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The ULTIMATE guitar layering thread

Discussion in 'Guitars' started by heartshine, May 10, 2011.

  1. heartshine

    heartshine Active Member

    Hi everybody,
    I'm new on this forum and I'm enjoying it very much.

    There's one thing that I'm really interested in, and it's a subject that is not easy to find nor abundantly discussed on the internet:
    Guitar layering techniques in today's pop/rock music.

    I've started this thread, hoping to get some of the various techniques, tips and tricks together in "one marvelous thread".

    Lets NOT discuss mic techniques, but focus on all the aspects and variations of layering / building guitar parts in modern (pop)rock productions.

    I'd like to separate this "layering topic" into a couple of different categories (which are of course intertwined):

    A) Rhythm guitar parts (electric as well as acoustic)
    B) Lead guitar parts (not guitar solo's but single supportive guitar notes )
    C) Power chords
    D) Other things related to the subject of guitar layering.

    To give you an idea what I'm after. I'd like to know more about the layering / arranging techniques used in records from Daughtry (Howard Benson), David Cook (Rob Cavallo), John Shanks productions (like Ashley Simpson's first two rock records, Michelle Branch etc.) and albums like Kelly Clarksons' "All I ever wanted" and Pink's "I'm not dead"
    Also records from bands like: Train, Lifehouse, Nickelback, 3 Doors Down and similar acts.

    Think in the likes of: How many parts, exact overdubs, variations, EQ, the use of effects, panning etc. Everything you think might be relevant for a great guitar production.

    Okay, I hope it's clear what I'm after.

    I want to invite you to share some of the guitar recording magic and make this a wonderful thread we can all benefit from. Let's make it happen!

    Thanks a lot!

    Jesse Campfens, Songwriter/Producer from the Netherlands
  2. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    This is a good topic. I hope others will jump on the bandwagon here. I will write more tonight when I get home.

    All of the acts that you have listed have a very common sound to them and not the least is the heavily layered guitar sounds.

    Its hard to get things that saturated as well as clean and clear.

    More on this later.
  3. heartshine

    heartshine Active Member

    Thanks, Dave.

    I look forward to your contribution to this thread. Hopefully this topic will get rolling, I thought it's pretty interesting for a lot of people here.
    Greets Jesse
  4. Ripeart

    Ripeart Active Member

    I will generally duplicate acoustic guitar tracks 4x then send those to a bus with some compression and maybe an exciter. The effect is that it fattens up the sound.

    Attached Files:

  5. AToE

    AToE Active Member

    This isn't so much about layering melodies and harmonies over rhythm, but I think it fits the bill of what this thread is supposed to be. For "heavy" rock guitar sounds I have an aproach that I think combines the best of both worlds, the thickness of layers, and the clarity and feel of single tracked instruments. I typically record each guitar part 3 times (so typical 2 guitarist band I'd have 6 layers, all just DI box to start and then I reamp later). I treat one of the takes as my main gtr, the other 2 as backups. Typically the two "backup" layers will end up somewhere between 10% to 30% of the entire mix for that guitarist, so the majority of the sound is coming from just one of their takes. The key is grabbing the backup gtrs and experimenting with what their volume should be relative to the main track to get exactly the blend of thickness and clarity/feel/live-like-vibe (I like to go for much more of a live vibe in recordings). Compared to recordings where they mix all the layers closer to the same volume (and often have far more than 3 per guitarist) I find the attack is preserved, and it just sounds a lot more like it was actually played by a human being. For what I do, this works really well.

    Also, all 3 don't need to be the same. A really heavy part might have the backing layers putting in a low fourth below the chord, a part with complex chords may have at least one of the backing layers played an octave up (or more often, just in a different position on the neck, for more treble/clarity). The options here are pretty varied obviously.

