March 29, 2008

B-Rig Guitar Technique... it's not what you think

You might think this post is about playing guitar... it's not. It's about recording a great sounding guitar with the B-Rig!

Which Microphone do I use?
  • For Acoustic Guitar - Use the Nady CM-88. Point it directly into the sound hole, and experiment with pointing it more toward the fretboard from there. For a more Hi-fi sound, use an MXL 990, if the guitar sounds too twangy/bright/trebly the the sm57.

    It's usually, depending on the guitar, a sliding scale:

    • Direct into the sound hole - deeper bigger sound, sounds scooped, less mids
    • Pointing toward the 12th fret - more even sound, less bass and more mids.
  • For Electric Guitar - Use the SM-57. between 3 inches and 2 feet away from the amp. There's another sliding scale here...
    • bright/trebly/fuzzy/hissy (on axis)- directly in the center of the speaker
    • dark/warm/bassy/muffled (off asix)- pointing at the very edge of the speaker, if the mic is close. If the mic is more than 1 foot away, just move it a little bit off the the side. just put you ear where the mic will be to see if it'll sound ok.

      Off axis more than 3 feet away:

There are three types of guitar tracks:
  1. Lead Guitar - Carries the melody or counter-melody of the song... at the very least... it plays some melodic and relatively important part of the song.
  2. Rhythm Guitar - falls to the background, or plays a supporting role to another part of the song that is clearly the melody/focus. Don't confuse riffs for lead parts (see: smoke on the water) - riffs are rhythm parts, but you can combine different lead and rhythm techniques in their case, more on that later.
  3. Ear Candy - This is a sub-citizen of the song, less important than almost every other track. Not to be made prominent in any way. It's those little things that can make the song though, they're very important, just less important than everything else.
For each type of guitar tracks there are suitable techniques for making them fit into the mix. Lucky for me it's the day of threes. There are three (main) techniques you can use on guitar tracks, each coupled with their own respective tracking methods.

1. Mono Panned - record in mono (duh)
2. Haas Effect - mono (creating stereo with the Haas effect)
3. Doubled - mono

Look at that, you only need one microphone! You may ask... why is everything in mono?

Well, you can try stereo microphone techniques (stereo pairs, etc) but generally one microphone will sound better than the other... so why use the one that sounds worse? don't. Stereo Miking is acceptable for acoustic guitar only.

If you're going to use more than one microphone on electric guitar... use them to compliment each other... not to create a stereo pair. For example: One mic 3 inches from the amp, and one 6 feet away to get a little natural reverb.

So about those techniques, Mono panned is pretty self explanatory; record in mono (just get one microphone to sound good and go with it), then pan the track to a suitable position in the mix. This technique works well for lead guitar... if it's the main thing going on... pan it just a little bit (5-15% either way). If there's something else equally important pan both opposite directions (10-25%). If it's a secondary attraction, 20-50%. For any kind of ear candy (less important extra parts that don't carry the song) pan 50-85%.

For the uninitiated...
Panning (v) - the act of moving a sound either to the left or the right, by making it quieter on one side and louder on the other.

I'm pretty sure every recording program you can find has a panning function (except windows sound recorder).

Haas effect is when you double a track by delaying it on one side... but I've already written a nice long description: Mono to Stereo, the Quest of Champions

Use Haas effect for acoustic guitars, sometimes clean guitar. Basically whenever you just can't get doubling the part to sound good.

Doubled guitar is recorded mono... but it's really stereo. It's pretty simple: record the same exact part twice and then pan one take (track) all the way left, and the other all the way right. The result is a nice wide stereo pair that still sounds like one performance. If you're recording distorted rhythm guitar this is the way to go.

I'll repeat that, if you're recording distorted guitar, your rhythm guitar parts must be doubled.

Here's a bonus for you. Use the Haas effect on doubled guitar. Once it sounds good doubled and panned hard left and hard right (all the way left/right) duplicate both tracks, pan them all the way to the other side, and apply the 20ms delay. it really smooths out those little differences between the two takes, and makes it EXTRA wide. Which is a very good thing. Especially good for riffs ;)

Speaking of riffs, doubled+haas is great for when it's the background... but when it's the main thing (usually at the beginning) record a third track and leave that panned center to help put the focus on the riff until the melody comes in.

Ok that's it for guitar, here's a cheat sheet:

Track TypeAcousticElectric (clean)Electric (distorted)
Haas, Doubled, or both
Haas, Doubled, or both
Doubled (+haas optional)
Mono Panned
Mono Panned
Mono Panned
Ear CandyCM88/MXL990
Mono Panned
Mono Panned
Mono Panned

Last but not least... ALWAYS USE A DI when you record electric guitar. This way you can do some re-amping once you've captured all those great performances. More on using a DI and re-amping next time. (Edit: DI Boxes: the magical guitar tone weapon)

© 2008 Jim Robert