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Beginner’s Guide: How to Mix Metal Guitars for Clarity and Definition
We know you’re here to learn about how to mix metal guitars. While an essential part of creating a smashing metal mix, it can be a challenging task at first. Due to the nature of guitars being such a driving force in metal, it’s vital that they are defined and cut through a dense mix.
In this post, we’re going to discuss five metal mixing tips for beginners that will help you mix your metal guitars so that they have clarity and definition. While these are deceptively simple tips, they are proven methods that will get you the professional sounding results you’re aiming for.
Mixing Metal Guitars: It Starts With Double Tracking
In order to even think of getting guitars that can cut through your mix, you need to record them correctly. To get that big, wide guitar sound that is larger than life cuts through a mix, you need to at least double track your rhythm guitars.
What is double tracking?
Double tracking is the process of recording the same guitar part twice and then panning the two tracks hard left and right. This is a common technique used in many genres of music, but it is especially important for mixing metal guitars.
There are a few reasons why double tracking is so important for metal guitars.
It adds clarity and definition to the sound.
When you record the same part twice, the two tracks will have slight differences in timing and tone. This creates a sense of depth and width in the mix, and it also helps to mask any imperfections in the sound.
You’ll achieve thickness and power.
When you record a guitar part twice, you essentially double the amount of low-end frequencies. This can help to give your guitars a more aggressive and powerful sound.
Double tracking helps bring your mix together.
While it may seem counterintuitive, double tracked guitars help create a cohesive, big sound in a mix that actually creates an expansive, defined sound. This is truly the first step in getting guitars to cut through in a dense metal mix.
Now that you know why double tracking is important, here are some extra things you can do in order to double track correctly:
- Ensure the guitar you are using has been serviced. This means it has been intonated, cleaned, and given a clean bill of health in terms of electronics and playability.
- You should have a fresh set of strings as well.
- Record the two tracks separately. You can’t record both tracks at the same time, otherwise the magic of double tracking won’t work and you won’t get that big, stereo image.
- Tune your guitar often. Most professionals will check the guitar tuning before each take. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of your guitars getting out of tune slowly, and by the time you finish the song, you’ll have a washy mess on your hands instead of metal guitars that are clear and defined.
- Make sure you are panning one track to the left, and one track to the right. When you’re mixing metal guitars, it’s general practice to pan the guitars 100% to either side.
Remember, you must play two separate guitar parts. You can’t record one part and copy and paste it and then pan it. Two parts are required!
How to Mix Metal Guitars: Pick The Right Impulse Response
Countless metal mixing tutorials seem to miss the importance of the speaker. In fact, our very own Scott Elliott from Chernobyl Studios dedicated an entire course on how to pick the right cabinet impulse response. It’s one of our most popular training courses to this very day!
The cabinet speaker or impulse response (IR) you use has an enormous impact on the sound of your guitars. If you want your guitars to sound clear and defined, you need to choose a cabinet speaker that fits the sound you’re going for. This is how you do it:
Understand Your Tone Objective
When you determine the specific tone you want to achieve, your ears will automatically fine-tune themselves to listen for an IR that fits the bill. If you want a tight and aggressive tone, you will automatically filter out speakers that are flubby in the low end or smooth on the top end. As far as clarity and definition goes, if a particular speaker has too much fizz or is very boomy in the low end, you’re already making the mixing process harder for yourself should you choose to mix with that IR.
Stop, Research, And Listen
Many bands that you love are using the same gear between themselves. What gear are they using? When you take the time to explore various IRs and start listening to how the speakers sound in context with the rest of the mix, you’ll begin to pick out the IRs that give you the best shot at mixing a metal song with the most amount of clarity and definition.
Not Every Amp & Speaker Combination Works
Not every speaker pairs well with every amp. One of the biggest mistakes beginners mixing metal make is they don’t take a moment to listen to the combination they are using. For example, the ENGL Savage 120 mkII is generally known to be a “dark” sounding amp. In this instance, it would be a mistake to choose an IR that is also dark. The combination of a dark speaker with a dark amp will be an undefined guitar tone that has no definition at all.
Don’t Pick Your IR In A Vacuum
What we mean here is… don’t simply pick an IR because somebody on the internet said it’s the best. There are so many different speakers out there that it’s ridiculous. Different subgenres of metal require different sounds. What you want to do is experiment and compare while your mix is playing. Try various different combinations and different speakers with your music at the same time. What seems to sound best? Which speaker jumps out of the mix and screams, “Bro, I’m a metal guitar and I have all of the clarity and definition!”
Of course, there is no “best” IR. The best IR is going to be the one that you like, that works for your music, that helps you achieve metal guitars that are clear and defined.
The Most Important Metal Mixing EQ Moves Are…
High pass and low pass filters. High pass and low pass filters are essential tools for mixing metal guitars. They can help to remove unwanted frequencies from guitars, which directly improve the clarity and definition of the guitars.
