Saturday, December 24, 2011


Hello everybody and welcome to this new tutorial! Today we're going to talk about how to record an acoustic guitar, an instrument that needs to be reproduced as natural sounding as possible to be good, and that is the reason why it cannot be digitally recreated via synth in a credible way.
First off let's say that there are two ways to record an acoustic guitar: using a microphone, or (if the guitar has a pickup), using the jack output of the guitar itself.

- Using the Microphone: first off you need a microphone suited to record acoustic instruments, such as the Shure Beta57, but there are many others very good and probably cheaper, for example made by Sennheiser. Condenser microphones may be even better, but they need an acoustically treated room in order to play at their best, so check the environment carefully before choosing.
Now we need to find the "sweet spot" of the guitar where to point the microphone, keeping in mind those rules: if you point the microphone toward the bottom of the guitar or behind it, the sound will result very deep and full of bass frequencies, same is if you point toward the sound hole: you will get a bassy sound that captures the internal resonance of the guitar.
The more you move toward the neck, the more you'll capture the strings sound, so the higher you will go in the neck, the more the sound will be brilliant.
Obviously you'll have to hear and decide for yourself, but I would consider a good spot the area near the 12th fret: this is where the neck joins the body and is usually regarded as the best place to record the acoustic guitar, since it is where we capture a full and even frequency response from the instrument; not too bassy and not too brilliant. If you need some extra string sound, you could also place another mic at the first fret to capture the nuances of the strings.

A typical miking setup for the acoustic guitar is with two Condenser microphones: one pointing the 12th fret, the other one pointing the bottom of the guitar, always on the front side as the other one: the one pointing to the bottom of the guitar will catch some low end that will later be mixed with the sound acquired with the other mike. At these two microphones can be added a third condenser one, set about one or two mt. away from the player in order to catch some of the room Reverb.
Click Here for a dedicated article about how to microphone an Amplifier.

- Using the pickup: Many acoustic guitars nowadays, even the cheaper ones, have built-in a piezo pickup, and a battery-powered preamp, sometimes even with an equalization section too!
To record the sample in the video for this article, I have used an Ibanez V72 Cent, a cheap acoustic guitar with a built-in preamp, a volume, bass and treble control, and a built-in tuner too.
So first off I have found a good compromise in the built-in equalization, slightly cutting the treble and boosting the lows to give it a more "round" tone, then I went with the jack straight to the input of my audio interface.

- Once you have the signal on your D.A.W., is time to process it. You can use any plugin you want, usually any D.A.W. has some processing plugin bundled, but if you need some, I suggest you the Reaplug Suite, which is freeware and it sounds great.
First off I'd suggest to Equalize, but be very gentle: we need to preserve the naturality and the tonal richness of the acoustic instrument, so there's no need to overprocess the signal: we may just use a high pass filter to take away the lows we don't need, such as the frequencies below 50hz (sometimes, if we're on a more dense mix, it's best to take out everything below 100hz, or even 2/300hz, if we want just the guitar strum to pop out of the mix), and gently subtract a little (-3db) in the areas around 100-300 hz and 1-3 khz, if the sound is a little boomy or needs to be more open and transparent. Boosting between 5khz and 10khz will add sparkle, cutting between 1khz and 3khz will reduce harshness.
For the solo parts, we can instead boost some decibel (e.g. 3), to the 5-7khz area, in order to add some presence.

Now it's time for Compression, which can be normal or multiband. For the normal compression, just set a ratio between 4:1 and 12:1, according to the dynamic range of the song (the more volume differencies between quiet and loud picking, the higher the ratio should be), short attack (around 20ms) and medium release times (around 0,5sec), and a threshold set to around -15db.
The Multiband Compression, instead, gives you the opportunity to choose the amount of compression to apply to the single frequency areas, which can be adjusted through the controls.
This may be useful, since it can be used as a halfway between a compressor and an equalizer, and can help to reduce volume and presence of single areas of your signal (for example the lows between 100 and 300hz) and boost others (between 5 and 7 khz), without changing the overall tone.

Once you are satisfied with your tone, you can add (if needed, especially if you have recorded directly from the jack output) a Harmonic Exciter to add some sparkle to the tone, or a Reverb, like Freeverb, set very low, just to give to your sound that little resonance that it needs to be realistic; we can use for example a Plate reverb to add vitality, with a decay time of between 2 and 3 seconds.

