Dialing in the Sound of a Jazz Guitar
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 jazz guitar tracks.
A Few Tricks You Might Need to Try First
Before I get to the EQ settings for recording great jazz guitar, let's clarify a few things: We are dealing with two basic musical styles known as "jazz," straight-ahead jazz and smooth jazz. In general, the straight-ahead jazz guitarist uses an archtop, hollow-body, "F" hole guitar. But, so do many smooth jazz players. OK, as usual, there are no rules. On my CD Bebop, I used a solid-body guitar to eliminate frequency build ups and suckouts. More on that as things unfold.
In most cases the guitar will be a wide archtop, hollow-body, "F" hole guitar. This style of guitar typically creates frequency build-ups on certain notes. The amp can cause this as well but typically not as much as the guitar. When EQ'ing, keep this in mind. If you hear a low note "jump out" in volume, try to find this frequency by using the "sweep frequency technique" explained in part 3. If your mixer has parametric EQ or you have a parametric equalizer that's great since the odds are good we will use the "notch out" concept using a very small "Q" (meaning frequency width) to eliminate the problem frequency or frequency range.
If the guitar player will be playing fairly loud, causing accidental feedback from the guitar to the amp, try putting a piece of scotch tape over both "F" holes. That is what George Benson has done on some of his guitars.
Here is another trick, best for a small body "F hole" guitars and not for big archtops: For years I played a Gibson 335 for many styles. When playing loud, I'd get a squealing feedback if I was too close to the amp. My guitar tech, John Carruthers, ended up stuffing the inside of the guitar "F" holes with a synthetic cotton type material and put a piece of slightly flexible plastic inside the "F" holes over the fake cotton to keep the cotton from coming out of the guitar. This fixed the problem. The tone of the guitar changed slightly, but not too much, and this internal "baffling" actually evened up the note balance of the guitar.
While on the subject of squealing guitar feedback (similar to microphone feedback), the Gibson 335, 345, and 355 "thin line" models have a block of wood that runs under the pickups through the length of the body. This helps note evenness and helps cut down on the feedback, compared to the Gibson 330 and most wide hollow-body guitars. If a guitar has no such block, the guitar is more susceptible to feedback and frequency build-ups
As with all styles of guitar playing, each jazz guitarist has a distinct sound. A player's tone usually falls into one of three basic categories: dark, mid-rangy, or bright. Jazz guitarists are no exception to this rule. Probably 90 percent of the time, a jazz guitar player will use their guitar's neck pickup (if more than one pickup is available on the guitar) to get a thick tone. Also, many jazz guitarists roll back the tone control on the guitar to get rid of high frequency information. If the guitarist is rolling off the highs on his guitar, adding EQ past 3 kHz is basically useless.
The EQ Settings that Work for Jazz Guitar
Otherwise, without further delay, here are the EQ settings that will help you record great jazz 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. Another use: If the guitar amp has a ground hum problem that can't be gotten rid of, this 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 application, but watch out that the roll-off does not hurt the guitar tone. Most likely the low freq filter will adjust sounds in the 100 to 150 cycle area. It's best to use the 100 cycle or lower area if available. If the filter is a fixed frequency, the odds are good it is around 100 cycles.
30 to 80 cycles: Basically useless for this application. Note if you have no low frequency filter, you could use this area for roll off help.
From here on, I'm going to break up the information separately for archtop guitars and solid-body guitars.
80 to 200 cycles (archtop guitar): The odds are very good the jazz guitar tone is thick, so unless you think adding in the low end is needed, it's best to pass on this frequency range. But, I mentioned that jazz guitars may have frequency build ups and suck outs so, to find a note build up area, 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.
80 to 200 cycles (solid body guitar): Again, the odds are very good the jazz guitar tone is thick so unless you think adding in the low end is needed, best to pass. The odds are good the solid body guitar will not have frequency build-ups or suck outs of a hollow-body guitar, but the amp may have some. For other playing styles so far, I've mentioned that the compressor will help smooth this stuff out. For straight-ahead jazz guitar, compression hurts dynamics, and dynamics are key to this style of playing - so I rarely use compression on a jazz guitar. With that in mind, you may want to use the concept in the paragraph above to smooth out frequency bumps and suck outs. Note that when I recorded my Bebop jazz CD, I recorded "direct" using a direct box (no amp or microphones) to avoid the problem. More on this in the "Direct Box" articles to come.
