Saturday, February 23, 2013



Hello! On the first part of this tutorial we've seen how to acquire the guitar signal and how to Equalize it, this time we're going to analyze the remaining steps to mix it: Compression / Multiband Compression, Tube Saturation / Frequency Excitement / Virtual Console Emulation, Panning.
Let's start from the first step:

Compression (click here for a dedicated article): this is the first thing check after eqing, and it's crucial:  since gain is a natural compressor, it will already flatten most of the dynamics, so our first aim will be mainly to tame the lows; without compression, in facts, a palm muting will generate high peaks in volume, so we're going to compress in order to cut these peaks leaving the rest of the wave untouched.
The ratio depends on if we're already using a Mix Buss Compression unit on our stereo buss or not (the more compressors are stacked on a sound, the less aggressive should be the settings of each one), but we can start with a ratio as low as 4:1, with an attack as fast as possible ad a release of around 0.50ms, and just pull down the gain reduction until palm muted parts and open parts sounds even. If we push the compression further from this point, the result will sound increasingly harsh and fizzy (avoid it).
Eventually someone even suggest to use a Limiter instead of a compressor, just to keep the lows down, in the same manner we'd use a broadband Compressor, but being even more careful not to process anything else than the palm muting spikes.
In order to have a more focused compression on the lower area avoiding to accidentally ruin the general sound, we may also consider Multiband Compresion: there is a specific setting suggested only to tame the lows on high gain guitar leaving the rest of the spectrum untouched, shared by the famous producer Andy Sneap, which can be seen HERE.

Tube Saturation / Frequency Excitement / Virtual Console Emulation: these three are alternative solutions; using more than one of them on the same sound will result in a screaming mess, and all of them are optional: they are rarely essential, but sometimes their sligh boosting on the mid-high frequencies will be just the thing we need to add some presence on an excessively flat sound, and they will generally sound better than just boosting the eq.
Let's talk briefly about them, ordered by an increasing effect on the final sound:
Virtual Console Emulation (click here for a dedicated article) adds a sligh colour to the sound, usually pushing it towards the midrange and a gentle compression and saturation, and sometimes these plugins can improve a little the sound just being loaded on the buss. This kind of plugin shares the same logic used on Virtual Channel Strips, which also can be used to colour the sound, and are commonly found on many professional Guitar Busses.
Tube / Tape Saturation (click here for a dedicated article): the natural saturation / compression effect provided by adding some saturation on a Guitar buss will often make the sound smoother, fatter and more controlled, rather than using straight compression and eq, just beware not to overdo, or the excess of gain and harmonics will result in an unpleasant, fizzy sound.
Harmonic Exciters (click here for a dedicated article): I suggest to use these ones only if there is no other way to make the guitar sound to cut through the mix, since usually these processors tend to change the sound in a very aggressive way, adding harmonics on certain areas of the spectrum. My suggestion is to use it only on the high end of the sound, and to not process the low end, otherwise we'll find our guitar sound full of ultra-low frequencies that will only harm the low end of our mix. We can start with a plugin like the free X-Cita, setting the Low Contour control to zero, and raising the Hi Contour knob to taste, until the guitar starts to gain presence, being VERY aware not to overdo!

- Panning (click here for a dedicated article): once we are satisfied with our sound, it's time to record 2 or 4 instances of our guitar, in order to create a wall of sound: with four takes the sound will obviously be thicker than with two, but sometimes a mix with four guitars leaves very few room for the other instruments, so if we have a busy mix it's better to try with just 2 tracks.
If we have two tracks the idea is to set them wide, for example 80% to 95% left and 80% to 95% right.
If we have four tracks, instead, we can set two of them at the extreme left and right, the other 2 can be set 70% left and 70% right, and we can also experiment a different sound for these two, or a different eq, to make the sound more rich and various.
Notice: when recording two or four tracks, we'll have to record 2 or 4 different takes, because if we just copy the same take on the other tracks, the only result will be an increase in volume.

So Here's our Chain: Signal -> Subtractive Eq -> Compression ->(Tube Saturation / Harmonic Exciter / Virtual Console Saturation)-> Additive Eq -> Panning

Obviously, as for all the other mixing articles I write, this is the list of everything that can be done to a guitar sound, but this doesn't mean you have to process the sound with all of these effects together.
Usually when a sound is really good, a little of eq and a little-to-none compression is all you need to get a good tone. The other tools are just the icing on the cake that sometimes is needed to turn a decent tone into a good one.

I hope this was helpful! If you have a different method of guitar mixing, share it with us!


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Saturday, February 16, 2013


Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about a long-waited topic: how to mix a hi-gain guitar.
First off we must have the tracks already recorded on our computer with a sound that is already good enough, and to do this we have different methods already covered on other articles:

- By Microphoning an Amplifier

- By using a hardware Guitar Amp Simulator

- By using Vst Plugins

I've said "a sound that is already good enough" because the mixing process can enhance dramatically an existing sound, but it cannot completely transform a sound at the point to turn a lead into gold, so we're going to have excellent results only if the original sound is already good; if it's not good, don't settle, record again using another method until you're completely satisfied.

