MISHASUCKS.NET/GEAR_GEEK: PERIPHERY GUITARIST “BULB” ON HOW TO CONSTRUCT A “BIG” STUDIO TONE
MOAR IST ALWAYS BETTER!!!!
Ok guys, so since we started off with some live tone tips last time, I figured for this column we’d talk a bit about my experience in the studio. I say “my experience” because unfortunately there are few absolute truths when it comes to anything having to do with art, as it is all painfully subjective blahblahblah… so please feel free to take all this info with a grain of salt. This is just some info that I really wish I had known about when I was just starting to record; instead I had to figure it out the hard way, so maybe this can save some time and trouble for a few of you guys!
I’m sure some of you guys already know the stuff I am about to cover in the next few paragraphs, but a select few will bother reading the whole damn thing anyway and then complain that you know it all already and that it was a waste of time reading, etc. If I am describing someone that sounds scarily similar to you, I recommend not reading this column. Just stop right here and you’ll save that many minutes of your life! You’re welcome!
The first thing I want to talk about is quad (or more) tracking and some of the misconceptions that surround it. A lot of people ask me if I quad track and if it is indeed the key to getting a “big” sound when recording guitars. The answer is tricky, as I wouldn’t say it makes recordings sound big in the traditional sense. Two important side effects (sometimes desirable, sometimes not) are 1) for lack of a better word “squishier” sounding guitars, and 2) an almost chorus-like effect on the guitar. The reasons for this are pretty simple: when you have 4 or more guitars playing the same part, because of the nature of trying to do exactly the same thing but not quite achieving it because you are a human being, the attack of the transients doesn’t always line up. This is the case with 2 guitars, but it’s exponentially harder to achieve with 4. Your attack ends up getting sort of “averaged out” between the 4 note attacks, and it makes the result not hit quite as hard. Because of the minute differences in the 4 takes, those differences really add up. Especially if you tend to pick hard, the guitars will chorus against each other because of the minute pitch differences at every spot.
This chorusing effect can be a really cool sound in and of itself, but it really is only for certain applications. Personally I wouldn’t use it for super-tight parts unless you feel like doing a lot of editing (hey, maybe that’s your lil’ moment of zen!) but for sludgy and dirtier sections it’s perfect. One thing to realize is that much like with putting on an actual chorus, quad tracking will smooth out your tone for better or for worse, so if you are into raw and gritty tones it may not be the best way to approach tracking. Honestly, in the traditional sense of what sounds big to me, I have always had the best luck with a single track per side (good ol’ double tracking) as I tend to get the best attack and a generally more “in your face” kind of tone.
Another thing I would like to talk about that really goes hand in hand with this is how much gain to use when recording. From my experience I have found that especially when double tracking and going for a clear articulate distorted tone, using as little gain as possible works best. I know a lot of people may not use a metric of gain when recording, but a fun experiment (if you have some free time) can be to see how little you can get away with, because you might just surprise yourself. I think a lot of times we trick ourselves into thinking that you get more attack with more gain. Up to a certain point you do get a much fuller sound, but if anything you will lose attack after a certain point due to the saturation. If, however, you set your tone up for attack and pick really hard, you can actually get an aggressive and very upfront sounding tone with little gain, because it allows for the dynamics in your playing to come through. If you do a bunch of tests at different gain settings (double or more tracked of course, as that is how it would likely be in the mix) and see how the tone reacts to the mix and to your playing, you might find yourself changing your usual gain setting. I definitely found that I could do with much less than I thought I needed! On top of that, when I do use quad tracking, so long as the tracking is tight, I have found that using less gain minimizes the loss of attack side-effect and that it sounds like your tone actually has a lot more gain to it than it really does.
This general realization with gain is actually one of the big reasons that lately I’ve favored medium-output pickups over high-output ones. Especially when using a boost in front of my amp, you end up with a more articulate tone that is way more responsive and dynamic to your playing, and because of the headroom, it makes the notes a lot more clear and even across the whole range.
That’s all I’ve got for now! Thanks for reading and feel free to give me suggestions on what you would like me to write about next!