Guitar and/or bass tracks can some of the most rewarding and most fun tracks to record. A song starts to feel as if it is coming together when the guitars are added. But what if we aimed for better sounding, tighter guitars? What sorts of tricks could we do in order to tighten up our rhythm playing, solo playing, and even our effects? This is the stuff I want to talk about today.
We all love to allow a great guitar player to open up a nice amp and just let it rip. But I have learned a few great tricks for getting “that great guitar sound” recorded. As a producer for other peoples ideas and visions, I often times don’t know what the end result of the idea, or what the direction of the song will be. It can be very hard to record the guitars, pass after pass, with the effects and all activated.
Before I get too far, let me tell you that I am a big fan of trying to not put off making those big decisions. You know, those decisions that can “roughly frame in a song”, like certain tones of guitars and amps and the types of effects. Simply working along, passing off all of these decisions until the end of the process can cause way too much stress. It can also make things way more difficult. Make the decisions that you can up front.
However, if you are placing guitars, on top of guitars, with layers and layers of tracks, please remember that “less is always more”. Things like distortion, delay, and reverb, will build up very fast! It can be much better to add these things later in the recording process.
So, when I am working with a band, recording a song that I am not too familiar with, I like to do a few things that will help me, as the producer. These little tricks have come in very handy, but might just save a session!
Like I already said, I like to record live guitar amps, and just as much as the next guy. I love to crank things up and “move some air”. Nothing puts a smile on a players face like a loud amp, blaring into a microphone.
However, once that heavy rock guitar is recorded, it can’t really be altered all that much. Sure, you can add effects after the fact, and EQ the live track, but not too much more can be done in the way of editing. What if there was a way to give ourselves some “audio insurance”?
“Audio insurance” is what I call recording guitar with D.I. (direct injection) tracks. I love to record the D.I. (direct injection) guitar track, along with the loud amps. Guitar players just love to hear their amp tones as they record sometimes. So, I split the guitar signal, before the amp, and send one to the DAW via a D.I. box. This D.I. track will allow for a few cool tricks. First, and perhaps the most obvious, is “re-amping”. The other cool trick is the D.I. track allows for precise editing in a way that the “mic’d guitar amp track” would never allow for.
Please note: You will need a “D.I. box” and a “Re-amping box” to pull these tricks off.
Re-amping is a great way to fix bad amp tones, or use different amp tones, later in the recording process. But that is not all it allows for. You can add fx to a re-amped guitar track in a precise, exact, surgical amount, that perfectly fits the finished song to a tee!!! I have heard that the producers for Van Halen used this cool trick quite a lot when adding FX to Edwards tracks. Plus, you can use a re-amped guitar track to use different amp/cab combinations, practice better cab isolation, and some other cool things.
When you start thinking about how, with re-amping, you can send a buss track, full of guitar tracks, to one FX chain, things start to become a “less washy” sounding. Those effects can, and will, build up on top of each other, right?
The next cool D.I. trick that I want to mention is about editing a guitar track. Have you ever tried to edit out a bad lick, splice in a better take, on a guitar track that consists of a recorded guitar amp pushed into distortion, with effects? Yep, it is almost impossible to pull that off. You can hear the edits as clear as the guitar itself. But if you took a second to set it up, the recorded D.I. track can be edited, without people noticing the edits, easily.
The clean D.I. guitar track is an editing dream. I first came to this conclusion when I was working in ProTools. It came to me that I was plugging my electric guitar into my preamp, and then into Amplitube. So, it was possible to record my D.I. guitar, and then apply Amplitube as a plugin, later. This set up just seemed too perfect for editing. It was. My guitar timing (for rhythms and for solos) could now be perfect. Awesome!
I used to be a poor solo player (still am, but I am getting better), so I played the notes of the solo, as close to time as I could, as a D.I. track (before Amplitube was added) into ProTools. That way I could edit the solo to Van Halen specs. Next, Amplitube was opened up and I amazed myself.
The exact same principal stands true for D.I. tracks being re-amped with microphones in front of guitar amps. Edit the clean D.I. tracks and no one will ever notice. Re-amp those perfect D.I. guitar tracks to an amp, later, and it will be tight! Add your effects to these perfectly played re-amped tracks, and BOOM, you are working and sounding like a pro!
So, to wrap this up, we can use D.I. tracks in some cool, creative ways. We can edit a D.I. guitar (or bass) track much easier than a distorted effected track mic’d through an amp. We can then re-amp our perfectly edited D.I. guitar track into any amp that we choose, long after the guitar player has gone home. Next, we can route fx with this new amp recording session, or after the re-amped guitar had been recorded. Using bus tracks, in our DAW is a great and precise way to add fx to a guitar.