Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Getting ready to record electric guitar

Electric guitar can easily make or break a Rock/Metal recording. If the guitarist plays like a wimp and without precision your songs will sound uninspiring and bland. Let's find out if there is anything you should be considering before the recordings to make sure this won't happen. And while we are at it, let's explore some of the often undermined effects of amps and cabs to your sound.

The clock is running sadistically small numbers in between 10:00am and 11:00am. With somewhat dreary eyes I'm finding my way to the dungeon (an "affectionate" nickname for the studio). We are supposed to start recording the rhythm guitars for a black metallish group and I'm trying to make it down to the lair a bit before the guitarists turn up. I find myself taking a few running steps now and then 'cos I'm not quite sure how precise the guys are. I get in and head straight to the coffee machine. Once I get the coffee going I start to assess the situation. I have both of my amps all ready to go and I'll just need to set up the cab in the live room and throw a few mics in front before the guys get here. Just as I get everything close to set up the phone rings "Räihä" I answer with an upbeat. "Sorry that we are a bit late. There was a bit of a situation before we got driving... But we are at the door". I'm already walking to open the front door "I'll come up" I conclude.

The guys come in with a pile of guitars and a few amps (with some weird issues and old tubes, I have been told). We shoot the shit for good ten minutes and start making a wall of the amps we collectively have gathered for the session. I urged the guitarists to bring every working amp they had any positive feelings about. I also strongly advised to leave the beat up 2 x 12" Harley Benton at their rehearsal place. Not that I have anything against cheap gear but let's just say I've been there and done that. And besides, I happen to have a great 4 x 12" that'll give the sound the kind of importance and weight we are after. We look at the guitars the guys brought in and I ask which guitar brings the most joy when played. Both guitarists take out their number one axe and I quickly scan thru the pickups and the overall condition of the guitars. The other one has EMG81 in the bridge and the other one has a Duncan JB in the bridge. Excellent! The stars are in alignment. We can start out with the stuff the guys are most at home with. I just hate talking musicians out of their main instrument but sometimes it's the only real alternative. You should see some of the "guitars" and "pickups" that come in.

After a quick tuning we go thru every amp and try to find settings that compliment the bands music the most. At this point it's essential to listen to the sound in context. Isolated sounds do not interest me the slightest. The most important thing is that everything fits together. With this specific project our work is a bit easier 'cos we have already decided that we are shooting for a raw tone that lets the "touch" of the player be heard. So two tracks of main rhythm guitars it is. Now all we need is a sample of each amp and then a brutally honest comparison and an open discussion of the sounds. One more round with the best ones (to our ears for this specific project), little tweaks and off we go. Hopefully...

The equipment affects guitar sound immensely. At least the effect is much greater than with other instruments. Here you have a short list of things to consider:

  • Have your instrument set up by a professional. You'll find yourself tuning the damn thing all the time anyhow but it'll make your life much easier. Trust me
  • TUNE TUNE TUNE TUNE! Tune so much it hurts
  • You should tune the guitar to the riff you are playing. If the part has only notes from high up on the fretboard: fret one of those notes, plug it, look at the tuner and tune accordingly. It doesn't matter if the open strings are in tune if you are not playing open strings
  • Tune so that the attack of the note is in tune if you are playing fast stuff
  • Tune so that the sustain is in tune if you are playing slow stuff
  • The pick affects the tone, your picking angle affects the tone, how hard you play affects the tone, the riffs you play affect the tone
  • Play hard and snappy, and preferably downstrokes with a steep pick angle (not parallel to the strings) for that Hetfield / scrapey attack vibe. If you are into that sort of thing. And frankly, who isn't?
  • Mute the strings you are not playing. It is impossible to get a precise and punchy guitar sound if you have constant unwanted noise coming from the guitar. If you should remember and implement only one thing from this blog entry it is this one, hands down. You should practice this alone and fully concentrate on not letting anything unwanted to ring out.
  • Change strings (at least) for every day of recording for both easier tuning and better sound. And remember to wash those sticky fingers of yours before smudging up the strings
  • Make sure you have strings on that are of adequate thickness. That low A note better be in tune when you hit it like it owes you money.
So there you go. Follow these guidelines and be prepared for smoother sailing when recording your riffs. Did I leave out something important or do you disagree with something. Let me know and let's talk about it.


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