Recording the Guitar Direct - Part 5

Recording the Guitar Direct - Part 5 Brought to you by: guitar.com

Just Press Play Logo Gif 63243In the previous edition of this column, Recording the Guitar, Part 3 (Part 27 of the series), we left off with, Now unmute modules #7 and #9 to get a basic blend. Note that if you hear major frequency cancellation when the signal levels are the same, an inverted phase problem is in play. Here we go with my standard rap but note that this is slightly different than in past articles on the subject of the inverted phase fix, since we are dealing with a direct box in the equation.

The Blend: Keep in mind that we are recording to two separate recorder tracks so the blend is a simple monitor blend that is not permanent.

To set the blend: pull down both mixer module #7 and #8 faders to the bottom of their throws. Make sure both mixer module #9 and #10 are un-muted. While the guitarist is playing (as always when dealing with electronic settings), slowly bring up both faders and experiment with different level settings to achieve a good blend. When needing to change the overall guitar monitor level while listening to the full band, simply move mixer module #7 and #8 faders together keeping the same relative levels. If you have mixer automation, group them together so one fader moves both or assign to a separate group fader.

By the way, you may want to pan mixer modules #7 and #8 slightly off-center or pan in any position in the stereo spectrum (if using the 5.1 format for monitoring and mixing, there are so many pan possibilities!) In any case, its always best to pan both in the center to start so as to check for phase problems, and possibly comb filtering problems.

Important! When listening to the blend, if the combined direct and amp signal happens to cancel out with the levels near or the same, there is an electronic phase problem. The phase problem will be somewhere from the mic through the recorder path or the direct path through the recorder path. In either case, the odds are good a cable in the chain is wired incorrectly.

For now, if you're using a compressor, bypass it. If you're using EQ on either module, switch it out. Switch this stuff back in after the following hunt and fix.

 

Hard Disk Format With Waveform Editing:

If you are using a hard disk recorder format, record a few bars and look at the initial waveform attack on both tracks. If you see one waveform dipping down at initial attack, that is the path that has incorrect wiring somewhere in the chain. You should find out where the problem is using the following concept.

Let's say that the recorded track that showed inverted phase was the direct box track:

Mute the mixer module that is showing the reverse phase. Also mute the studio monitor speakers. After each of the following changes, un-mute both and listen to the two tracks (direct box and mic path) to see if the cancellation goes away.

1. Swap out the audio cable from the direct box to the mixer.
2. If that's not the fix, plug the direct box output cable into another mixer module and duplicate the set up on the mixer module to the recorder.
3. If that's not the fix, route the mixer module to another recorder track.

By now you should have found the problem so use a piece of red tape on the incorrectly wired component to let you know a tech needs to fix the wiring.

Let's say that the recorded track that showed inverted phase was the miked guitar amp track.

Mute the mixer module that is showing the reverse phase. Also mute the studio monitor speakers. After each of the following changes, un-mute both and listen to the two tracks (direct box and mic path) to see if the cancellation goes away.

4. First swap out the mic.
5. If that's not the fix, swap out the mic cable.
6. If that's not the fix, plug the mic into another mixer module and duplicate the set up on the mixer module to the recorder.
7. If that's not the fix, route the mixer module to another recorder track.

By now you should have found the problem so use a piece of red tape on the incorrectly wired component to let you know a tech needs to fix the wiring.

 

Other Recorder Formats Without Waveform Editing:

OK, without a hard disk recorder that can view waveforms, you do not know which of the two tracks in the chain is phase reversed. Hey, you could record to a stereo sampler or use a dual trace scope with memory to check the waveform initial attack phase. If not, no problem, since you can simply perform the above steps on both of the two paths one at a time and you will find the phase problem. Again use a piece of red tape on the incorrectly wired component to let you know a tech needs to fix the wiring.

As mentioned, the typical reason for recording the miked amp and direct signal in this era is to get a nice big, clean sound for solos and melody lines.

OK, consider this. You may want a distortion sound (from the guitar amp) and a clean sound from the direct box (to get some clear note definition). The direct sound would typically be placed back in the mix of the two sounds and would most likely be compressed huge to sound aggressive. Maybe you want to have the direct clean sound incorporate a flanger or a chorus, or some other effect, while the amp sound is non-effected. So many possibilities!

 

Dialing in the EQ

So what sound are you looking for? In most cases, the direct box will be used for weight. For example, if you want a big clean sound for solos and melody lines, you want the direct box sound as the meat of the sound (lows and mids) and you'll use the guitar amp mic EQ for adding the main treble information remember that the direct box usually sounds very dark. If you want the direct sound to be bright, no problem since there are no sonic rules as usual.