    Then it gets a little insane when it's time to reamp. I usually try to keep it simple with the 2 backup guitar tracks, just out through an amp to one or two mics to get the basic sound I'm going for (often I'll do just a ribbon mic here a few feet away, as I find it helps them sit in the background more). The main layer for each guitarist is pretty extensive (depending on the project. I'll typically choose an amp that gets basically the finished sound we're after, spend some time with it, probably 2-3 mics. Then I'll reamp that same guitar again with mics in the same position, but change amplifiers (typically I go for the opposite of what the main amp was, if it was 6L6 I'll switch to EL34, usually I go for much less gain on this second round). Sometimes I'll do it yet again with another amp.

    Then I've got a huge colour palette to work with come mixing - other than low and high pass I probably won't ever have to touch an EQ with such an array to mix together. It's pretty easy to get bogged down in this if you're not used to working this way though, so for many people keeping the reamping simpler on that main gtr track might be a better way to go.
  6. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I like this method. I will say that changing out the amps is a great way of really getting a large soundscape without using a lot of EQ in the chain. Changing guitars does this too as well as changing the guitar tunings. A guitar thats tuned up or down however you like and then capo'd to the key signature and then played in a different fingering also brings out harmonics in the chord structures you cant get by simply duplicating a single or even multiple passes in the same positions.

    I also like using emulations as well as amps. For deep thick rhythm parts I will sometimes record the basic chord structure with an acoustic guitar run through a processor with all sorts of different effects. Depends on the song, of course.

    Having different guitars with different guages of strings is another subtle but effective way of enhancing the harmonic content to a doubled (or more) track.

    With a lead section I will slide the doubled track in time a bit to thicken it up. Not enough to blur the sound....Its the leads that generally require a multiple mic technique to capture all the nuances in a performance.
  7. heartshine

    heartshine Active Member

    Thanks everybody for your contributions, good stuff people. Great to have this thing rolling.

    Some extra thoughts: What about panorama? Pan the overdubs / layers in the same position or move them around a little?
    I'd like to hear some opinions about placement in the mix (dry up front vs. wet backgrond) and the subtle use of effects.

    I think with layering many parts it's important to use one performance for the attack and weaken the attack on overdubs to avoid blurry sounding guitars.

    Do some of you track guitar chords by layering single chord notes... (1st take root note, 2nd take thirds, 3rd take fifths), to make it extra tight?
  8. AToE

    AToE Active Member

    I don't do that single track notes in a chord thing because I don't generally like the effect, playing tight is good, but getting it to the point where is sounds like it was sequenced is never my goal (and one of my biggest beefs with modern recordings, especially metal, it sounds like robots played the whole thing!).

    For panning I'm often at a bit of a loss. I have a few tricks up my sleeves (like panning 2 gtr parts, then panning their distance mics the opposite way), and sometimes the extra layers will end up in slightly different spots than the mains, but generally speaking I pan hard right and hard left for the 2 guitarists, then maybe a little bit of each in the opposite speaker (or panned more towards center but still more on the opposite). Hard panned is how it always seems to end up for me, or 90% panned so a little comes from the other speaker... it's something I'll freely admit I need to spend more time working on and talking with people about.
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    As far as panning, I like to dupe a copy of the main track, a copy of the secondary track and sometimes others. Then I will make a sub-master for the secondary tracks and pan them outside of the pan of the basic track.. Then I'll take the duped copy of the basic track and put a stereo effects device of some sort....verb, modulation, echo, etc.. and pull back the faders on the track and drive the stereo effect hard and pan it opposite of the track's pan. Sometimes an automated crossfade during a section for the effects only.

    All of this is simply a background for the upfrontinyourfacetrack........
  10. AToE

    AToE Active Member

    That's in the case of having just one guitarist, to turn that into a huge track?

    Any advice or tips on songs with 2 guitars? In metal I typically like to have the 2 guitars at least mostly each on their own side, but I'm never sure whether I prefer totally hard panning, or 80-90% panning, or having the inyourface layer at say 80% then the backing layers at 100% panned, or the reverse of that... so many options!!!

    Sometimes I'll put the main tracks at 90% panned, then their distant mics (or a quieter backing layer) 100% in the opposite direction, and the same but reversed for the other guitar...

