Author Topic: How I get my recorded guitar tones (picture heavy)  (Read 1069 times)

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Offline KasperFauerby

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How I get my recorded guitar tones (picture heavy)
« on: December 01, 2016, 08:55:58 pm »
Hi guys,

Warning - this is going to be a wall of text.

People very often ask me questions about how exactly I record my guitar parts for the covers I post on these forums, so I thought I might as well try to properly document it once and for all. Hopefully it will be interesting to some, and might help some of you guys with your own projects.

First a couple of disclaimers; I don't want to give the impression that I know any definite answers to any of this stuff. I'm not trying to teach you how you should record your guitars, nor am I claiming that any of this is the one and only way. I'm only trying to document, in great detail, what I did for my last couple of projects ;)

I'm going to use my latest cover project, "Kill the King", as a concrete example. But the principles are much the same as my last couple of projects. This is the track, if you haven't seen it elsewhere on the site:

This project has 3 different guitar parts - rhythm guitar, arpeggio licks (intro and pre/post solo sections) and the main guitar solo.
I'll discuss the guitar tone for each of these 3 cases below, but first I'll type a section about the main signal chain I always use to get any guitar tone recorded my DAW of choice, which is Reaper.

The signal chain

The first thing to explain is the physical gear I'm using. I have a tube based recording setup like this:
Guitar goes into a Marshall JMP-1 tube preamp.
Then into a TC Electronics G-Major 2 multi effects unit (which I usually only use for noise gate when recording, the effects are more useful for live playing).
Then into a Mesa Boogie 20/20 tube power amp.

To record the power amp, and also tame it a bit so I can run it at insane volumes even in my home studio, I run the output from that into a Rivera RockCrusher loadbox/power attenuator.

The RockCrusher has a balanced line-level output that I can send to my DAW for recording. Since it's also a loadbox it also means that I can safely run my tube gear without any physical guitar cabinets attached to it - and thus achieve "silent" tube amp recording.

The tones for Kill The King

It's important to understand that the output of a power amp (and pre-amp, if we were to take that signal directly) does not sound pleasant at all on it's own. That is because it's designed to be run through a guitar cabinet, which drastically affects the tone. Therefore it's necessary to run a cabinet simulation in software - the popular word for that these days is that we're using impulse responses. This can be done by a plugin on the guitar tracks in Reaper. There are many options, but I use a plugin called "Wall of Sound III" by Two Notes. For my "Kill The King" track it looks like this:

So, I've picked an IR based on a recording of a Marshall 4x12 cabinet with G12T speakers. Actually I have a pair of those loaded, one for each side in the panned spectrum.

As you can see I've also activated the EQ section of the plugin to make some subtle adjustments to how the IR sounded with my guitar.

For microphone I picked a condenser mic, which I felt had that warm and smooth sound I was after (many would use a dynamic mic in the real world, for example a SM57).

The mic is played a bit off center, and a bit away from the cab... not really close mic'ed for this tone. In the plugin the values are around 15% for both "center" and "distance".

The "Overload" setting I've set to 30%, which simulates that the cabinets are driven so hard (loudly) that they start to fizz/distort a bit. Not pre-amp or power-amp distortion.... actual speaker distortion.

Basic amp settings

This is specific to the Kill The King cover. When we listen to the original tone there are some things we can hear, and some things we'll know based on what we've seen Mr Blackmore do.

It's not a very high-gain sound at all! This is the number one thing, for getting close to that old-school Blackmore sound. Up the gain too much, and it will sound nothing like the real thing.

I'm running my pre-amp on it's OD1 channel (a crunch channel, it also has OD2 which is a lead channel).

The gain is at 9 out of 20... so little less than half gain on a crunch channel!!

The EQ section of my pre-amp has settings that go from -6 to 6 for each setting, with 0 being neutral.
I have Bass at 2, Middle at 2 and Treble at 0. Presence at 4.

You cannot really these numbers for anything, except compare them to the range of possible values on my gear and get a ballpark estimate of "how much" of each component I used.

We also know that Richie played loud. A big part of his tone comes from the power section of his tube amps being driven really hard, which gives a special kind of distortion that sounds very different from upping the gain in the pre-amp section. I also ran my Mesa power amp very, very loud (but remember - I can always use the RockCrusher to get the volume back under control, once I have the power amp distortion I want).

I only used this one sound for everything in the song. The rest of the variation comes from pickup selection on the guitar and a bit of clean boost.

Rhythm Sound

This section deals with the tone for all the rhythm work (those sections from 0:18 to 1:45 for example).

We also know that Blackmore played a Fender Strat. Of course that particular brand of guitar has it's own sound, but the most important thing here is that he was playing passive single coil pickups.