200 to 300 cycles (archtop guitar): Same as the 80 to 200 cycles: Look for build-ups and suck outs.
200 to 300 cycles (solid body guitar): The odds are good you will not need any help here since the tone will be thick. However, you may have some amp frequency bumps and suck outs. Check and deal with those as described above if need be.
300 to 600 cycles (archtop guitar): As you know, jazz guitar players use medium to heavy gauge strings, which produce a thick upper bottom/low midrange tone, with the help of the guitar tone control roll-off many jazz players prefer. At these lower frequencies, then, we're primarily still on the frequency bump and suck out issue, trying to "even up" the notes. One thing to consider: If you are having trouble with some of the lower frequencies (particularly in the 80 to 200 cycle range) building up in an undesirable fashion and you need to roll out in a wide fashion, you might try to add here to make up for some of the "meat." Start around 300 to hear what happens.
300 to 600 cycles (solid body guitar): Again, the odds are good this area is thick on its own, but take a look for amp build ups and suck outs. Again, if you are having trouble with some of the lower frequencies (particularly in the 80 to 200 cycle range) building up in an undesirable fashion and needed to roll out in a wide fashion, you might try to add here as to make up for some of the "meat." Start around 300 to hear what happens.
600 to 800 cycles (archtop guitar): Mid-range city as usual and the guitar will most likely be thick here! We are now out of the woods with frequency build ups and suck outs that can be controlled without hurting the overall sound. The odds are huge no help is needed in this area. Hey, again, no rules - so if you need to add or pull back a few dB, do so. If the sound is lacking in this area, try adding. In most cases, this area will not need help.
600 to 800 cycles (solid body guitar): Same as the archtop settings. Probably no help needed here.
800 to 1 kHz (archtop guitar): If the tone is too dark and needs a slight mid-range bump for note definition, try adding a dB or so.
800 to 1 kHz (solid body guitar): Again, if the tone is too dark and needs a slight mid-range bump for note definition, try adding a dB or so.
1K to 2 kHz (archtop guitar): 1K is the center of the mid-range. The bandwidth of a telephone comes to mind. The odds are good nothing needs to happen here.
1K to 2 kHz (solid body guitar): Same as above. The odds are good nothing needs to happen here.
2 kHz to 3.5 kHz (archtop guitar): If the sound is dark and you want to make it brighter, try adding 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.
2 kHz to 3.5 kHz (solid body guitar): If the sound is dark and you want it brighter, try adding here. For smooth jazz playing, the addition might be needed, but 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.
As I've mentioned in other EQ set-ups for other guitar styles, a dB or so goes a long way with this EQ area in the audio spectrum! If the guitarist is using a bright sound, of all the EQ areas, this can be your best friend or your worst enemy. When adding, listen loud to hear if you are adding too much. This area can get painful! No rules friends, just guidelines.
3.5 kHz to 5K (archtop guitar): This area starts bringing up the "sparkle." In most cases, the jazz guitar sound will not like this area or any of the following upper-end EQ areas. OK, after saying that, since there are no rules, try adding as long as it does not thin out the sound. If the amp sound is not overly bright and the tone is not thin, this area may sound good to get a slight bit of "air" in the sound. Most jazz guitar players like a big sweet sound, but if you make it too bright, the guitarist will tell you for sure!
3.5 kHz to 5K (solid body guitar): Same as for archtops.
5 kHz to 8 kHz (archtop guitar): More sparkle. If adding, watch out not to make to thin. If the guitar sound is dark, adding here will only bring up noise.
5 kHz to 8 kHz (solid body guitar): Same as for archtops.
8 kHz to 12 kHz (archtop guitar): The pristine, sheen area. If a dark tone is preferred, this will not add anything but noise in most cases. If a bright tone is being used, this may make the sound thin. This may be a spot to roll out if the amp is noisy. If you're 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.
8 kHz to 12 kHz (solid body guitar): Same as for archtops.
For smooth jazz playing, if the guitar player is going back and forth from playing rhythm to lead, you most likely will not have an EQ problem. If this is a problem, 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 analog tape) and recorder return/module path noise as well.
For straight-ahead jazz playing, if the guitar player is going back and forth from playing rhythm to lead, don't worry about finding an average EQ. The key it so get the single line - the soloing - to sound as good as possible.