Dialing in a Crunch Guitar Sound
In the third installment of this column, the article titled "Recording the Guitar - Part 3 Mic'ing the Guitar Amp," I explained the microphone, and the mixer and recorder setup. If you missed that article, read it before proceeding with this article on recording and EQing for distorted guitar tracks.
For those of you who are not familiar with the term "crunch sound," it is the sound between clean and major distortion, meaning some distortion, but not full-blown distortion. It is usually used for low string 5ths that are not totally powered out.
Expensive guitar amps that have three channels typically use the 2nd channel for the "crunch" settings. Usually, these amps are pre-programmed with channel 1 set clean, channel 2 set to crunch, and channel 3 set to full-blown distortion lead settings. Some amps share a channel for crunch and full-blown distortion, meaning that they will share EQ but will have a different adjustable gain structure selected by a switch/footswitch.
Of course in this era, we have amps such as those in the Line 6 product line which allow many amp samples that can be switched at will to accommodate kind of the same thing. In such a case, simply adapt to the following:
No matter what your amp configuration, when setting up a crunch sound, the pre-amp section is overdriven (clipping) to taste but not into complete saturation. The ratio of clean verses distortion could be anywhere from 2/3rds clean and 1/3rd distortion to 1/3rd clean to 2/3rds distortion. Whatever the ratio, the distortion is obvious without going overboard into total distortion, like you might use for your lead guitar solo.
If you're playing low power 5th's, most likely you're leaning towards the distortion side. For playing chords, you're most likely leaning towards the clean side.
If you set up your pre-amp using about 2/3rds clean, this sound typically allows for chords to be played without adding strange ring modulator type harmonics, meaning weird extra notes that are not actually being played. When playing chords that have intervals other than 4ths or 5ths, meaning 3rds and the rest, and using heavy distortion, the ring modulator type sound will happen quite often.
In the era of the late 1990's and early 2000's, some of the current popular bands' guitar players play the electric guitar in the same fashion the acoustic rhythm guitar was played in the 70's. The sound leans towards 2/3rds clean and 1/3rd distortion or so and, like acoustic guitar, the chord voicings are typically open chord or "barred" chords, instead of low 5th's.
When EQ'ing, if you're playing low 5th's with around 2/3rds distortion, the EQ should be dealt with similar to the full distortion concept. If using 2/3rds clean, the EQ will mostly relate to the clean EQ concept. In the case of the latter, the main difference from the guitar amp is that the 2 kHz area is usually more dominant and the sweet mids are not as dominant as with the full-blown distortion. In the case of 2/3rds distortion, the amp will sound closer to the distortion sound but will still typically have slightly more 2 kHz.
With this in mind, using both the clean and distorted EQ tables, you have the tools to work with the sound. The EQ tables can be found in the articles, "Part 4 Tracking Clean Rhythm Sounds" and "Part 8 Dialing in the Sound of a Distorted Guitar"