So the Chain is: Guitar->Equalization->Compression->Harmonic Exciter (if needed)->Reverb (If Needed)

Cheers everybody and Merry Christmas!!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011


Hello!! Today we're going to talk about the guitar effects chain, focusing on the exact order of your stompboxes (or rack effects), from the guitar to the amplifier input.
First off if you see the image, I have divided the signal chain in three areas: the first is the Pre Gain Area, then we have the Gain Related Area, and finally the Post Gain Area.

- The Pre Gain Area:  this is where the signal chain begins, and where we should set the effects that needs to be applied to the signal before the Gain Related Area. 
Here is were we put utility processors like TunerNoise Gate, then we can apply filters like Wah Wah or Envelope Filters, next is the place for Dynamic Controllers, like a Compressor, and the "area" ends with the intelligent processors, such as Harmonizer or Pitch Shifter.

- The Gain Related Area: this area needs to be separated from the others because it changes dramatically the signal, so any effect that expand the sound, like delays, must be put after this area, if we want to avoid to distort the delay repetitions too. 
This is where we put our Overdrive, Distortion or Fuzz.

- The Post Gain Area: this is the last area of our guitar signal chain, and includes time-based modulation effects (chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo and many others) and pure time-based modulations (such as delay and reverb).

Very Important: If instead of using gain related stompboxes you wish to use directly the overdrive channel of your guitar amp, the preamplifier of your amp itself becomes the Gain Related Area, so you need to move the Post Gain Area to the Fx Loop of your amplifier (via the "Send" output, set all the post gain effects you need, and then go back into the amplifier through the "Return" input). 
And that's it, your perfect guitar effects chain is ready!



A small note about EQUALIZATION: its position is variable. Someone likes to add it after the Wah. Someone puts it Before the Amplifier (at the end of the chain), someone puts it in the effects loop. Someone even combines two or more of these positions, for example it's suggestable to cut before the Compressor and boost after, so feel free to experiment!!

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

HOW TO: THE BASIC MASTERING CHAIN (free Vst Plugins included) PART 1/2

Tutorial version 2.5, august 2016

Hello! Today we're gonna see how to master a song, trying to analize the single steps in order to give to your (already mixed) track the final boost it needs to be loud and sparkling, enough to be compared to the commercial tracks.
Let's start from the assumption that the perfect mix just needs to have its volume raised to 0db on the mastering phase, but more than often other processes are needed in order to achieve a good final result.
Obviously there are many ways to build a mastering chain, as always I'm gonna explain you the basics and suggest some free plugins, then you will adapt these ideas to your project and your plugins.

- First off, load the track containing your mix on a stereo track, on a new project, making sure it isn't too loud (I would recommend to keep the mix it around -10db, to give you enough headroom to work in the mastering phase), in order to avoid clipping; it is also importanto to make sure the track is cleaned of all hiss, pop, crackle and noise before stating to master it, or the problems will get worse.

- The first plugin to add to our buss is an equalizer (for example ReaEq), if you feel there's some frequency to correct; that way you'll be able to shape (very lightly) some general frequencies that doesn't satisfy you completely after the mixing phase, usually eq is used in mastering in order to scoop very lightly the mids (more or less -1db around 300hz), and boost gently lows and highs (+1db around 50hz and 5000hz), but actually the best way to eq during mastering is by using a Mid/Side equalizer, the way described here. After these adjustments, using the same eq plugin, create a high pass filter to remove all of the frequencies under the 30hz, in order to clean the mix of the almost inaudible and useless frequencies, like rumble and breath. 

If we feel that the final sound is still a little bit thin and dry, and we didn't use a lot of Reverb during the Mixing phase, we can also try adding some Mastering Reverb. It consists into adding a Reverb with very low settings, a regular "Room Size", a low Wet/Dry ratio and a Low Pass and High Pass filter between 100 and around 2000hz. It's very important to not overdo, though, since this can really screw up everything :) The position in the Chain is Typically between the Equalizer and the Compressor, but it can be moved after the Compressor if we feel that the Comp is making the effect too strong.

