January 05, 2024
Modern amps come with a dizzying array of effects options – which isn’t necessarily new – all the old classics had some sort of spring reverb built in. These effects can be amazing on stage and in general help you find new creative avenues, but when it comes time to record, should you engage the effects or record the guitar dry?
There are no actual rules, of course, but we thought we’d lay out a couple of rules of thumb to go by so you can be sure to get the most out of your sessions and have the best chance of getting a solid mix.
Engineers and mixers tend to prefer having a dry track to work with, as any baked-in effect is impossible to control later. Reverb in particular presents a problem since it’s super likely there’s too much, and mixers quite often like to high and low pass reverbs to eliminate unnecessary noise. If the guitar track is locked to the reverb, these adjustments are impossible.
So, any time you can properly play the track without effects – especially reverb – you should record without it. The idea is you can add it in later but you can’t take it out. You can even reamp the track later if you have a clean, dry, take, adding in the exact effect from the amp to taste. If your track is full of effects, that doesn’t work.
So, the rule of thumb is if you want any choice later in the mix, record it dry. This rule of thumb applies heavily to reverb and delay, more than things like distortion, drive, or wah-wah, which are more baked into the nature of the tone.
Sometimes, however, you may want to record the guitar with effects. If the effect is really unique and it’s impossible to play the song without the effect – for example, if it’s an ambient track that you need to hear the effect and respond to it to play – then you’ll need to record with it on.
Similarly, if the effect is unique and you won’t be able to recreate it in the mix (a rarity these days but possible), you’ll want to record it.
In the case of distortion, drive, wah-wah, and so on (yes distortion is technically an effect), these are more baked into the sound and generally not something you’d want to control or remove later, so it’s more common to record with these on. Similarly, any crazy modulations, phasers, and experimental effects may be so crucial to the nature of the song that you’d want to record them.
The rule of thumb is if the effect is the instrument, record it.
We saved this section for last because it kind of renders the entire question moot. You don’t really need to choose between recording with effects and not. Just split the guitar signal so that you’re recording the performance clean (no distortion) and dry to one track and capturing the effects and whatever you want the amp to do on another.
You can do this in myriad ways. Some direct boxes let you split the output signal. You can add in a splitter just before the input at the console. Or a pedal such as Carvin’s X1 All Tube Preamp provides a send/return loop – you can use just the send side to effectively split the signal to record your dry track and send the speaker out to your pedal board and/or amp.
Of course, this isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. For example, you may want to capture your guitar clean and dry, run it through distortion pedals, and mic and amp, but opt for no reverb so you can add that later.
It comes down to using your judgment, just remember that anything you put on tape you can’t remove later, so it’s good to have options.
Finally, if you’re looking for the shortcut that most engineers and mixers prefer, it’s this: keep reverb and delay separate from the main sound. So, for example, if the amp itself has a cool spring reverb and a great drive section, turn up the drive and turn off the reverb. You can’t go wrong with that strategy, even if it’s not the only way to do it.
February 02, 2024
November 06, 2023
One of the most misunderstood things in mixing is bass – whether it’s getting the low end right in general, letting the bass guitar cut through without overpowering everything else, or just making the bass interesting and cool. It can be tricky to get it right, but there are plenty of tried-and-true tricks for getting there quickly. Let’s go over a few of those.
October 30, 2023
Some of the great guitar-playing artists were self-taught – which means a great many of them use weird tunings. That’s probably no coincidence – using alternate tunings is a great way to come up with a unique sound. So, let’s look at a few of the most common uncommon tunings you could try with your guitar – or your bass.
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