To read the full detailed article see: 4 Steps for Effective Guitar Mixing
The world may not revolve around guitar music anymore, but there is still a lot of it out there. Whether you’re working on face melting hardcore or a gentle country ballad, the presentation of the guitar content in the mix has a lot to do with the overall stylistic impression of the song.
Here are a few tried and true techniques for working with guitar tracks:
Hear the Arrangement
Some guitar tracks are played and recorded to stand out as focal points in the mix. Other guitar parts are intended to work as tonal layers of another instrument. Before you dive into the mix (or even the tracking session), take a moment to consider why each guitar track exists.
You’re probably going to come up with one of three answers:
- It’s a musical focal point, a source of interest and energy in the song.
- It’s a rhythmic element that adds tonal complexity to a percussive instrument.
- It’s not musically functional at all (and should be muted).
With your answer in mind, you’ll have a great benchmark for evaluating the guitar parts within the mix, as opposed to evaluating them as individual elements.
Now let’s take a closer look…
Refine the Tone of Your Guitar Content ‘In Place’
With the musically essential choice about function established by rough balance and reinforced by smart panning, it makes sense to address how the harmonic content of the guitar tracks can be optimized.
There’s no point in pretending to relate EQ specifics (or even most generalities), but if the guitar tracks you’re working with haven’t already fallen victim to knob twisting, there are some themes that might help organize your decision-making.
The fundamental frequencies of the guitar lay largely between 160Hz -1300Hz. In reality, your typical rock or country rhythm track is probably played in the 160Hz-700Hz range.
This frequency band will provide ‘fullness’, ‘warmth’, or even ‘muddiness’ when accentuated. The same range can be attenuated to get thinner, less supported tones. Try starting in the 350Hz-500Hz range with your center frequency.
Boosting a wide peak approximately two octaves above the fundamental frequency center can very easily, naturally brighten picked performances on metal-stringed instruments. This is the frequency range in which these instruments are naturally bright, so it pays to play along.
Below about 80Hz even the most theoretical harmonic contribution to your guitar sound has been exhausted. Don’t hesitate to high-pass filter guitar tracks to prevent non-programmatic low frequency content from messing with your gain staging and dynamics control.
Working From a Musically Relevant Basis
Notice we haven’t touched a single multi-band compressor or 8-bit distortion-cruncher-thing. Tricks aren’t tricks unless the tracks are working in the arrangement (i.e. for the song). Starting with these types of basic considerations can take decent tracks most of the way to musical effectiveness, and take excellent tracks all the way.