind of not that much going on, plugin-wise, these are the rhythm guitars over here in pink, our lead guitars are the blue ones, then these are kind of more effecty guitars over here, but you can see really, EQ is not being used to enhance the sound particularly, the sound is really there at the source. With that said, let's kind of look at how we went about tracking these guitars, so the main rhythm guitars are a stereo pair, they're not quad tracked, we've got actually quite a lot of level variation, if you'd look and this would have been something that was done during tracking, we kind of would have automated or used Clip Gain functionalities within the door to dictate which out of this in the secondary rhythm pair would take priority and because of that, there's not really very much automation, you can see these are the automation lanes and they're essentially non-existent. This is one of the bonuses of tracking your own project, that you're gonna mix is you can commit to decisions like this, if I was sending it off to somebody else to mix, it could be really difficult to convey exactly which parts should take precedence and perhaps we'd have had to split things across more tracks, but as it is, let's just take a quick listen to some of the guitar tracking on this song, Alpha from the main rhythm guitars. (guitar rock music) Let's find like a different style of riff perhaps. (guitar rock music) That's just kind of an octave part, how about, (guitar rock music) there's something I wanna point out straightaway is that you can probably hear now that you're hearing it in isolation, these are not completely robotically edited guitars, these are all played guitar parts and while we did use editing to neaten up some things or perhaps punch parts in that would reduce the amount of time it takes to get from one area of the fret board to another, reduce the amount of noise that's in there, we weren't aiming for that kind of almost guitar pro-esque sound that you hear on a lot of modern metal records these days and that's not an aesthetic that I like in my productions, I like to hear things like the kind of string noise you can hear in the intro riff and the gaps, like it's not just cut completely dead silent, you can hear a bit of variation between the left and right guitars, in terms of timing on the more delicate stuff, the main thing though is that the tuning is, well, not the main thing, to me, the main thing that I'm listening for is how well in tune things are, that was one of the things, that really took a huge amount of time, when we were tracking these songs was ensuring that everything through all the guitar layers, like if we take this part here, for example, there are seven guitars playing between the delay lead, two rhythm guitar layers and then four rhythm guitars underneath that, tuning starts to become a really huge aspect, that you have to contend with, nothing is gonna make a guitar tracking or in fact any aspect of a mixed sound less, more amateur, than having super out of tune guitars, so when we listen to these guitars, you might well hear imperfections and that's completely fine with me, going from my previous album, which was still kind of in this vein, but perhaps a little bit more edited, just down to the decision making that the producers were using at the time, you know, this is really a more organic approach to tracking and hopefully you guys can appreciate that the slight difference in sound, that you get, when you do that, compared with super hard edited guitar tracking, that you might hear, so I'm not gonna be talking about you know, Quantizing guitars or using Beat Detective to time a line DIs or any of those more advanced techniques, that some guys like to use, when they're tracking guitars, it really just comes down to playing the riff a lot of times and finding creative ways sometimes of muting the strings, that aren't being played to ensure that they're not ringing out over what you're trying to play, sometimes that involves getting a second player involved to kind of use their fingers to mute things, but we try to do it as live as we can and it can be fun and games in the studio sometimes. The second rhythm guitar track here is mainly consisting of doubles of the main guitars, except played with an octaver, this was an effect we used a lot during the Juggernaut tracking sessions and it really does a lot to add depth to the main rhythm guitar sound, now I've said that, I'm not sure if this is gonna be an octaver guitar track at the beginning, but let's see what it sounds like. (guitar rock music) Now those are octaves, which is not quite what I meant. Let me find somewhere that has some octaver going on. (guitar rock music) So that is a part, which features an octaver effect on guitars and that's something we used throughout the album to try and give a greater sense of depth, if you listen to all four of these guitars together now, hopefully you'll hear the effect of the extra octave being added on the secondary rhythm guitar pair there. (guitar rock music) Believe it or not, the gating that you're hearing there is not chop silence after the fact, that was all done with noise gates actually gating hard into the signal, when we played it, so it's kind of cool to listen back to this stuff and hear those little imperfections in there and realize that it was all kind of done in a more live way, it's certainly the way that I like to track, whenever I can. So along with our main guitar pairs we've got going on, for example, in the first riff, you heard just a little bit of like octave layers, that supported the main riff, we have some kind of more complex layering of