If you’re into cooking, you probably know about roux. It’s a simple mixture of fat—usually butter—combined with flour and used for thickening up sauces. Also, many sauce recipes (especially Chinese styles), will call for adding cornstarch near the end of the cooking process to help thicken things up. I certainly don’t recommend pouring roux or cornstarch into your computer or hard drive to thicken your guitar tracks, but there are some things we can do to add mass to our tones in the studio.
Get it right from the start.
It’s much easier to capture a
fat-sounding track if you have
a good, thick guitar tone coming
out of your amplifier. It’s
worth taking the time to find
the right combination of guitar,
amp, and pedals to ensure you
have a thick tone at the source.
For me, “thick” usually means
humbuckers or P-90s, but you
can also get fat sounds out of a
guitar equipped with Fender-style
single-coils, if the amp
provides some additional girth.
I find that a resonant instrument,
such as a lightweight
solidbody, a semi-hollow or
chambered axe, or a hollowbody
gets a fatter sound than a
heavier, more inert solidbody.
Capture the sound well.
Revisit the past few installments
of Guitar Tracks at premierguitar.com, and you’ll find
many suggestions for mic’ing
techniques and mic selection.
Jimmy Page got huge tones
out of a tiny Supro amp and a
Tele, and one trick he used was
distant mic’ing. On those early
Zep albums, he lived by the old
studio maxim, “distant makes
depth.” So go ahead and try
mixing in room mics along with
the close mics on your amps.
Compare and contrast.
When you’re arranging your
songs, mix in some thinner,
lighter sounds along with your
fat and heavy sounds, giving
each one its time in the spotlight.
If you follow a thin, light
tone with a fat, heavy one, the
latter will sound even fatter and
thicker than it would if it was
surrounded by other fat tones.
Create a stereo version
of a mono sound. A common
way to do this is to use a
very short delay—try between
12 ms and 24 ms with no feedback
or regeneration. Just place
the dry sound on one side of the
stereo field and pan the delayed
sound to the opposite side.
There are some cool variations
of this technique, including
the old Van Halen trick of
panning the dry sound to one
side, and its reverbed counterpart
to the other. You could
also go dry on one side, with
chorusing, flanging, or phasing
on the other. Try copying your
track and placing the original
on one side, with the copy on
the other, nudged a few milliseconds
earlier or later. Then
cut some frequencies and boost
others slightly with a multi-band
equalizer on the original
track. On the copied track, cut
and boost the opposite frequencies
by the same amounts.
Record a pass
of your guitar to one track and
then record a second pass to a
second track. Playing the second
track as close to the first
as possible will result in a big
sound. Varying the second track
slightly (not going for an exact
duplicate of the first) can give
you a different, bigger sound.
Then pan the two tracks opposite
one another in the stereo
field. Instant thickener!
A variation on this technique
is using a completely different
guitar voicing for the second
track—maybe a totally different
guitar and amp. You could even
play an octave up or down on
the second track. Fine-tune the
two sounds so that they complement
each other in the mix.
Why stop with one
double? You can add more doubled
tracks on top of the original,
be it multiple octave-up
versions, octave-down versions,
and so on. Keep in mind that
there is a point of diminishing
returns—the sound can get so
washy that you lose presence.
The trick is careful mixing.
I once created a huge guitar
tone by playing the basic track
and panning it to the center,
and following that by playing
a double for each side. These
were mixed back in volume
from the original. Then I played
an octave double—using an
inverted chord voicing—twice.
These two tracks were also
mixed way back in volume
compared to the original. The
result? A full, thick sound that
didn’t come across as overly
processed or multi-tracked—the
original track carried the day.
The doubles were there for
added heft, harmonic content,
depth, and width.
Place your dry
guitar track in the center of the
stereo field and use an effects
send to run it to a stereo pitch-shifting
plug-in. Set the left
side of the pitch shifter 3 to 5
cents sharp and the right side 3
to 5 cents flat, and then mix in
behind the dry signal to taste.
This creates a cool, chorus-like
sound, but thicker and sans the
warbly motion. Don’t shift too
far, or the effected tracks will
sound out of tune. Another
option is to place your dry
signal on one side of the stereo
field, and both pitch-shifted
versions (sharp and flat) on the
other side of the stereo field.
Combine and conquer.
There is no rule that says you
can only use one of these techniques
to craft your massive
guitar track. Try combining
effects processing with doubling
(and varied inversions and voicings)
to achieve a huge tone.
Using these techniques, your
tracks will bulk up nicely and
fill out your songs more than
ever before. There is simply
no reason to suffer with thin,
wimpy guitar tracks in your
Mitch Gallagher is
the former editor in chief of
EQ magazine. He’s written
more than 1000 articles
and six books on recording
and music technology, and
has released an instructional
DVD on mastering. His upcoming book is
entitled Guitar Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate
Electric Guitar Sound. To learn more, visit
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