There’s always space to learn more guitar mixing techniques, especially if you’re a guitarist as well as an engineer.
Us guitarist like hearing our guitar sound amazing in a mix. We want it to be the loudest instrument, and routinely have fights with our singers about what the main instrument in a song really is.
Is it the vocal? Or is it the amazing guitar lead that’s all around the track? We sometimes like to think it’s the latter, but that’s up for debate. We like the mixing engineer to think about the guitar mixing first, the rest of the song second.
Since I play and sing I have inner turmoil with myself every time I’m doing my guitar mixing. I always want the guitar to sound interesting, but I don’t want it to crowd up the track.
I like my guitar lines as much as any guitarist does, but as a mixing engineer you have to be aware of all the elements of a track. That’s why I’ve brainstormed some good starting points to make your guitar mixing sound amazing.
1. Filter Out the Low End
Guitars have their character frequencies in middle frequencies. Their lower end sometimes competes with the bass guitar muddying up the track. A good trick to get rid of this clash is to filter out the lowest frequencies of the guitar with a high pass filter EQ.
Filter it in solo until you begin to filter out the fundamental frequencies, then back it off a bit. If the guitar still clashes with the bass guitar when you play them both together, filter out a little bit more. Remember that instruments have to sound good together, and that sometimes means making them sound bad soloed.
2. Add Modulation for Depth
Modulation effects such as chorus and flangers can add an interesting character to your guitar sounds. Being really subtle on the modulation can be really useful to add a little bit more space and depth to the instrument without making it into an effect.
3. Add a Stereo Delay
Adding a nice stereo delay can help widen the guitar sound. With a 100 ms delay and one repeat you can achieve a nice doubling effect that stands out just enough, but still sits well in the mix.
4. Add Reverb and Pan it
Send your guitar track to a mono reverb and then pan your reverb to a different side. It creates a sense of space around the instrument without drowning the guitar in reverb.
5. Find the Character Frequency
Every guitar has a certain character frequency that makes the sound of it just jump out at you. With a parametric EQ, boost a few dB’s and sweep around the mids until your guitar comes to life. Then shape your curve accordingly until it sounds just right.
6. Don’t Overdo the Distortion
Too much distortion can really get in the way of a clear mix. Poor choice of distortion results in poor guitar mixing. You want enough distortion so the guitar sounds powerful and…well distorted, but not that much that all your notes bleed into a pile of unintelligible fuzz.
7. Filter Out the High End
Just like with filtering the low end, the high end can be filtered out as well. Of course this depends on the guitar part itself, but because the guitar is such a mid-range instrument, sometimes you can get away with filtering out quite a lot of the high end spectrum.
8. Don’t Erase the Mids
Like I said before, guitars are a mid range instrument so getting rid of the mids kills the fundamental frequencies of the instrument. And by taking away their mids, other instruments drown out their sound, making them impossible to hear unless you crank up the volume of them exponentially.
9. Make Way for Other Instruments
Being a guitarist means that you love your guitar. You like the way it sounds and you love the riffs you come up with. Sadly, most of the time there is more happening in the mix than just your guitar. So make way for other instruments.
Pan your guitar so it doesn’t sit on top of other instruments, cut frequencies that are clashing with the vocal or just plain turn it down. An equal mix with all the elements being equally heard is a good mix. Unless your guitar solo is up next, don’t touch that volume button!
10. Color with Effects
Lastly, modulation can be used in more ways than just for subtle depth. Heavy chorus brings out the eighties in you and some cool tremolo or vibrato can take your guitar line to the next level. Experiment with different effects, mix and match and just go for whatever you think might go well together.
Use These Guitar Mixing Techniques Next Time
Being a mixing engineer means being able to mix any instrument, not just your favorite guitar. Think of your mix as a painting, all the elements have to go somewhere. If you paint a tree and then paint a house on top, nobody is going to know that there’s a tree behind your house.
The same goes for guitar mixing, if there’s layers of guitars on top of everything, all the other subtle elements aren’t going to get noticed. Spread things out, mix it up, equal up your elements. It’ll make for a better song.
For more mixing tips like these, sign up for my free EQ Course here. Learn over 70 tips to cleaner mixes.
Image by: Flod