Zeuss hangs with Rob Zombie guitarist and solo artist John 5. “If a guy is going to do a solo and be, like, ‘Give me some effects,’ I’ll put in a little bit of plug-in reverb and plug-in delay, and that works perfectly fine,” he observes.
There aren’t too many absolutes in recording, but virtually every producer worth his or her salt chooses to double guitar tracks in the studio. “I don’t think anybody just does one track on an album, except for maybe Eddie Van Halen. He’s the only guy that I personally know of that does one track. I still like two guitar tracks—left and right—for rhythm, double tracked,” says Zeuss. Evetts adds, “For the most part, we’ll double up the rhythm guitar if it’s a single guitar player. Sometimes you’re doubling up each guy’s parts [in a double-guitar band], so you’re making four tracks.”
When double-tracking, using different tones for the same parts is another way to get things to sound more multi-dimensional. “That will generally make the sound bigger,” says Evetts, “and each sound will fill in holes left by the other sound. Too much of the exact same sound can actually make things sound smaller once you start stacking things on top of each other.”
Bands with more than one guitar player can utilize several approaches in order to thicken things. The obvious course is to have both guitarists chunk away on the same part. You can also get creative and find different ways for both guitarists to express the same musical sentiment: power chords paired with octaves, high versus low registers, etc. “Have the different players try not to imitate each other,” says Evetts. “Sometimes you can split the voicings up between chords, which will make it sound bigger. You still want to play tight, but the variation between the two players will make it sound bigger.
Evetts also posits that dynamics—contrasts in volume, attack, double tracking, etc.—are hugely important, even in aggressive music. “Sometimes [having constant heaviness] can be a cool thing, but for the most part, you want to pick your spot to make the parts have impact.” Zeuss offers his take: “I’ve cut it back to where I’ll bring in some additional guitars in sections of the song to elevate them, rather than say, ‘Okay, do this three times for the left and three times for the right.’ It doesn’t really make the big picture any bigger if you have your left guitar and your right guitar for the whole song. [I prefer something like], ‘Okay, the chorus comes in here—so let’s bring in two more guitars, maybe with a little less gain,’ because it will elevate the part. Then, when it comes out of the chorus, it goes back to your left and right. I get more of an impact in the song when I do it that way.”
Evetts’ resume includes the Dillinger Escape Plan’s latest, 2013’s One of Us Is the Killer, and albums by Sepultura, Hatebreed, the Wonder Years, M.O.D., and Symphony X.
The Reduction Deduction
Many players have heard about guitarists who layer endless numbers of tracks to create a supposedly never-before-heard, massive wall of sound. But there is a point at which extra layers become a liability. First, there’s the obvious. “It can work,” says Evetts, “but it’s also very time consuming.” Then there are the unintended consequences of excessive layering. “If you’re going to layer parts, you need to be conscious about a lot of things: tone, timing, register of the notes you’re playing, chord inversions. If you’re playing everything in the same register, layering will usually make everything smaller because there’s only so much sonic space things can have.”
So how many layers are optimal? Zeuss suggests two. “One left and one right for rhythm sounds fine to me. I’ve done records where I’ve done six tracks with different tones and you try to make this monster wall of sound. Sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t add anything in the end.”
The Final Cut
Despite all the facets of recording we’ve discussed—from guitar gear to mics, miking, and layering—in the end these two incredibly experienced producers agree on a point that simultaneously sounds empty and cliché and like a big “duh.”
“It’s got to be up to the player,” says Evetts. “Turn knobs and don’t be afraid to trust your ears. Don’t rely on a setting—like, ‘This setting will produce this tone.’ There are some guidelines, but for the most part, turn knobs until it sounds good. I have stated in many other interviews and classes that tone comes from your hands! The best metal guitarists will make a bad practice amp sound heavy just from how they play the guitar. And the other thing is, record until it feels right. Don’t look at the damn screen. That’s a huge thing and it happens constantly! Recording used to be about listening to what’s coming out of the speakers. Now it’s about what it looks like on the screen.”
Producer Steve Evetts and the Dillinger Escape Plan’s Ben Weinman explain effective microphone placement for guitars amps in the studio.
And if you still can’t get what you’re looking for, it might be time to call in the big boys. “Sometimes it takes a professional to do it,” says Zeuss. “I’m not against people doing it at home—that’s how I learned. What people forget is that an engineer and a producer lets you worry about your music and not worry about the technicality of it. People are cutting that out now, and that’s why you’re hearing bad songs and bad bands.”