    I do feel pretty overwhelmed with the options sometimes, which is why I often just go with hard panned, which seems at least to not be terrible or anything!!
  11. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I try and make the guitars sit @ mix center like they would be on a stage but with the effected pieces in pann, like one of those paintings where the eyes follow you everywhere. So literally, the goal is to seemingly have this separation no matter where you sit.
  12. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    I have done some pretty intensive experimentation on the subject, and looking back at some of the things I have done, my best and clearest guitar sounds have been the simpler ones. I like blending different sounds to get a fatter product, but this is usually gear related versus mixing. i.e. I will use different sounding overdrives or different mics or both. Within the box, I don't ever duplicate (copy/paste) tracks for rhythm tracks. I sometimes duplicate acoustic guitar tracks or lead parts and do some stereo mixing, but for your everyday rhythms, get it right, keep it simple.

    Actually on the topic of acoustic guitar miking and mixing, I remember a project that I did a while ago where I double miked a single performance and utilized some stereo mixing. I doubled each take and mixed them both hard L and R. In the left I mixed mic A down and in the right I mixed mic B down. I duplicated the tracks again and mixed both mics way down and panned center and saturated them with reverb. It was a really good and wide sound and the saturated tracks really harmonized with the dryness of the hard panned tracks and created a huge soundscape from only a single performance!

    On the topic of electric guitar miking and mixing of a distorted sound, simple is definitely the way to go if you want maximum clarity. What I do is use an overdrive pedal into the front of my amp, and this is not so much for extra gain as it is to apply some pre-EQ to the guitar track before it enters the amp. Doing this definitely tightens the response and makes for a really clear sounding recording and ultimately, a clear sounding mix. The guitar doesn't need to have all those lows and sub lows anyway, that's for the bass guitar and kick drum. At this stage, what I do sometimes is put one overdrive pedal L and one overdrive pedal R. The effect of this is subtle, but there is a noticeable widening. You can do this with using different sounding mics, or different amps, or different speakers/cabinets... etcetc. Overdrive pedals are cheaper!

    The trick of having different overdrive pedals L and R is a stereo mixing trick, but how about mono mixing of tones? The best results that I have gotten doing this is by using different sounding microphones, the more different they sound the better. I have used an SM57 and Heil PR20 mixed in equal proportions, and the result is FAT. The SM57 has sort of a lax midrange quality to it with lots of high end and low mids, and the PR20's greatest quality is its midrange without too much high end. When blended, they sound great. This works because they sound different, so when they sum, the result is fatter... they fill in each others holes. If they were too close to being the same sound, you run the risk of just adding mud.

    Sorry I couldn't comment on the famous producers/artists you talked about, this is just my opinion. Actually I do remember hearing something about the way David Cook's guitars were mixed and I think it has more to do with take layering than gear or tone layering.
  13. AToE

    AToE Active Member

    I've thought a lot about what you mention, getting rid of those sub frequencies before the signal even hits the amp, and I agree totally - especially considering that I try to create distortion like this: turn the preamp gain to medium, lower than whatever amount of dist you want. Then push the power amp as hard as possible (if you're lucky this is where you have a post-amp attenuator), I want to get as much power amp distortion as possible, but just a nice touch of speaker distortion too, not too much, but not none. Then I go back to the preamp gain and adjust too where I need to be (sometimes a lot of back and forth is needed). Also, you don't want mic distortion... never goes well in my experience!

    Those low frequencies mess this whole process up. I only really use a boost pedal in-line for lead parts, but since this album I'm working on (with a really decent metal band for once!) is starting with all DI'd guitars, then reamping, I'm thinking I'll just apply some high-pass in the DAW before it goes out to the amp, should clean it up nicely.

    Simple panning definitely is what has worked for me. When I start having guitars wide, and some layers towards C then I find I lose so much of the space for the other instruments that live around C (especially with the freaking wall of thick guitars in metal). So hard panning (or close) seems to be my best friend. :)

    I don't generally like the guitars to sound like they're coming from anything related to center. It might be a genre thing, but I like one guitar mostly left and one mostly right (it's funny, it's the opposite of what DaveDog said, I also want it to sound like a live show, but since metal shows are often in tiny places with weak PA systems, the guitars end up totally panned thanks to the stage volume competing with the PA! Kinda funny... also I always pan drums not from stage view, instead from drummer-view, but that's an unrelated discussion!).

