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How—and Why—You Should Try Recording Backward Guitar Parts

Reverse Multitracking | Recording Dojo FINAL

How cutting tracks in reverse, then reversing those reversed tracks, will add zing to your mixes.

Hello and welcome to another Dojo! Since this issue is dedicated to all things acoustic, I thought I’d share a fun technique that I call “harmonic clouds.” It involves learning a section of your song backwards, recording it, reversing the new recording, and placing it back in the appropriate spot (or not!). I usually do this with acoustic guitars, but it can be applied with equal aplomb to electrics and can supercharge your creativity. Tighten up! The Dojo is now open.


We are all familiar with the sound of reverse delay. On the surface, you might be thinking, “I can do this already.” But you’d be missing out. The “harmonic clouds” technique offers many more possibilities and much more control than recording a guitar part with a reverse delay effect. In short, this technique is inspired more by the process and sounds of double tracking than using delays.

This initial track is the closest thing to a simple reverse delay but it’s not—because it is an entirely different performance, and all those subtle timing and timbral differences are there in all their glory.

By the mid-’60s, it was standard practice for the Beatles to sing all their lead vocals (and some background vocals) twice to thicken up their voices. The resulting deviations from each individual track heard together offered a slight, natural, chorusing effect as well as charming variations in timing of words, dynamics, and timbre. The net result was that the vocals stood out more on the final recordings.

However, it was time consuming. John Lennon, in particular, was always asking for a way to have the sound of “double tracking” without actually having to track the vocal twice. EMI’s brilliant studio engineer Ken Townsend devised an ingenious way of splitting the signal from just after the recording head on a Studer J37 tape machine (at 15 ips) and routing it through both recording and playback heads of the EMI BTR2 tape machine (at 30 ips), the sound from the BTR2 would then be heard at almost the same time as the sound from the Studer’s playback head [Fig. 1] With a little more help from a Levell oscillator, Townsend could varispeed the BTR2 machine with greater control (see my March 2022 article about varispeed). Thus, ADT (artificial double tracking) was born, and, FYI, Waves makes the Reel ADT plug-in ($29 street) as part of their Abbey Road Collection. But I’m going to take you a bit further than that, because we’re going to create new tracks that will increasingly differ from the original! Plus, you can always apply ADT to the new tracks later.

Fig. 1

Let’s get started. Here are the three basic steps:

Step 1 - Learn the Progression Backwards

Take the chords from a particular section of your song (perhaps the chorus or the bridge) and learn the progression backwards, including the rhythms as well. For this example, I was working on the bridge section of a song I wrote on my album that will be released this fall called Jacob’s Well. The way I do this is by writing a chart, then reversing the order and playing it until it feels natural.

Step 2 - Create a New Track

Create a new track and then record the “new” rhythm guitar part you just learned by muting all the other tracks and playing along with the click track.

Step 3 - Reverse the Track

Reverse the track you just recorded and listen to it. Before you unmute all the other tracks and listen to how it sounds, you may have to align it a bit depending on when you stopped recording. Feel free to experiment and play around with aligning the new track in different places rhythmically and listen to how it changes the section. This initial track is the closest thing to a simple reverse delay but it’s not—because it is an entirely different performance, and all those subtle timing and timbral differences are there in all their glory.

Step 4 - Explore Your Own Music

Now we’re ready to have some real fun. Create some new tracks and repeat steps one though three, but each time play the same reversed passage in different parts of the guitar (i.e., you can change the tuning, use a capo, use only power chords, add effects, etc). As the versions pile in and you get used to the process, I think you’ll be really surprised by the results. Who knows, you might even start trying this with all kinds of instruments! Just remember to always serve the song and stay true to the emotional content you want to use these tracks to achieve. Most often for me, less is more.

Until next month, blessings, and keep sharing your gifts with the world. Namaste.

On her new record with her trio, Molly Miller executes a live-feeling work of structural harmony that mirrors her busy life.

Photo by Anna Azarov

The accomplished guitarist and teacher’s new record, like her lifestyle, is taut and exciting—no more, and certainly no less, than is needed.

Molly Miller, a self-described “high-energy person,” is fully charged by the crack of dawn. When Ischeduled our interview, she opted for the very first slot available—8:30 a.m.—just before her 10 a.m. tennis match!

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John Mayall in the late ’80s, in a promo shot for his Island Records years. During his carreer, he also recorded for the Decca (with the early Bluesbreakers lineups), Polydor, ABC, DJM, Silvertone, Eagle, and Forty Below labels.

He was dubbed “the father of British blues,” but Mayall’s influence was worldwide, and he nurtured some of the finest guitarists in the genre, including Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel, Coco Montoya, and Walter Trout. Mayall died at his California home on Monday, at age 90.

John Mayall’s career spanned nearly 70 years, but it only took his first four albums to cement his legendary status. With his initial releases with his band the Bluesbreakers—1966’s Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton; ’67’s A Hard Road, with Peter Green on guitar; plus the same year’s Crusade, which showcased Mick Taylor—and his solo debut The Blues Alone, also from 1967, Mayall introduced an international audience of young white fans to the decidedly Black and decidedly American genre called blues. In the subsequent decades, he maintained an active touring and recording schedule until March 26, 2022, when he played his last gig at age 87. It was reported that he died peacefully, on Monday, in his California home, at 90.

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Featuring enhanced amp models, a built-in creative looper, AI-powered tone exploration, and smart jam features.

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Donner andThird Man Hardware’s $99, three-in-one analog distortion, phaser, and delay honors Jack White’s budget gear roots.

Compact. Light. Fun. Dirt cheap. Many cool sounds that make this pedal a viable option for traveling pros.

Phaser level control not much use below 1 o’clock. Repeats are bright for an analog delay. Greater range of low-gain sounds would be nice.

$99

Donner X Third Man Triple Threat
thirdmanrecords.com

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A huge part of the early White Stripes mystique, sound, ethos, and identity was tied to guitars and amps that, at the time, you could luck into for cheap at a garage sale. These days, it’s harder to score a Crestwood Astral II, or Silvertone Twin Twelve with a part-time job in the ice cream shop. Back in the late ’90s, though, they were a source of raw, nasty sounds for less than a new, more generic guitar or amp.

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