Dialing in Chord Melody Style for Solo Electric Guitar

In the third installment of this column, the article titled "Recording the Guitar - Part 3 - Miking the Guitar Amp," I explained the microphone, and the mixer and recorder setup. If you missed that article, click here to read it before proceeding with this article on recording and EQing for chord melody solo electric guitar tracks.

Many Jazz guitarists love to play beautiful standards and typically work out their own arrangements. This is called chord melody playing for obvious reasons. 

This category also includes situations such as a guitarist backing up a ballad singer; or an electric guitar and a solo instrument in a duo, possibly with orchestral instruments used in the background, such as strings or woodwinds. A small rhythm section also may be part of this situation, playing very softly in volume. In any case, if other instruments are involved, the solo guitar is still the chordal and probably the rhythmic foundation.

In most cases, this style will be played with a soft touch and incorporate a warm, sweet sound. Avoid using compression, if possible, so as to not hurt dynamics.

The EQ Settings that Work for Chord Melody Solo Electric Guitar

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, it's best to use the low frequency filter. Also, if the guitar amp has a ground hum problem that can't be gotten rid of, the low freq filter should help. The filter may be frequency adjustable or a fixed frequency. If it's adjustable, experiment with the frequency settings to find which works best. In this situation, it's best to not go above 100 cycles. If it's a fixed frequency, the odds are good it is around 100 cycles.

30 to 80 cycles: No need to add here. Basically useless for chord melody style.

80 to 200 cycles: I mentioned that archtop jazz guitars might have frequency build-ups and suck outs. In this case, unless a huge bump or a huge suck out exists, we do not want to mess with that sound since there will be serious dynamics in the playing. If this creates a serious problem, ask the guitarist to play chromatically from the open low string on up, and look (listen) for frequency build-ups and or suck outs. If you find a loud low note, you will need a parametric or graphic equalizer to pull back that frequency. If you're using a parametric equalizer set the "Q" to as small a range as possible. Use the EQ sweep technique to find the offending frequency and roll out to taste to make the guitar sound as "even" as possible. Find the suck outs in the same fashion you would look for a build up and then add in the frequency, but be sure that the addition is very tight, using a parametric or graphic equalizer.  

If both buildups and suck outs exist, and if using a digital recorder with a built-in mixer or a digital mixer with many EQ frequency bands that can be used in any frequency area, dial in the build up or suck out and fix it. If you're using analog EQ, and if there are no common frequency bands in this area, using two equalizers in parallel is the way to fix this problem. I will surely do an article on serial and parallel EQ in the future.

Again, unless a serious buildup or suck out is plaguing your recording, it's best not to worry about it, since the odds are good adding a few dB in the 100 to 150 cycle range will fatten up the bottom end. Keep in mind that with no bass instrument, the guitarist will be playing the chord root notes in many cases, so adding in the 100 to 150 cycle area will help support the low frequency spectrum.

200 to 300 cycles: In most cases, the guitar amp sound will be full in this area since the guitarist will typically use an amp that has a big sound for this application. Also, since the odds are good the 100 to 150 cycle area added the lows, and if the amp is big sounding, most likely this area will be fine on its own, unless a bad bump or suck out is in play. If so, use the frequency sweep technique, find the spot, and fix.

300 to 600 cycles: More than likely, there will be no need to do anything in this area unless a bump or suck out exists.

600 to 800 cycles: If the amp sound is dark and you do not want the sound "bright," but need note definition, try adding a few dB at 700 to 800. You may try rolling out if the sound is too "mid-rangy" for your taste, but be careful since this is the note definition "meat" area of the tone!

800 TO 1kHz: Again, if the amp sound is dark and you do not want the sound "bright," but need note definition, try adding a little here. You may try rolling out if the sound is to "mid-rangy" for your taste.

1K to 2 kHz: 1K is the center on the midrange. If the sound is real dark and you want some life, try adding a few dB here. On the other hand, if you want the dark, non-defined tone, try rolling out a few dB here but again, be careful since this is the note definition "meat" area of the tone!

2 kHz to 3.5 kHz: If the sound is dark and you want to make it brighter, add here. A pro jazz guitar player that uses a dark tone may dislike the frequency addition as well as any other upper frequencies. You will find out how the guitar player feels about this on the first playback. Always remember to make the player happy if possible.

3.5 kHz to 5K: This area starts bringing up the "sparkle." In most cases, the chord melody guitar player will not like this area or any of the following high frequency areas. OK, after saying that, since there are no rules, try adding here as long as it does not thin out the sound. If the amp sound is not overly bright and the tone is not thin, adding in this area may sound good to get a slight bit of "air" in the sound. Again, most jazz guitar players like a big, sweet sound, but if you make it too bright, the guitarist will tell you for sure!

8 kHz to 12 kHz: The pristine sheen area. If you have a dark tone, this will not add anything but noise in most cases. This is a spot to roll out a few dB if the amp is noisy.

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.

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