Execution is very important, as mixing can't do much about a poorly executed track, but after the recording phase, and before starting mixing, there is one last phase: Editing (Click Here for the full article), which is the phase where we adjust the tracks in order to, for example, correct the small timing discrepancies in the execution of a double tracked guitar, to make it sound more tight.

After we have accomplished all these preliminary tasks, we should have our guitar tracks nice and ready to be processed, being aware that guitars do accept processing pretty poorly: the more we will process them and set them afar from the original sound, the worse the final result will be, so we're gonna have to be smart and do as few moves as possible to enhance the sound just the right amount to make it perfect.
If we have two or four guitar tracks Panned left and right on our stereo field, we might consider to create a Stereo Group Channel track where to route all guitar tracks in order to apply the same processing to all of them without consuming too much CPU resources.


High Pass and Low Pass: first off we need to filter off the unneeded frequencies from our track, in order to carve in the spectrum a frequency range that will be reserved for the body of our guitars: we can start with a High Pass filter that takes out anything below 50hz, to leave room for the Bass, but if we feel that there is still some resonance or unwanted frequency that we can cut, we can go as far as 120hz without harming excessively our sound.
Then we must use a Low Pass filter (this step is even more important than the High Pass one), to shave off the frequencies until 12khz, but if we feel that there is still some "mosquito-like" frequency, we can go as far as 7,1 khz, leaving more room for cymbals and vocals.

Equalization - the guitar sound is a very unique combination of different elements: the execution, the wood, the pickups, string gauge, the recording method used and so on, therefore it's going to be very hard to record a track that will exactly match the sound of our favourite referencing track; the best we can do is to try to use a similar gear, but my advice is to do referencing and comparations farther in the mixing phase, in order to adjust the overall balance, and just try to get the best result possible from our base sound in this phase, since if we will try to completely distort our base sound to match a totally different one, we will end up with a disaster.

To get the best from our own sound we need a good pair of monitors and/or headphones, and a spectrum analizer: we can start taking down the peaks on the 100hz to 300hz area, since they are resonances created from the cab (real or simulated), which are unneeden and may even become harmful for our final sound;
then we should check on the area between 200hz and 500hz, which is the area where the aforementioned resonances are generated in smaller rooms, or by mid-focused guitar amps: if there are peaks or resonances here, we should lower them down of some db.
The next area is the "cardboard zone" between 500hz and 800hz: this is the area that is classically cut to create the famous "scooped sound" loved by metal players, but beware: to cut a few decibel will increase clarity and character, but if we scoop too much we will end up with a sound without body and "meat" (which is bad).
The 2khz to 4khz is the so-called Vocal Area, which is also the area our ears are tuned to hear better: if we boost the guitar here it is going to be heard more, but we should find, via the frequency analysis, the main Vocals frequency region and create some room, poking on our guitar Eq some db in the relative area, since the singer is the element in the mix that should never be obscured by the other instruments.
In conclusion it is vital here to find a compromise between making the Vocals to cut through and avoiding the "chug chug" of our guitars to disappear completely.
The last eq area is the residual part between 4hz and the frequency where the low pass filter kicks in: here we should sweep with the eq, boosting around until we find any possible "fizz" area that we can lower of some db: this area will vary according to the equipment used, but it can harm our mix, therefore it's a good idea to check it out.

After we have seen the theory behind each Eq region that may affect a Hi Gain guitar, here is a screenshot of a typical generic eq that may go on a hi-gain guitar buss, BEFORE sweeping to find the exact notches of resonances and fizzes to pin down, operation that is often done by adding a second Eq processor after this one:

As you can see, I have inserted a high pass filter, a low pass one, and a sligh cut around the "cardboard area", but keep in mind that these numbers are good just for my own sound chain, they can be used to understand the process of guitar equalization, but you will have to find the exact frequencies to cut/boost for your sound by yourselves, otherwise if you apply these same numbers on your own tone it's very possible that they will not improve it very much :)

Click here for a detailed article about how to clean up the eq of a distorted guitar track!

One last word about boosting eq: this is a tricky matter, as it can make the guitar sound harsh and fake; many producers never boost a rhythm guitar, but sometimes the sound can be so flat that there may be the vital need to increase the sound's presence. We can choose wheter to boost with the eq, to excite some frequency or to add some saturation; as we're going to see on the second part of our tutorial, all of these thee methods will increase the presence of our sound. Keep in mind that additive eq must go after the Compressor, otherwise it will cut the boost :)


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Saturday, February 9, 2013

HUMBUCKING PICKUPS! (humbuckers: a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're going to talk about Humbucking Pickups!
As we've seen on our article about Single Coil Pickups (CLICK HERE for the dedicated article), those were the first magnets to be inserted on a guitar to pick the string vibrations, in order to send them to the amplifier, but with time, guitar players found that the single coil led to some noise problem, so manufacturers decided to create a pickup with two coils to "buck the hum": by connecting the coils in series and out of phase, the interference is significantly reduced via phase cancellation.
The result is a dramatic reduction of noise, but at the same time the sound is a little different: the output is averagely higher, the sound is fuller and has more bass frequencies; the classic Stratocaster sound with its bright, twangy frequencies is far, and with time this new way to conceive a guitar sound became more and more appealing, especially to the new rock musicians that were in search of a more aggressive guitar tone.

