We hope that this article will help you to understand how to mix electric guitar whenever you find them in your mix.
To put it shortly, you must pay a lot of attention to the recording process and to make sure that you’re satisfied with the result. Then you may apply some strategic EQing by boosting frequencies that need emphasizing and cutting unwanted frequencies. Use the compression to either tame the peaks or to give the sound more volume by bringing up the sustain. And finally, use delay and reverb to your own taste.
Now let’s take a deeper look.
The Mixing Process
It’s very important to remember that mixing isn’t intended to fix major issues, although, with some determination and passion, it’s completely possible. Mixing serves the purpose of making all of the parts more pronounced and enjoyable. So when it comes to mixing electric guitars particularly, we want to make sure that they sit in the mix properly and the sound is very consistent. And this should be a pretty straightforward task if you’ve listened to our previous advice and recorded everything properly.
Clean up and edit
Before we fire up any plugins, it would be wise to examine our recordings in order to see if some editing is required. If this is the case, then your first step should be cutting off any unwanted silence and other pieces that aren’t relevant to the composition. Then you have to make sure that timing is perfect or at least doesn’t distract from the composition itself. If some timing mistakes were discovered, you may consider fixing it by cutting and moving or simply quantizing the whole track.
Basic principles of EQing
An equalizer is a very straightforward tool that was designed to make certain frequencies louder and others quieter. You can use whatever equalizer that you’re comfortable with, but it’s believed that equalizers that emulate some vintage hardware gear will give you the most benefit when it comes to adding volume to the frequencies. That said, whether your guitar tracks require some vintage coloration or not is completely up to you. Regardless of what particular equalizer you would choose, there are a few common principles that are implemented on electric guitars.
When it comes to low-end, placing a high-pass filter somewhere around 70-80 Hz would be rather beneficial since those frequencies don’t carry a lot of useful information and, moreover, may conflict with the bass and the kick drum. If you want your electric guitar to have a more pronounced and powerful low end, consider boosting somewhere around 100-150 Hz. But be cautious since those frequencies will overlap with a bass guitar and you’ll have to find some sort of compromise between the two.
In midrange lies the most information that an electric guitar can provide, but this also concerns all of the other instruments, which means that if this particular frequency range would be left unattended, your mix most definitely will sound muddy and boomy. To avoid that, you may consider making a very slight cut between 200 and 300 Hz. But do it carefully since too much of a cut can make your guitar sound too thin. And a slight boost somewhere around 500 Hz can add more body to your guitar.
If there’s too much guitar pick sound in your recording, you may make a slight cut somewhere around 1-2 kHz. Within the same frequency range also lays the sound that is considered to be rather harsh and offensive when it comes to electric guitars. A boost somewhere around 5 kHz can give your guitar more presence, and to add more clarity, make a high shelf boost somewhere around 10 kHz. How much to boost or cut is a very subjective question, but generally, 2-3 dBs should do the trick.
Basic principles of compression
The compressor is a tool that reduces the dynamic range of the signal, and the approach that we implemented with equalization also works perfectly fine with compression. Any will do but if you’re looking for additional flavor, consider using some vintage emulation. But regardless of what compressor you would choose, when it comes to electric guitars, usually, we’re looking for either taming the peaks or making the guitar sound more balanced.
Tame the peaks with compression
If you found that there are some inconsistencies that pop up here and there, you may want to smooth them out by applying a very fast attack and a fast release. Be careful though, if your attack would be too fast, the guitar may sound very unnaturally choked. Use a very high threshold so the compressor would affect only the loudest peaks. And depending on how obvious you want your compression to sound, use a 3 or 5:1 ratio.
Use compressor to balance it out
If you’re pretty happy with the state of the peaks but want to add more volume and depth to the sound, apply compression with a very fast attack and a slow release. This will bring up the sustain of the sound without affecting the initial transients. So, in this case, it would be wiser to use a very low threshold so the quietest parts would be affected. The same ratios as in the previous example should suffice but consider also adding a soft knee to make the compression sound more natural.
Delay and reverb
When you’re happy with the dynamic range and frequency response of your guitar, you may consider giving it some dimension and sense of space. A very subtle stereo delay will give it more depth, especially if you set it up with quarter or half note repeats. Reverb very much depends on the aesthetic feel of the whole track, but usually, plate or spring reverb would do wonders for electric guitar. You can even take one step forward and apply two reverbs simultaneously, one with very long decay and the second one with shorter. And, of course, both delay and reverb would be more manageable if you put them on separate auxiliary tracks and route your guitar tracks through them.
How to record electric guitar
Contrary to popular belief, mixing starts way before you fire up your favorite EQ and compressor, or at least it should with proper planning and preparations. The more work you will put in the recording of your electric guitar, the less you will need to do on mixing stages. Of course, some minor mistakes or inconsistencies may very well be fixed with some effects, but nothing can save poorly recorded electric guitars or any instrument for that matter.
Use proper gear
It would be rather naive to assume that you can connect your guitar straight into the line input of your computer and achieve great results. So, unfortunately enough, you’re going to have to acquire some gear in order to do this job properly, but the good news is that if you own a decent audio interface, you’re halfway there. A somewhat decent amp and a good mic would be a nice addition, but you’ll be just fine with a good DI box and some good-sounding digital emulations.
This may come as a very obvious step and at that a very annoying one, but you have to make sure that everything works as intended. Firstly, check if your cables are in working condition and, of course, make sure that you use some proper ones. Before each take, you should check if your guitar is still in tune, this could be a rather tiresome endeavor, but it’ll pay off in the end when you wouldn’t have to fix some weird pitches. Luckily, there are some excellent tuners that might help you ease out this task.
Choose your sound
Unless you’ve managed to record a perfect DI signal and combined it with a digital emulation of your choosing, it would be extremely hard to change the tone after you’ve finished recording. So it’s very crucial that you’d choose the tone of your guitar very carefully and considerately. Make a few test takes and tweak things until you’re perfectly satisfied with the tone. And remember that it’s always better to avoid mistakes than try to fix them when it’s too late.
Although it’s a very obvious thing to do, many beginner guitarists don’t tend to practice a lot. When it comes to your own playing, make sure that you know the part very well and your timing is decent before you start to record. The same goes for recording someone else’s playing, so if you feel like your guitarist isn’t very confident in the part that you’re trying to capture, give them some time to practice, perhaps even with a metronome. No amount of very clever mixing and even a perfect tone could possibly mask a poorly performed guitar part.
Most aspiring audio engineers have their own preferences when it comes to what particular genre they enjoy working on. But no matter what that particular genre might be, almost inevitably, some electric guitars will be involved.
Now this is a rather tricky instrument with an impressive dynamic range and a very wide frequency response. So in this article, we would like to share with you our approach on how to mix electric guitar.