Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tricks to fatten up the guitars in your mixes.

First of all, the golden rule with fattening up guitars in your mixes is that there are no rules.

Sometimes our mistakes turn out to be the coolest parts of our works. Keep an open mind, and try everything that you can think of. You can’t record the one or two ideas that you fail to try out.

I love trying to beef up guitar tracks. I enjoy the end result; which is getting a guitar track to stand out and sound different from all of the rest. I have many different tricks that I use, and I think that it is time that I shared several of them with you.

I’ll start with a guitar layering EQ trick that I had read about some time ago. The author of the article and the publication that it was in completely escapes me at this moment, but most likely it was a popular recording magazine. The article was about taking a guitar track, copying said track, and then pasting two (or more) duplicates into the same mix, but on separate tracks. One track, the original, remains untouched. The two duplicate tracks are where they focused their layering attention.

The idea here is to adjust the EQ settings on the first duplicated track for the bottom end (or bass), and then pan it slightly to one side. Follow suit with the next (or second) duplicate track, only bring out the highs on that track, and then pan it to opposite of what you did on the prior track. The center spot of the three tracks’ panning is reserved for the original track. This makes one guitar track come alive, but it does not “muddy up” a mix as too many guitar layers might. This gem of an idea also creates an interesting stereo panning arrangement for the tracks.

Next, let’s talk about layering the actual guitar parts. The layering of guitar parts is as old as the hills. Listening to any Lynyrd Skynyrd albums will bring your ears full attention to this old trick indeed. Basically speaking, layering notes is just finding out which note is being played, and then find that note on another octave and let her rip. This practice holds true with playing and layering chords as well. However, I often like to take it further than that. How? Read on.

I will often times find the notes of the key that the song is played in, and play the notes of that scale that make up the songs key along with the note to be layered. One example of this could be as follows… Let’s say that the songs key is in D Major. The note that is sounding/being played is a “D”, and let’s assume that it needs some thickening up. What I might do is to play an “F#” note over the “D”, and then record another layer with an “A” note being played. This can make it sound like a chord is being played all at once so be carful. You don’t want to confuse the listener by having too much going on at the same time.

Often I will use this very idea and apply it into, or along with a songs motion, or direction. If the original part is played “D, F#, then A”, I might layer with a separate track playing it backwards or playing some alteration of the three notes. This can add a cool dimension to a solo.

There is an up and coming post; here on Home Recording Weekly that will further explain, and also list some of the most often used alternate tunings for the guitar. With that, let’s just take a look at what we can do with alternate tunings in our music.

Perhaps one of the best tricks for layering guitar sounds in a mix is to tune the guitar differently with each layered track. Here are some fun ways to accomplish this.

One of my most often used “guitar track fattening agents” is to use a second or third guitar tuned to an open tuning. Open tunings are just as fun to play with as anything in a recording studio can be. Open tunings are often easy to dial in, and playing whole chords with just one finger is possible.

Perhaps the main reason that I use open tunings is to introduce a slide into my music. Using a slide on a guitar opens a whole new can of worms, sonically speaking. Adding a slide guitar solo, or a guitar riff which is made from using a slide, just sounds awesome! A couple of great open-tuned slide songs that come to mind are “I drink alone” and “Bad to the bone”, both by George Thorogood and the Destroyers. Classics, if I do say so myself!


Drop D tuning is another great way of adding some deepness to a weak guitar riff. Eddie Van Halen has invented a bridge for tuning your top E string down to a D with just a flick of a lever. His list of songs that are based off of drop D tunings is as long as his solos are, and just as fun to listen to. An acoustic guitar can really come alive with a drop D tuning dialed in, as in the main guitar part on the song “Copper Head Road”, by Steve Earle.

How about employing the trusted capo?

Custom tunings are something that you can easily make with the use of a capo. A lot of my recorded songs have been recorded with guitar parts that stand out, just by the use of a capo. The main reason for using a capo is to temporarily move the nut to anyplace on the guitars neck. You can then pick away on a C chord fingering (on the guitars neck) but be playing, er sounding, a completely different chord. Using capos to double guitar parts in songs can also add a very cool “12 string sound” to a guitar part.

The ideas are endless folks! The idea is to try as many things as you can think of. There are no rules, except that it sounds good to your own ears.

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