    I'm glad this conversation is coming up now, I'm very excited about this project (I finally found a metal band that wants to sound "real" not programmed and time corrected, they want a "live" sounding album... right up my alley!) and like when someone else needing advice ends up helping me too!
  14. Guitarfreak

    Guitarfreak Well-Known Member

    I've tried HP on a DI before sending it to the amp, and what I found was that it's not a replacement for a Tubescreamer. A Tubescreamer affects the entire frequency range, not just the lows. I'm using a Maxon OD808 and it's really been my staple rock/metal boost for rhythm tones since I got it. I don't even like doing HP after recording the distorted guitar tracks because I know that it is entirely possible to record a perfect sounding distorted guitar sound that needs absolutely no EQing to sit well in a mix, so that's what I strive for.

    About the volume issue you mentioned, that is really amp, speaker, and style dependent and for modern metal you really don't want power amp or speaker distortion at all, it needs to be tight and percussive. When I say modern metal, I am referring to the post-thrash scene like Arch Enemy, Devil Driver, Killswitch Engage, Scar Symmetry and bands like that. Basically all of the newer bands that utilize modern high gain amps to get that quick percussive sound, though there are newer bands that use vintage amps and get warmer sounds. Some speakers sound good when cranked and some just plain don't. The cabinet design, weight, and construction quality will affect whether or not the notes get blurred or smeared at higher volumes as well. Old Marshalls were designed to be cranked, and they sound great doing it. Modern voiced high gain amplifiers get their gain and voicing from the preamp section and even running the gain low can't change this, they're just different amps. My primary recording amplifier is a Peavey 5150 and I rarely ever take the volume above 3 as it gets a bit chewy. On the other hand, in certain situations chewy is exactly what I want. For instance, I was doing a Sabbath tune, and my Big Muff was broken, so I had to be able to get some fuzz from the amp itself, so I cranked the master volume to 7 or 8 (I listened for the speakers to begin to give a little, then backed off a hair) and that did the trick. It added a good amount of give and sponginess and considering the style it worked out perfectly.

    The most important aspect of anything audio related is using one's ears! If it sounds good it is good. Bleh, what an overused phrase...
  15. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    I guess I shoulda spent more time elaborating....I want the guitars to sit in a stage view...ie: L/R or wherever they should be....BUT...and I guess this is because I always check things in mono....which you should do also....I want the CENTER of the sound to stay in focus and I want it to stay in focus no matter where you're standing in the stereo field. Solid recordings do this.
  16. AToE

    AToE Active Member

    @ Guitarfreak - I know my methods aren't really the normal aproach for modern metal, but in all honesty I'm not the hugest fan of most modern metal production. Bear in mind too that when I say speaker distortion I really mean just a hint of it, more than that and I agree it goes to mush. Soundclips speak louder than words, but please take my word for the moment that I like a really percussive metal guitar, and I've found for me the best way to get it is through careful gainstaging to get multiple stages of less distortion, rather than 1 layer of higher distortion. Once I'm done working with this band I'll post clips to show the results, because my talking about it doesn't count for much! (I also am a fan of tube rectifiers rather than the diodes most of the time, yes even for heavy distortion. Might just be due to my whole process, but I find that the sag produced can actually increase the attack in certain situations, that's going by my ears. My theory behind it is that because it's sagging before hitting the speakers or really distorting in the pwr section, it lets that transient remain less distorted while the sustain and decay get more distortion. Just a wild guess though, I know what my ears are telling me, but the "why" is just speculation!).