Since the most obvious use for the direct and miked amp combination is for the big clean sound for solos and melody lines, let's work with that. If you need other EQ possibilities for different applications, simply review all the previous articles on EQing particular sounds for the amp mic and direct, and adapt here.

The first thing to do is to EQ the miked guitar amp signal to taste. After doing so, work with the direct EQ and go back and forth between the two signals, dialing in the EQ to taste on both. This is a give and take situation.

MIC Low frequency filter: Typically a very steep filter that eliminates low frequency information. If the guitar amp is being recorded in a room with other instruments (such as bass and drums) and there is low frequency leakage from other instruments into the guitar mic, its best to use the low frequency filter. Another use is that if the guitar amp has a ground hum problem that can't be gotten rid of, the filter should help. The filter may be frequency adjustable or a fixed frequency. If adjustable, experiment with the frequency settings to find which works best. Most likely it will be in the 100 to 150 cycle area. If its a fixed frequency, the odds are good it is around 100 cycles.

What I love when writing books and articles, is I learn as well!!! The above just triggered a concept I never pondered in the past. Note that the direct box can give you all the low end you will need so if you need to roll out here big time to get rid of low end band leakage stuff, thats no problem. Just roll out the low end EQ on the miked amp signal!

DIRECT BOX Low frequency filter: In the above case of a band leaking in the mic needing to roll out low end leakage, we do not want to roll off unless looking for a small sound or needing to get rid of ground hum.

OK, if the direct box is causing ground hum (and has no ground switch), the filter should help get rid of some of the hum. The filter may be frequency adjustable or a fixed frequency. If adjustable, experiment with the frequency settings to find which works best. If the filter can be set to 60 cycles, see if that gets rid of the hum. If not, try 100 cycles.

MIC 30 to 80 cycles: Basically useless for this application. Yes, there are always exceptions. If you're using multiple mics and recording a sub woofer, check out Part 20: Using Two or More Mics For The Guitar Amp Speaker(s) (Part #4) for EQ concepts.

DIRECT BOX 30 to 80 cycles: Basically useless for this application BUT if you have a hum problem and no low frequency filter, you might try rolling out here. Try 60 cycles.

MIC 80 to 200 cycles: Lets leave this area alone on the amp unless you are hearing serious build-ups in this area. If build-ups exist, using the frequency sweep technique (see Part 4), find the problem area and roll out. Parameteric EQ is always best for this since you can make the Q width very small. Yes graphic EQ is also a small bandwidth.

DIRECT BOX 80 to 200 cycles: In this case, the odds are good youll have nothing to do since most direct boxes offer a good amount of low end. OK, there are other possibilities as usual. If you rolled out some low end for an amp cabinet frequency bump, do the reverse here, meaning add a bump at the exact same fashion as you rolled off on the amp channel. Use the same level in reverse (add the same amount as was pulled back on the direct box), and the same frequency (and Q width if using parametric EQ). That is the starting point. And then balance out by setting the monitor levels for both mixer recorder return tracks to taste while adding the amount of low end EQ on the direct box path to smooth out the low end.

Notwithstanding the above, lets say that the low end on the amp is big and or small. In either case, if you need to add or pull back on the direct box (or the amp mic track), remember this is a give and take situation. You should mess with the level blend of the two recorder return tracks constantly when setting the EQ since the blend will change for sure.

MIC 200 to 300 cycles: In this case the direct box will have major information in this area. Probably no need to roll out or add BUT again, this is a give and take situation. Work with both sounds and balance out.

DIRECT BOX 200 to 300 cycles: In this case the direct box will have major information in this area. Probably no need to roll out or add BUT again, this is a give and take situation. Work with both sounds and balance out.

MIC 300 to 600 cycles: This is the cloudy area but this is also a big part of the meat of the sound. The direct box will surely have this area covered. I assume nothing to do here in most cases.

DIRECT BOX 300 to 600 cycles: This is the cloudy area but this is also a big part of the meat of the sound. The direct box will surely have this area covered. I assume nothing to do here in most cases.

MIC 600 to 800 cycles: This area contains the boxy sounding mids and is part of the meat of the sound. You may want to add if looking for a mid-range tone. You may want to roll out a taste if you want a bright sound without much mids. The musical style will lead the way.

DIRECT BOX 600 to 800 cycles: This area is the boxy sounding mids and is part of the meat of the sound and in this case, you will hear tons of this area. If you want the lead sound to be softer (less impact), you could add a few dB here. In that case, you may need to roll out a dB or so on the guitar amp mic path so there is not a build-up in this area. MIC 800 to 1 kHz: This area starts to bring out the honk factor. If you need this help or want this sound, add. Again, the style will dictate. If you want that glistening glass-like, beautiful, hi-fi tone, roll out a dB or so.

DIRECT BOX 800 to 1kHz: The honk is not like with miking an amp so not as noticeable. The odds are good nothing will need to happen here.