guitars going on perhaps in this section. (guitar rock music) Sometimes these parts are actually, kind of sound weird on their own, but they're all kind of designed to fit together to create a really big sound, when you combine all three guitars, that creates a much bigger chord than you could create just by playing a single guitar part, so like this second guitar part here is probably a little bit strange on its own, (guitar rock music) no, not that one, (guitar rock music) There's a hell of a lot of kind of less melodic sounding stuff, you know, stuff that really doesn't get across the sense of the main melody being conveyed by the rhythm guitars, that's being layered on top of it to try and add density to those chords, to me, that's almost like EQing or processing a guitar, like I would much rather add extra layers or add something that's harmonically interesting, than, well, to me, that's kind of how I would achieve a thicker sound, it's not achieved through like EQ or compression or something like that, however, reigning in all of those guitars and making sure that the level changes aren't too drastic involves a lot of automation, as I spoke of earlier, a lot of that was printed to the guitars during tracking, something that can really help with that is just a little bit of compression, this one, our SSL channel that we're using here for EQ, I also have the compressor section engaged and I'm not using a particularly high ratio, but I am using a fast release, I'm not using the fast attack, so you might have noticed in that staccato riff, the notes are really popping out after the breaks, that was as the compressor kind of struggled to clamp down quick enough and that extra aggression can be really cool, it's something that I really like the sound of, when you get a percussive riff like, I think it was this one here. (guitar rock music) It's very little compression though, you can see the 3db light is only just lighting up every now and then, maybe some sections will set off more of it, but essentially as the layers come in, the compressor is gonna clamp down a little bit harder, but hopefully quite transparently and just control the overall level of the guitars there, otherwise it can get out of control really quite quickly. I do occasionally, although I didn't on this session, use a multiband compressor in a similar way to how we used it on the bass guitar to maintain a fairly even low end, when you're moving from palm mutes to open notes, if you were to try and EQ out the frequencies that really boom, when you palm it, you might end up with a very thin guitar sound, again, that's a kind of Andy Sneap guitar trick, that's been kind of floating around on message boards for a huge amount of time, I think most people tracking metal rhythm guitars do something along those lines, but this session is proof, that that's not always necessary, you can see that apart from the first notch in EQ, which I'll talk about in a second and the stereo widening and just a trim plugin, we're really just dealing with EQ and a tiny bit of compression, there's no tricks up the sleeve, as far as that goes. There are some kind of whistly frequencies present in the guitar sound, which I've notched out here, like if I were to play the guitars with and without that, I think it would be quite immediately apparent and similar to how things were with the cymbals, just notching those out can really smooth out the guitar sound in a way that, you know, trying to take a broad chunk out in that area just can't achieve without completely destroying the bite of the guitar, so I'll play it and then I'll take this EQ out of the loop and hopefully you'll hear suddenly all of these whistly frequencies popping in in the top end. (guitar rock music) So you can hopefully hear, it's quite a drastic difference. Now those whistly frequencies are generally produced by the speaker and also by the microphones, it's not really something you can avoid, even the most professionally recorded guitar turns that I've received have often had those kind of frequencies there, perhaps on a clean sound or on something with less overdrive, it wouldn't be so abrasive, but when you're dealing with high gain guitars, those frequencies are just a constant whistle on top of it, I would urge you to not go too crazy with notching up these frequencies, 'cause once you hear one and you notch that out, your ear is automatically gonna hear another one, like you're just, yeah, it's a never ending chase trying to get rid of all of them and eventually you're gonna come back to listen to your guitar turn and realize that it's really lost a huge amount of impact, so what I always do is, you know, if I'm hearing a lot of whistles, if there's one that's really prominent and I know I have to take it out, then I'll take it out, but if I'm in any kind of two minds about it, I'll listen to the guitars in context, I can completely change your perspective on it. All the time, I listen to professional productions and you hear these kind of whistly frequencies in cymbals or in guitars and to an extent, it's also, to me, indicative of the aesthetic of what the producer or band are going for, if you listen to, for example, an Underoath record, the last one they put out, the cymbals have some very intense ringing frequencies and it kind of conveys a rawness, it can also get very fatiguing to listen to, so you know, if you really wanna leave everything pristine and leave it all out there, then by all means do that, personally I find that just taking these notches out of the guitars can make things a little bit more listenable, you just have to be careful not to overpolish things.