As a producer, one of the elements you’ll be expected to “produce” is – BIG guitar tones. Simple. Just double the same guitar part 2 – 4 times and then pan them hard left and right – right? Well maybe … if you’re going for that “Nickelback-ish” power-chord driven-rock-anthem vibe, but for the rest of us, there’s actually a bit more to it. Another one of those big studio misconceptions is when you’re trying to attain a big guitar sound, you need to record 17 guitar tracks/parts and then pan them all over the place, creating an impenetrable wall of guitar. What happens when you do this is …. you create an impenetrable wall of guitar which nothing can get through … including your drums, bass, keys and vocals. You’ve heard me say it before, that less is more and the same principal typically applies to tracking guitars. Now I’m NOT saying you shouldn’t have 17 tracks of guitars within your arrangement, but what I AM saying is, those 17 tracks/parts need to be well thought out and placed strategically throughout the song – so that they are all working together harmoniously.
Go Wide Or Go Home.
Panning your guitars hard left and hard right is the proper treatment in my humble opinion. It’s the easiest way to widen your mix and create a broader audible scope for your listener, however it’s not the only way to achieve that. Here are a few other ways to create “space” or distance between your guitars:
Use Different Guitar Tones.
This could be anything from using different pick-ups on your guitar, using a different guitar altogether, switching up your amp, changing the settings on your amp, using an array of guitar pedals and effect pedals, trying different microphones or even just mic placements … and the list goes on. Basically anything that is going to change your guitar sound from the original track you recording is going to help your cause. Recording the same part with the same guitar, amp and eq – isn’t going to give you much dynamic and just becomes boring to the listener. So try switching things up and even if you only have one guitar rig, it’s easy to get a different tone by simply dialling in alternative settings.
Play Different Chord Inversions.
This is a great little trick in helping to create space between the guitar panned left and the guitar panned right. If your arrangement has an A Major chord – that doesn’t mean all of the guitars tracked should be playing the A Maj in its first position. There are actually 6+ ways to play the same chord and by taking advantage of these different chord inversions, you’re almost tricking the listener into thinking something completely different is being played. It’s a simple but effective approach and I guarantee you this will work.
Play A Different Guitar Part.
If it’s possible, go one step further and have the guitar player actually track a different part. This not only has the listening thinking something new is going on – there actually IS something new going on. It could be as simple as following the melody with single notes and a delay pedal, or finding an arpeggiated part high up on the neck of the guitar, that weaves in and out of the original guitar part. Guitar “Swells”, “Chimes” or “Diamonds” are all great alternatives to bring dynamics to your guitar treatment and will also help to widen the mix. Two birds, one stone. Just don’t go overboard. The last thing you want is 6 different guitar parts all happening simultaneously which will ultimately cause the listener confusion and clutter up your mix.
So there are a few little tricks to help you achieve those big professional guitar tones. Next time you track guitars, try something different and see what happens. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or helpful hints for others.