- Now we must focus on the different areas of the mix, and try to point out if there are certain parts (for example, the drum snare) which are too low, or others (for example, the cymbals) too loud, and try to correct the problem; you can do it with the eq, like on the last point, or use this other method, that is less invasive and "coloring", which is the multiband compression (Click Here for an in-depht article on the topic). 
There are many multiband compressors around, and there are some bundled in almost every DAW on the market, but if you need a freeware one, here is a list where you can choose from. Using a multiband compressor lets you choose graphically which part of the curve (i.e. only the highs on a certain frequency) to compress, leaving the other frequencies of the mix unprocessed, and it's a very useful tool to make aimed corrections.

- Now we can add to our mastering buss a Tape Saturation plugin, that produces a slight Compression and Saturation without squashing too much the overall sound, but this depends mainly by the song and by how much compression you have already applied on the single instruments and on the Mixing Buss. Alternatively we can use an Harmonic Exciter, in order to give some sparkle to the high frequencies, and some thump to the lows.


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Saturday, December 3, 2011

HOW TO MIX A GOOD ROCK / METAL BASS (free Vst Plugins included)

Hi everyone! Today we're gonna talk about how to get a good rock-metal bass sound, and how to find its place on the mix, which is one of the hardest things to get; often, in facts, bass tends to disappear, covered by the lower frequencies of the guitars, or to be too loud, making the mix muddy. Our aim should be to find a place where to place where to set the bass, avoiding to make it fight with the other instruments, and if we'll succeed, we will obtain a much more glued and punchy mix.

Let's get started!

First off you obviously need a decent bass, and an audio interface of any kind, in order to get the signal to your daw. Don't use "the mic in" of the integrated sound card that comes in bundle with the pc, because the sound will be awful :)
You can help yourself by tweaking with the bass knobs until you find a good starting sound, then you can record your track, making sure that the signal isn't too high nor too low. If it's too high, it will distort/cut frequencies, if it's too low, you will have to raise the volume later, raising the noise too, and obtaining a high-volume weak sound.
We can use a Line recorded bass, a microphoned bass amplifier or a Virtual Bass (Click here for a dedicated article).

Now there are two ways to proceed:

1. Single track: first, to give punch to the sound, use a bass overdrive-preamp simulator, like the TS-B.O.D. which is a great freeware vst that simulates the legendary Sansamp Bass Driver, then you can add a Compressor, with a fast attack (tending to zero), a longer response time (250 ms), a -30db threshold and a ratio that may go from 10:1 to 20:1, to infinite:1, according to how steady is your hand :)
After that, is time for the Equalizer, which may vary strongly from mix to mix.
My general suggeston anyway is to filter everything below 40/50hz with a high pass filter, and above 7000hz (cut even more, if you thing you don't need so many highs) with a low pass, then you can scoop-subtract some more frequencies (but not too much) on the 2/3khz area to leave some more room to vocals, and boost around 80/100hz to give to the track some more low-end.
In order to reduce boxiness we can also cut between 180 and 250hz.

2. Dual track: this method is a little more tricky, but should give you a more extreme distortion, while keeping the same punchy lows, at the same time.
First, take the unprocessed track you've just recorded and duplicate it, then the first copy and compress it like on the first method, then add the equalizer, filter everything below 40/50hz with a high pass filter, and above 7000hz with a low pass one, and cut (9 or 10db) a bit around 500hz, with a small Q (so a wide range of frequencies affected). Then take the second track and add a distortion on the vst chain (Click Here for a dedicated article about FREE VST BASS AMP SIMULATORS), crank it really high, making it sound almost like a guitar (ALMOST, not TOTALLY, we'll need this track only for the grit), and add an equalizer, setting a low pass filter above 4500khz more or less (you choose the curve), and a high pass below 500hz, just to keep the growl. Finally, mix the two sounds, finding the right amount of volume to obtain a good, tight and defined low, end and some crunchy mid-highs.
So the chain with this method is:


Click here for an article about how to clean up the eq of a distorted bass sound!

Sometimes it's also a good idea to put a SECOND COMPRESSOR (click here for a dedicated article about Serial Compression) or a LIMITER at the end of the chain, not to squeeze the sound (for this task we have already used a Compressor) but just to set a threshold, to make sure the bass will stay on its place and will not consume headroom later, in the Mixing and the Mastering phase.

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