How to mix electric guitar for recording and live




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The first electric guitars were invented, believe it or not, 100 years ago. These were just prototypes of today’s electric guitars. The first solid-body el. guitar, which we all know very well, was developed by guitarist and inventor Les Paul. In short, that’s how history began. I am convinced that no person in the world does not like the sound of an electric guitar. Although maybe I’m wrong. Certainly, whether it is distorted or clean guitar tones, they are very specific, and no artificially made sound can match its energy.

Although lately, in modern music, we can’t hear guitars, since, obviously, modern music producers don’t want to or just don’t know how to mix it. It looks like the guitar players are extinct. That amazing instrument can find its space and spice up any song, literally, every genre can be enriched with its tones. Many producers struggle with how to fill in their songs. There is always something missing. They then spend time flipping through various VSTi’s looking for a suitable instrument, a patch, a preset that will complete the frequency spectrum in their song. What happened to drums, guitar, bass only songs? They sound perfect without a lot of extra sounds, synths, complex mixing processes, and detailed mastering.


Given that these days we are all able to record directly to our PC (we don’t have to go to the studio anymore to get a good recording since building a home studio has never been more affordable) it gives us the opportunity to create songs ourselves, or at least just make a demo. Home studio musicians can relax. All they need is a guitar, cable, and PC. Of course, it is expected that you have some DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) in which you’re going to record your playing. Depending on whether you are going to record the guitar by placing a microphone on your amplifier or DI, the further process will differ.

Personally, I prefer DI because then the possibilities are much greater. Let me explain it shortly. First of all, if you are recording with the mic on your amp, you are going to need a microphone (at least Shure sm57). The next thing you’ll need to do is make the right tone on your amp. The difficulty is positioning the microphone, the gain setup, and finally, the dimensions of the room in which you are recording, which will certainly affect (to some extent) the final tone. In the end, if you decide to record this way, you will be quite limited in the further mixing process. So, let’s go with DI. Recording DI means that a clean guitar sound will be captured directly to your DAW. The further process depends only on you and your taste. Whether you choose your favorite premade channel strip or are going to load some of the VST such as (one of my favorites) Line 6 Helix, gives you endless options designing the sound of your guitar.

Don’t get me wrong, I know Helix is quite pricey, (I didn’t try any better, in my opinion) but if you reach for some free guitar amp VSTs you can make a pretty decent sound! Certainly, if you’re a beginner, Helix isn’t for you, honestly, it can be a little complicated to use. Since every VST amp simulator has a lot of presets, I’m sure you’ll find something close enough to suit your taste. That will be a great start for further tweaking but make sure your effect chain is properly arranged.

Check out my other post on how to EQ a bass guitar

picture of an electric guitar

Live mixing

A lot of the details match the mixing guitar recording method. Whether you are going to mic an amp or maybe use a guitar processor, the next steps are to determine the “place” in the mix. Every guitarist will always choose mic an amp because of the general feeling on stage. Simply put, guitarists like to hear themselves much more than the rest of the band. Sometimes I get the impression that they don’t even want to hear the rest of the band. A lot of the details match the recording method. Whether you are going to mic an amp or maybe use a guitar processor, the next steps are to determine the “place” in the mix. Every guitarist will always choose mic an amp because of the general feeling on stage. Simply put, guitarists like to hear themselves much more than the rest of the band.

Sometimes I get the impression that they don’t even want to hear the rest of the band. The most important thing when mixing live performance is that each instrument is leveled adequately. You can have the best tone in the world, it all falls into the water if you are too loud or too quiet. The next important fact is that if you have several guitars in a band (say two) that will play at some point at the same time, they should never have the same tone. This can be quite complicated if the guitar players take turns playing solo. One may be too loud, while the other may be too crisp. It would be best for guitarists to have their own footswitch.

The basic rule of getting the right level for guitars in live performance is that the rhythm of the guitars must never come out over the vocals – click here if you want to read my post on using an in ear click track on live performances. It will just sound awkward. It shouldn’t even be on par with the vocals. Additionally, make sure that the rhythm guitar, during the vocal parts, has not too much presence because it can kill the vocals. If we talk about guitar solo, the mix is much easier. Just make sure the solo guitar volume is at the same level with the vocals and you get a great mix result.

How do I make my guitar sit in the mix?

Well, it pretty much depends on the genre I play, the place I play, and the other instruments on stage. Every experienced audio engineer will know how to fit me into any band, no matter what their style is, but when I have to do it myself, I try to look around first. So what do I see? I see that I play in a big club and there is a sort of reservation in it naturally. Ok, I’ll need to reduce that muddiness somehow. I will try to hit that annoying frequency on a mixer and reduce it. Next, I see bassist next to me who prefers low-end tone. All right, I’ll try to free up some space for him by adjusting my low end (read reduce). The next thing I see is a keyboardist who likes to play, I don’t know, for example, Hammond, and prefers higher tones.

Ok, I’m thinking a bit and making an extra tweak down on the treble knob. That would be the whole mix when we all play together. So I stay in the mid-range, in those frequencies where the guitar otherwise dominates. As for the solo parts, I am open to various possibilities, and that is what depends mostly on personal taste. When talking about volume, if we don’t have an engineer in front of the house, I have to make radical decisions rapidly and be close to my volume pedal. For instance, I keep the low profile during the vocal parts, and as soon as the chorus is over, the riff starts, and just a little before that, I have already stepped on the volume pedal and finally show how mighty tone I have. Check out my other post on how to use compression in a mix

How to EQ

Eq-ing guitar could be a never ending discussion. There is no strict rule on how to make guitar eq to sound like some famous guitar player. There are just too many things involved, starting from the guitar body ending with the effect chain. The only true one suggestion behind which I stand for is that you should cut everything below 90-100hz. You don’t need that “mud” at all. The way that low end can ruin your tone is unbelievable so just cut it. As mentioned in the paragraph above, there is a sort of trick, how to make a room for vocals. Reduce a bit somewhere between 2.5 – 5khz and leave the vocals cut through. You might also be interested in my post on mixing an acoustic guitar – read more here.

If you feel you lack that presence in the mix, just bring up some 6-8khz. It can bring you that hissing guitar sound you want to achieve. For bigger guitar sound (read thicker) think of raising up 150-300hz range but make sure it doesn’t affect snare drum’s punch. The same thing applies to the 500hz frequency at which the guitar should be most dominant. In any case, you’ll get some, and you’ll lose some. The very first thing you should eq your guitar according to is nothing more than a bass guitar. These two can’t both work in the same frequencies and both be thick.


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