Saturday, November 17, 2018

How to clean up a distorted guitar and bass sound using eq

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
The article of today is a focus on guitar and bass hi gain sound, so it should be used as addition to our article How to mix a rock/metal guitar and How to mix a rock/metal bass.

This article will only talk about the distorted, hi-gain guitar and the hi-gain part of a bass track (if you are using a dual or more tracks technique), and starts from the assumption that a distorted track has by nature a good part of noise and resonances, and we need, from that noise, to minimize the bad part and emphasize the useful one.

How do we tell the good part from the bad part?
By nature a distorted track adds a big amount of gain and saturation in all frequencies, therefore along with an important increase of level for what is the original sound of our instrument we end up with a lot of "dirt", which eventually might end up by covering the other instruments, or producing unwanted peaks that prevents us from rising the overall volume.

By finding and notching out those peaks and resonances we will free a considerable amount of headroom (very hard to point out at first listen, unless you have a trained ear) that will let us raise the volume of the track, making it more present and at the same time it will sit better in the mix. Sometimes, in facts, we might feel our guitars weak, low in volume, not very present, but if we rise the volume we will have it reaching the maximum level and clipping while it still sounds weak and low; that's because some frequency that we might even not notice at first is so high in volume that hits the ceiling before all the rest, thus keeping all the rest of the curve low.

How do we find these resonances to notch out?
The nature and the modern technology comes in our aid, with our ear (here's an ear training tutorial) and with frequency analyzers (here's a dedicated article).
Obviously frequency analyzers are importants because we can see right away if there are resonances and take them down some db until they are aligned with the rest of the curve, but the thing that makes the difference between a regular mix engineer and a good one is by using the ear to clean up the track.

It's very simple to do once you know how to do it: you create with an eq a narrow notch and boost it considerably, around 6/10db, then you start sweeping left and right through your distorted guitar and bass sound.
You will hear every kind of weirdness but what we are looking here are the frequency areas that does not resonate with the note that the instrument is playing in that moment (for example in a guitar riff with a sequence of notes), leave the parts in which you can hear strongly the note played and focus on the parts in which there is a noise, a weird sound, that remains the same regardless from the note played.
Those are the frequencies we are looking for, and once we isolate them, we must take them down 2 to 4db, until they are not so prominent anymore.

Think about those frequencies as junk to remove: what we are aiming here is to notch out 2 or 3 of these areas, quite surgically, in order to make room to the part of the sound that will be actually audible in the mix: the ones that comes with the note; the others are useless and eat up only headroom.
I'm not writing specific frequencies here because they vary according to an infinity of factors: guitar, pickups, string gauge, amplifier, and most importantly, the tuning.

I hope this was helpful!

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