Richie always liked for things to be black&white - so he hated the middle pickup (in fact he went so far as to remove them from his guitars, claiming that it affected tone in a positive way on the other pups). If he wants a dark sound he'll use the neck pickup, if he wants a bright sound he'll use the bridge. No time for middle ways... that's how he thought (according to interviews).

Unfortunately I don't have a Strat (wish I did!), and worse - I don't have any guitars with a single coil bridge pickup. But I really wanted that single coil sound for the rhythm work, so I went for the middle pickup on my Music Man LIII guitar after all....

That gave me a pretty cool crunchy low-gain'ish core sound.

Now comes the important part; to get that super fat guitar tone you know from pretty much all rock recordings - you have to double track the parts. In fact, that massive wall of sound that we know from bands like Metallica might come from having tripled, or even quadrupled, parts!

For those that doesn't know what that means - basically you have to record the parts twice, playing the exact same thing each time. Then pan one take to the left, and the other to the right.
Wait, I hear some of you think, if it has to be the same - then why not just copy and past the first take? Well, it has to be "pretty much the same, but not quite" ;) It's hard to explain, but it is actually the tiny differences that comes from playing the parts multiple times that makes it work properly. Tiny differences in timing, attack and note volume. But the strumming and overall time absolutely has to be exactly the same.. double track to sloppy and it'll sound like a mess.
It's much harder than it might sound, and for me at least it required some practice before I think I got it right. Some of my previous covers had some pretty sloppy double tracking... this track is the first where I'm really happy with the result.

Here is a screen shot of a double tracked part - as you can see the sound waves looks pretty identical - but you can still easily spot differences. If I had zoomed further in the differences would be much bigger:

Again, all riffs and rhythm parts in the track was done this way - performed and recorded twice.

But, once we have the parts double tracked, we can go a bit further. I use something called "Complementary EQing" on the tracks.

The idea is this: I take the first track and use an EQ plugin to really nail the tone. I'm looking for a couple of cool frequencies that I like the sound of to slightly boost (around 2-3db increment). Once I have the eq settings I apply an exact mirror of that on the other guitar track - so I'm cutting on track two where I'm boosting on track one. And vice versa - I find another frequency on track two that I like, boost that a bit, and cut the same on track one.

In this song that gave me one guitar that was a bit bass/middle heavy, and another that were more trebbly.

This ensures that there is space in the sonic spectrum for both parts, and both guitars can as a result be heard much more clearly than if they had the exact same EQing.

On both guitars I trimmed off unnecessary low end and some very high-end fizz.

The two eq settings, side by side, looks like this:

For the rhythms guitars I also applied a little bit of reverb. But take real care not to overdo the reverb for double tracked parts. Especially quite fast parts like these ones. The tone is pretty dry as well in the original.

Finally I added faint tape echo, in "slap-back style", to fatten up the sound even further. Screens, in case they would be interesting;

And that's it for the rhythm tone!

Lead tone

I used the same tone for all lead work - the arpeggio-based riffs, and that fast paced main guitar solo.

The core tone is exactly the same as the rhythm, but I switched the pickup selection to a blend of middle single coil and a bridge humbucker. Again, Richie Blackmore would not have done it like this at all. This should have been a bridge single coil!

I also applied a clean boost to drive the pre-amp a bit harder for increased sustain. You can use a clean boost pedal, but I have one built directly into my guitar. I believe it gives me between 15 and 20db of clean boost when engaged.

There is a little more reverb on these sections (mix upped to 15%, compared to just 5% for the rhythm) and the decay time I upped to 1.5sec.

I removed the echo from the lead tone. With all that tremolo picking going on it would turn into a mess with delay... plenty of notes being played directly without a delay effect ;)

For EQ on the solo track I use an EQ curve that I very, very often end up using for leads. Looks like this:

And, well - that was that ;)
Hope you found some of this useful, and of course feel free to ask if there is something I forgot or you want further explained.


Offline Fox Cunning

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Re: How I get my recorded guitar tones (picture heavy)
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2016, 10:16:21 pm »
Wow, thanks for this Kasper.

I've always admired the tone and clarity of your recordings.
Been trying different cab simulators recently, but didn't know of this one. Will check it out for sure now.

Also the "mirrored EQ" trick sounds interesting, will have to try that :D


Offline antwilk1981

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Re: How I get my recorded guitar tones (picture heavy)
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2016, 07:26:39 am »
Great post, many thanks Kasper.

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Offline Omar

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Re: How I get my recorded guitar tones (picture heavy)
« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2016, 09:12:14 pm »

Thank you for sharing!

Saved/faved for future reference.

Good vibes!


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