Useful Stuff to Know » article » Top 10 Tips for Recording Metal Guitars » Oct 11, 06:15 PM

Top 10 Tips for Recording Metal Guitars

Here are some great tips to get better metal guitar recordings.

1) Reduce the lows (bass) of your guitar signal before the distortion, then boost the lows after distortion. This is how you get a very tight rhythm. Use a Tube Screamer type pedal or the Hardwire CM-2, to cut the lows before the amp. Then you can use a bit more gain to sound more brutal without losing your dynamics. With a pedal that lets you adjust the low end, you can make even a crappy farty amp sound tight. Just turn the gain all the way down on the pedal, turn the level up to middle or higher, and then adjust the low and high knobs to taste. If you turn the treble down on the amp, but turn the treble up on the pedal, you’ll get both a warm and rounded distortion tone (like in power chords as they ring out) with simultaneously accentuated pick attack. If you’re using an amp sim, use an EQ prior and reduce the bass with a gently sloped low cut, boost mids slightly for same effect.

2) If using an amp sim, put a compressor or transient designer before it. Set the compressor with a 20 to 40 ms attack time so that the pick attack of the string comes through loud, but the rest is quietened. This results in a more dynamic tone from the amp sim. A transient designer normally used on drums can likewise increase the string attack.

3) Don’t turn your gain all the way up on your amp or preamp. Heaviness comes from a balance between dynamics and distortion, not from the highest distortion possible. You don’t need super high gain to sound heavy. Too much gain reduces the difference between palm muted and open notes, reduces dynamics, and takes away all the impact and punch. Palm mute and pick string repeatedly and turn the gain up just enough to get some sharpness that damps out quick, but not so much you have a continuous sharp buzz throughout.

4) If using an overdrive pedal – real or simulated – keep the drive control low, but turn it up just enough to control the crunch of palm mutes. That is, on the amp you can keep the gain lower so that chords come through clean, while palm mutes that might therefore sound weak retain their crunch due to the bit of drive added prior to the amp head.

5) If you’re using a real mic and cabinet, you will need a 4×12 and standard mics like the SM57, Royer R121, MD421, e906, and/or Heil PR40 to even get close to what you hear in professional recordings. Even so, if the room you’re recording in has bad acoustics, results may be less than stellar. If it works out for you, cool, but if not, look into good amp sim plugins like Amplitube 3 or Peavey Revalver. Bypass their cab sims and use third party cab impulses by Catharsis, Guitar Hacks, or Redwirez. You’ll get 90-95% the sound of an ideal mic/cab/room combo, repeatedly day after day with that, once you get the setting right.

6) To shape a guitar sound, first use a parametric EQ and sweep through the spectrum looking for annoying, ear piercing, grating frequencies. Do a narrow cut at those. Ear piercing fizz is often found in 4.8-5.2kHz region, digital shrillness around 7k and 9k. You don’t want to reduce all highs through a low pass at 6k like some people recommend; rather you want to reduce the bad high frequencies and leave the rest. Afterwards, use another EQ for gentle sculpting of your tone. Pay attention to the 100 to 500 hz area — you might find a spot or two that are adding boxy sounding mud to your mix. If you find yourself boosting anything by more than 5dB, then there’s a problem with your signal source or choice of impulse – go back to the source (amp, guitar, pedal, etc…) and correct that, as you want as good a signal as possible since the more you process it afterwards the more undesirable and artificial artifacts you introduce. Before you go to town with your EQ, make sure you have selected the cab impulse (if using sims) that get you closest to your ideal sound. Don’t use a crappy impulse and then try to fix it with EQ.

7) You cannot evaluate the merit of a guitar sound if it’s solo and mono, well unless it’s a lead guitar sound. For rhythm, you MUST have at least one track panned left and another similarly played track panned right. Only through this stereo effect can you know whether your choice of impulse and EQ is good. What may sound fine mono and solo may not sound fine stereo. And even then, that’s still not as ideal as what it will sound like in the final mix with vocals. For instance, by itself, even a solo’ed stereo guitar track may sound rich and full, but that’s because it has frequencies that would otherwise be taken up by other instruments like bass or synths or vocals. So get it sounding as sharp, full, tight, and crisp as possible in solo stereo, then later don’t be afraid to make a shallow broad scoop in the 800 to 2k region to make some room for the vocals.

8) To each of your rhythm guitar tracks, add a mono room reverb if necessary. You can add it directly onto the track, or you can do a send to a bus. The send/bus method allows you to EQ and compress your reverb-only portion to perfection before blending it in with your main track. If your guitar sounds too close to the ears when using headphones, then definitely add some room verb. Even though it’s mono, it will still seem further away and smoother and more real. An up close fizzy sound is half of what’s wrong with most amp sim examples. Room verb (and the compression / transient designer prior to the amp sim) does a lot to improve the realism.

9) For the thickest tone, quad track your guitars. That means play the same thing twice and pan both tracks full left, and a complementary thing played twice and panned full right. That’s four tracks total, a pair left and a pair right. In each pair, play one with regular level of distortion gain, and the other with a bit less. Try not to stack the same exact guitar tone together; have one be more full and rounded, the other more mid range and sharp sounding. This way the buzz from the distortion in each won’t interfere, as one buzzes less and is taking care of the lower and mid frequencies to provide greater body and dynamics. You can also get by with just double tracking (one left, one right) IF the EQ of each track is finely tuned — yes it is possible, you just need the right amp settings, right impulse (if using amp sim) and right EQing. The better your guitar sound, the more you can get away with just double tracking. If you do double track, make each track slightly different in the EQ or guitar or preamp or impulse choice, which will add greater stereo separation for a big sound.

10) From your album collection, pick songs that you think have the perfect rhythm guitar tone. Use it as a reference for when you’re establishing your own guitar tone. You can even use a Match EQ to get an idea of how your tone differs from theirs, but don’t use the Match EQ’s generated match curve to mold yours into their sound; it won’t sound right; rather match it visually and in a general way using a separate parametric EQ, and most of all, use your ears to come up with something that, while different, is still good. Finally, try it out in a full mix and see if it works. This Match EQ trick is mainly to give you an objective idea of what exactly is happening in these professionally mastered recordings. You may realize they differ in a part of the EQ spectrum that previously you hadn’t thought to examine.