    EDIT: and I agree totally about it differing from gear to gear, especially in regards to speaker distortion. My most-used rig is an older Mesa dual rec (which I rip 2 tubes out of to take it down to 50 watts), one of the 2 channel ones not the new 3 channel ones, which I frankly am not much of a fan of (every time a company adds a third channel the attack seems far too distorted and mushy, regardless of what channel is being used, and the overall distortion character is just more homogenized, and less interesting. I've talked to the techs at Peavey and Mesa about this before, they say it's because adding a 3rd channel actually requires the signal to travel through a LOT more circutry, just due to the switching system. Because of this I stick with the 2ch versions of rec's and 5150s, and just use a boost for lead parts), and the cab I usually use is 5150 peavey cab from about 9 years ago (not the nicest speakers in the world, but they do what I tell them to so I like them!).

    Davedog - I understand totally now. (And yup, I'm often flipping back to mono) So basically what you're saying is that even if the guitars are pretty hard panned, you're getting results that allow a person to move left and right in the feild and the mix stays more or less identical (as far as pan is concerned anyways)? That is indeed something I should try watching for and striving for from here out, I have no idea if my mixes have been passing or failing this test! (since I don't know, I'd say it's a pretty safe bet they're failing it!).
  17. andrewcubbie

    andrewcubbie Active Member

    My mixes would be nothing without out. I had a band that had no idea what they were doing wrong. Live they sounded amazing, but in their home studio that they bought, their sound wasn't cutting it, so they asked me to help. I showed them a few very quick things that had them dancing around in glee :p Sometimes you just gotta layer.
  18. Bertrand Batz

    Bertrand Batz Active Member

    Hey guys.

    The whole reamping thing really makes me all wet in my pants. But what would be your approach? In a more limited environment as follows:

    Situation 1 - You already recorded the guitar tracks with some drive etc, before you read this thread =P

    Can you improve and have some variation in harmonic content with some harmonic distortion/EQ/light Chorus etc?

    Situation 2 - I really have only 2 amp choices. Not a big studio. A Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier with 4x12, wich sounds great. And a Line 6 Spider 3 combo, wich is just OK, most used for practice.

    Could this give me enough options? Or in the reamp business I should have plenty of amps to test etc?

    About throwing in a overdrive box just like a little EQ before it gets into the amp...Maybe you big guys have less trouble with this approach because people trust you in first place. I mean, even if it makes sense for us recording people, a guitar-extreme-math-metal-core-nerd would just behead me in an alqaeda-like video and hang my beheaded corpse in a upside down iron cross with 666 written on it for the whole world to see if I tell him I'm gonna use a BOSS OD before it gets to the MESA head.

    Considering I'm gonna record one of those next week, what should be my approaches to convince them to do it? I could really have a 'pure mesa' take first, then say 'let's test something' and throw in the OD, then say 'let's test other thing' then make them record it clean with some simple vst distortion in a bus so he really hears it distorted, but then I end up with the clean signal, ready to be reamped?

    My goal is to avoid frustrating the musician on forcing him to record only in a way he won't believe it's gonna work, since we're just starting in the business. Instead, I shall tell'em to record on the pure mesa, then make them do it my way 'just to test'. Does it make sense?

    Well, I'm starting to go far ahead with psychological stuff that may not meet the initial requirements proposed by this thread. Admins, feel free to edit it and filter it only to the technical aspect if it's needed.
  19. Bertrand Batz

    Bertrand Batz Active Member

    One more question guys. What's your opinion on having an Ambience mic? I see that when I put my KSM too distant from the cabinets, it will end up lacking definition and obviously with more lows than I'd really like to have, when it comes to fast Krisiun-type riffs etc. So, would be this distant mic unnecessary or even undesirable in that case? If you use it, how distant from a 4x12 would you put it? Would it fall at that 10% of the whole guitar sound?
  20. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    There is no magic rule about this but there is a magic spot. The search for this will yield great results. It will take two people to find. One playing the guitar and another (you perhaps) moving the mic around the room with phones on listening to the placements. When you find the 'sweet spot' you'll know it without a doubt. It will be the conjunction of the mics pattern and tonality and the sound of the source within your room. Listen very closely....record what you are hearing....watch for comb filtering....listen solo and with your close-micing set up.

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