The "humbucking coil" was invented in 1934 by Electro-Voice, an American professional audio company, to prevent the hum generated by electro magnetic interferences, but the first actual implementation on a guitar was introduced by Gibson around 1955, on a Les Paul Model, with the PAF (patent applied for) pickup.
From there, the humbucker became basically the only pickup featured on Gibson guitars, in juxtaposition of Fender, that kept on relying to the Single Coil models, until the '80s.

Nowadays there are many kinds of humbucking pickups, capable of adapting to the different measures of a guitar bridge (click here to see the Pickups Size Chart), and made of the most different materials, in a constant research of an always better and harmonically rich tone. 
Some pickups (as Emg) also features a battery-powered active circuitry, as explained on the Single Coils Article.
Here's the three most common materials pickup magnets are made of:

Ceramic: this material is used mainly for hi-gain (high output) pickups, since is said to add some compression to the final sound, and therefore to produce a more modern tone. A famous ceramic pickups manufacturer is Dimarzio (although, together with Seymour Duncan, they make any kind of pickup nowadays).

Alnico: this material is used to achieve a more vintage tone. Alnico comes in different forms: II, and V are the most common with guitar pickups, though III and IV are being used by some companies. Alnico II is the softest and most compressed sounding, while Alnico V is the one with the highest output of the group.
Some new pickups are using Alnico IX, which is even more powerful and bright. Many people feel that it offers the power of ceramic with some of the characteristics of Alnico. A typical producer of Alnico Pickups is Seymour Duncan.

Neodymium: this is a more recent kind of magnet, made with a very strong rare earth material. Is said to have a very flat, transparent and high gain response, and it's produced by very few manufacturers, like Q-Tuner.  

There is also some very particular type of humbucker that worth mentioning:

Minihumbuckers: this is a particular type of humbuckers of reduced size, originally created by Epiphone, that sounds halfway between a single coil and an humbucker. Sometimes these pickups are so small that can fit on a Single Coil cavity (such as the Seymour Duncan Hot Rails).

Coil Splits:  some humbucker gives to the player the option to be "splitted", via an external control (a push-pull pot, or a toggle switch). To "split" a coil means to bypass one of the two coils, thus reducing the output and giving the sound of a Single Coil pickup, obviously retaining the original timbric characteristics of the pickup. A very particular kind of Coil Splitting is featured on some Washburn Guitar, and it is called VCC (voice contour control), which is a pot that allows the player to change between one and two coils, with all the positions in between.


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Saturday, February 2, 2013


Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This is the fifth article about modulation effects, and today we're going to talk about ring modulator, octave and harmonizer!

- Ring Modulator: This effect is a sibiling of Tremolo, which, instead of having its amplitude rhitmically altered, it uses a copy of the sound itself very altered, or another sound.
Let's make an example: we put on a ring modulator two sounds: the sound of our voice and the sound of a guitar, the effect is like the guitar is "talking" to us, because the effect won't let out the single sounds, but just the "interaction" between them (e.g. Peter Frampton's "Talking Guitar").

- Octave: this one's much easier to explain, it consists into analyzing the input sound and creating a synth copy or more, one octave or more lower. This produces a deeper and more "bassy" sound, like the one that can be heard on Led Zeppelin's song "Fool in The Rain" guitar solo.
A particular type of Pitch Shifter that not only works with the octaves, but that alters the sound's pitch widely, even of many octaves, it's the Digitech Whammy pedal, often used by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.

- Harmonizer: this is a very particular type of pitch shifting (sometimes it's called intelligent pitch shifter), in which the effect creates a synth copy of the original sound that respects a certain harmonic distance (for example a third major, or a fifth minor...).
This effect is often used to process vocals or guitar, and it can be set at a certain scale related with the original sound, or midi-driven, and in this case it can change its scale at a pre-programmed moment. This effect is part of the trademark sound of many guitar players, from Brian May of Queen to Blind Guardian's guitarist Andrè Olbrich.

Unfortunately there are no common basic controls to analyze for these three effects, except for the Mix control, which sets the amount of original signal to leave unprocessed.
Then, according to the type of effect, we will have an octave control for the octave, a key control to set the scale on the harmonizer, and a control that will set the shape of the waveform for the Ring Modulator.
Some Octave processors for guitar also feature a Distortion control to add some growl to the processed signal.

Today some DAWs already feature some basic Octave, Harmonizer and Ring Modulation Effect, but if you want to try something new and different here's a selection of the best freeware effects available:

Ring-O - A nice, vintage looking, ring modulator

ST-Rmod - An interesting stompbox-style ring modulator

Stereo Vrek - A creative Lo-Fi delay / ring modulation effect

Ringer - A simple, easy to use ring modulator

SubGen - A stompbox-style Octave plugin

Harmonisator - A simple harmonizer plugin

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