MIC 1 kHz to 2 kHz: 1K is the center on the midrange. The bandwidth of a telephone comes to mind. Ironically, I seem to not add or pull out in this area unless looking for an effected sound. If your ears like adding or subtracting, do so.

DIRECT BOX 1K to 2 kHz: 1K is the center on the midrange area. Nothing to do here at this point since we want the guitar amp path to carry this area.

MIC 2 kHz to 3.5 kHz: This is the area that will make the guitar cut through a track even when back in level in the mix. For that matter, this area will make most any mid-range instrument/vocal sound cut through a mix even if not that loud. If the guitar is a single coil pickup style like a Fender Strat with three pickups and the pickup selection is the middle and rear pickup together, or the neck pickup and the middle pickup, try adding here if you want more note definition. If the guitar has two humbucking pickups and the pickup switch selector is activating both pickups; this sound will typically have a slight build-up in this area. You may still want to bring up this area but be careful to not add pain. Bring up the monitor volume on the mixer to find out if adding in this area hurts your ears. If so, you have too much build-up in this area. In some cases, you may need to slightly roll out here. If you do, be careful not to roll out too much or the sound will become distant even if set forward in the band mix.

This area is the most sensitive since it is the key to note definition (clarity) as well as pain (if too much) when monitored loud. A dB or so goes a long way in the audio spectrum! Of all the EQ areas, this can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Again, when adding, listen loud to see if you are adding too much. No rules friends you may want the sonic pain.

DIRECT BOX 2 kHz to 3.5 kHz: The cool thing about the direct box and guitar amp combination is the direct box sounds very thick and not bright. This is great upper mid-range support for the guitar amp sound in this area and the rest of the upper frequencies. So with that in mind, do not add here or in any of the above frequencies. OK, If you add in this area, be careful to not thin out the guitar amp mic path. If you want the sound to be bright, add around 3 kHz.

MIC 3.5 kHz to 5 kHz: This area starts bringing up the sparkle. If you're using a Fender Strat type guitar with the above mentioned settings, and if the amp, speaker(s), and mic features this EQ pocket area, you might not need to add here. This EQ area is a friendly spot since typically, nothing is in its way regarding other instruments or vocals. For lead, if the guitar player is playing with a hard attack and is using light strings, this area might sound thin. If so, and you like the sound, try adding in a lower area, such as 800 kHz, to offset the EQ balance.

DIRECT BOX 3.5 kHz to 5 kHz: Again, the cool thing about the direct box and guitar amp combination is the direct box sounds very thick and not bright. This supports the upper mid-range and higher frequencies so only add here to taste. If you want to open up the sound, add around 4 kHz.

MIC 8 kHz to 12 kHz: The pristine sheen area. Add if the guitar sound needs some air. As with the other upper treble frequencies, watch out to not thin out especially if playing high up on the guitar neck. If the guitar amp is noisy and the area does not add much to the tone you are looking for, you might try rolling out in this area to keep the noise down. If recording to analog tape, you may want to do the roll out later when mixing to also take down the tape hiss at the same time.

DIRECT BOX 8 kHz to 12 kHz: Nothing to do here since the odds are good you would just bring up noise. If you're recording to analog tape, you may want to roll out around 12 kHz later when mixing to also take down the tape hiss at the same time.

The Wrap-up: If the guitar is going back and forth from playing rhythm to lead, you will need to EQ to find the best of both worlds. When in doubt, my school of thought is to always EQ on the bright side, especially if using analog tape. It is better to roll off a little top end when doing the final mix since you will also be taking down noise recorded (especially if using analog tape) and recorder return/module path noise as well.

Remember that recording is a give and take situation. Each instrument needs its own frequency sonic pocket and pan settings. EQ the guitar to sound great on its own and then get ready to change the EQ shape when listening to the whole band as well as changing the EQ shape of other instruments. Paint the sonic picture with EQ. After mic experimentation selection and placement, the EQUALIZER is your best friend for sonic layering.

 

Compressing the Two Paths

For the sounds we have been working with, compression will surely make things sound nice and punchy. Review the compressor articles (Parts 10 through 13) per application for important details. So in this case, I would use two separate compressors. If youre using a stereo compressor, do not use the stereo mode since we want both signals to be on their own, meaning the direct sound will fill in low end and low-mid holes if the amp has low end bumps hitting the compressor.

If you want the sound to be aggressive, set the direct box signal compressor threshold to average around 5 dB of compression. Use a 3 to 1 ratio and set the attack fairly fast and the release to fast.

Regarding the guitar mic compression path, set to the same settings above with one change set the compression threshold to average around 3 dB of compression. The amp does not need as much compression since the sound will most likely be brighter causing a small sound. The direct box path can take much more compression since the sound is soft.

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