Now, it’s important to note the name of high pass and low pass filters and what they actually do. It’s somewhat a case of “opposite world”, in that high pass filters remove low-frequency sounds from the signal. This is obviously essential because low frequencies are generally muddy and can clutter up the mix. By removing these frequencies, you can help to make the guitars sound clearer and more defined.
Following the logic of opposite-land, low pass filters remove high-frequency sounds from the signal. This can be helpful mixing metal guitars because high frequencies are often harsh and can cause ear fatigue. By removing these frequencies, you can help to make the guitars sound smoother and more listenable.
Now you can’t just use a high and low pass filter willy-nilly. If you remove too many lows from your guitars, they will sound thin and weak. If you don’t remove enough, then they will be muddy and undefined. Same with the high end… too much removed and your metal guitars will sound like they are under a pillow. If you don’t remove enough, your listeners will probably have to go to the hospital because their ears are bleeding.
The best way to find the right balance is to experiment. Listen to the guitars with the filters engaged and disengaged and see what sounds best to you when the full mix is playing..
Here are a few tips for using high pass and low pass filters when you are mixing:
- Start with a narrow bandwidth. This will help you to target specific frequencies and avoid affecting the overall sound of the guitars.
- Use a high cutoff frequency for high pass filters. This will help to remove the low frequencies that can muddy up the sound of the guitars.
- Use a low cutoff frequency for low pass filters. This will help to remove the high frequencies that can cause ear fatigue.
- Experiment with different settings. The best way to find the right settings is to experiment and see what sounds best to you.
With a little practice, you’ll be able to set up your filters in a mix in no time at all. And with the added clarity and definition that high pass and low pass filters can provide, your metal guitars will sound better than ever.
EQ Annoying Frequencies That Kill Your Metal Guitar Sound
What are these annoying frequencies, you ask? Well, one of the most important metal mixing techniques for beginners to develop is the ability to identify and remove nasty resonances in their metal guitar tones.
Resonances are frequencies that are amplified more than others in the guitar tone. They can cause the guitars to sound harsh, boomy, or otherwise unpleasant. By EQing out these resonances, you can help to improve the clarity and definition of the guitars.
To find annoying resonances, you can use a spectrum analyzer to visualize the frequency response of the guitars. Look for peaks or dips in the frequency response that are out of place. These are likely to be resonances.
Once you have identified the resonances, you can use an EQ to reduce their amplitude. You can do this by cutting (lowering) the gain at the resonant frequencies. The amount of cut that you need will vary depending on the severity of the resonance.
In Guitar Tone Mastery, Scott presents a systematic approach to finding and removing nasty resonances.
Additionally, Scott explains why it is important to be careful not to cut too much or too little when EQing out resonances and shows exactly how to do it so that you take out only the right amount.
If you cut too much, you will kill the energy of the guitars, but if you cut too little, you’ll have guitars that just sound harsh or boomy… and therefore you’ll have metal guitars that are not clear or defined.
Here are a few tips for metal mixing EQ tips for taking out out annoying resonances:
- Use a narrow bandwidth. This will help you to target specific frequencies and avoid affecting the overall sound of the guitars.
- Start with a small amount of a cut and slowly bring down the cut just to the point where you no longer hear the resonance on top of the guitar tone anymore.
This is one aspect of mixing metal that just takes time and practice. But as we said, if you’d like an exceptionally in-depth look at creating guitar tones and mixing metal guitars that have clarity and definition, Guitar Tone Mastery is what you’re looking for.
Metal Guitars Need to be Upfront & In Your Face
It’s hard to have clear and defined guitars if you can’t hear them, right? Well, that’s one of the main reasons you want to use a limiter.
Think of a limiter plugin as just a way to control the dynamic range of audio signals. It works by reducing the level of the loudest parts of the audio, preventing them from exceeding a set threshold. This is important because we can control exactly where we want the guitar to be in the mix.
Dynamic control makes for clear and defined guitars.
A lot of guitar parts are dynamic. You have the chug-chug parts, and then the tremolo picking parts, then sustained power chords and everything in between. A limiter helps control these dynamics by reducing the loudest peaks, which will give you a more consistent and balanced sound.
Mix the guitar parts together.
Limiters can help “glue” your two guitar parts together so they sound as one, cohesive element in your song. By gently bringing down the threshold to just barely react to the guitars, you can control the peaks and thus, you create a unified, clear, and defined sound.
More Control = More Clarity.
Distorted guitar tones have occasional overshoots, or excessively loud transients that can cause clipping and bad-sounding distortion. A limiter, in this case, is like a safety net that can ensure your guitar tone remains artifact-free.
Remember that you shouldn’t slam the limiter or you will create an unnatural and overly compressed sound, which will adversely affect the musicality and clarity of the guitars.
Metal Guitars that are Clear & Defined Is Just Half the Battle
Achieving clear and defined guitars is important for having impactful and powerful mixes. Just remember that the most important part of this process is how you record them and then how you choose your IR.
If you record sloppy guitars and don’t pick the correct IR, no amount of studio magic or metal mixing tips will help you.
Finally, you’ll need to put in some practice and experiment and fall in love with the process… but when you do and when the results start coming, it’ll be the best feeling in the world!
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