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Recording a good high gain guitar track

Hi everyone,
this is my first post, and I've had a lot of problems when it comes to recording highly distorted guitars.

I was hoping someone could help me or give me some good advice on some tracks I recorded, they don't sound that good to me, and I was wondering how to get them to sound like a REAL studio recording, or at least close to it, I know this isn't entirely possible, since I am not recording in a professional studio and I don't have the greatest gear ever, but I'm sure I can get my guitar tracks sounding way better.
These are the links for the tracks I recorded:
[=""]Riffs Marshall MG50FX With GT-10TubeScreamer by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]="…"]Riffs Marshall MG50FX With GT-10TubeScreamer by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]
[[url=http://="…"]Mic far angled towards cone by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]="…"]Mic far angled towards cone by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]
[[url=http://[/URL]="…"]Mic on Cone by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]="…"]Mic on Cone by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]

Any help is appreciated :)



Profile picture for user Mirrormix
Member for
9 years 10 months

Mirrormix Sun, 08/07/2011 - 12:55

Ultimately there are about a thousand different ways to get what somebody somewhere will subjectively consider the "right" sound. So all I can do without actually doing it step by step with you is give you some general info.

Ironically the things that make for a great distorted electric guitar recording usually have to do with controlling the excessive distortion (which usually means turning down the gain) and planning a part arrangement that works. Then you need to concern yourself with the mic you're using and how you're placing it. The rest is auditioning, listening through your (hopefully decent) monitors, making adjustments and repeating until you get exactly what you're looking for.

Because the topic is so wide open I like to start with a familiar and generally repeatable mic and placement whenever I attempt to get a decent electric guitar sound tracked. In my experience it's easier to deal with distorted guitars when there isn't a lot of room sound, so I tend to go with close mic placement, with an sm57, on axis.

My typical starting point is placing the mic so that it's face bisects the seam where the dust cap and the cone area of the speaker meet. The more a mic is pointed to the center of the speaker the more hard or "harsh" the sound (which may or may not be what you want) will be. The more towards the outer edge of the speaker the more soft or washed out the sound will be. You always have to experiment with whatever will be the the best combination of mic placement for the tones you dial in on the amp. So there is no "best" place to default to. I just use the placement I use because I like it as a default position. Placement adjustments are often in centimeters or quarters of an inch, so there is a lot of adjustment real estate that can be had on a typical speaker cone and it does indeed make a difference to the resulting tone.

I like the sm57 because it's predictable and can handle loud sources and it never totally reproduces a sound like crap.

I would make certain that when you're auditioning settings on your amp and guitar that you do that with your mic in place and you actually record that stuff and then play it back through your monitors. How it sounds through your monitors is what the mic is picking up, despite what you might be hearing in the actual room with the amp. That's an important aspect of getting the sound right.

You also want to get the amp off the ground, either on an amp stand or on whatever you can to keep reflections and resonance from the ground getting into the recording. This can affect your tone in ways you might not have thought.

Another thing to consider is that when you're trying to go for a fuller sound you'll want to get more low frequency content. That being the case, you should know that low frequency content usually sounds terrible when it's excessively distorted. That means that you can do a few things:

-Keep your gain at modest levels throughout. Trust me it will not sound so modest when the recording is complete.

-Separate the low frequency parts from the higher frequency parts and record them separately. This will allow you to dial things in just right for the areas of the frequency spectrum that need specific attention. Also, if you arrange the separate parts well then the result will be a much fuller sound than you could get from a single recording of a single guitar.

-Avoid clones. When you want two tracks, play two different tracks. It adds to the fullness of the sound by avoiding phase cancellation.

-Experiment with chord voicing. As you separate your guitar performance into parts you can change up the chord voicing to accentuate the areas of the frequency spectrum that you want to hear with that particular part.

I guess the rest would be knowing what "good" sounds like. If you don't have great monitors you can at least play recordings of what you think are great sounding guitars through your monitors and then use the knowledge of how that sounds as a guide for how you're looking to get your guitars to sound through your monitors when you're making your adjustments during tracking. More than anything tracking, playing it back, making adjustments based on what you hear through your monitors and repeating the process makes all the difference in your guitar sound.

Member for
9 years 11 months

Vapauskirkua Mon, 08/08/2011 - 21:23

Thanks for your lengthy reply Mirrormix, it is very much appreciated, and I didn't know many of the things you mentioned, I will take all of that into consideration whenever I record distorted guitars.

AToE - For the first two sound clips, I positioned the microphone perpendicular to the amp, i.e with the ''face'' of the mic (I don't know what to call it) pointing 90 degrees from the front of the amplifier and about 6 inches away from the amp, I did this to avoid some of the hiss, but it didn't completely work, with the third clip, I positioned the mic on axis and in the centre of the speaker, and about 3 inches away from the amp.

Member for
12 years 2 months

AToE Wed, 08/10/2011 - 18:44

Well, "on axis" and "90 degrees" generally refer to the same thing in micing - unless by "on axis" you mean on axis with the side of the speaker cone itself, (so more like a 45 degree angle to the front of the amp if we were looking down from above the amp), which would make sense.

The advice above is good, here's some more on micing specifically. If you don't own an SM57 try to get one, for a cheaper mic it's often your best bet for heavy guitars.

Start with your tone knobs on the amp set pointing straight up, you can adjust those later once you figure out what the mic is hearing, also put the distortion setting at as low as you can stand to put it while still getting decent distortion. Try putting the mic much closer, like right where the grill is (or would be if you don't have one), aiming straight back at the speaker (90 degree angle to the front face of the amp) and aim it directly at the seam where the cone meets the dust cap (if you're not familiar with the terms, that's the dome in the middle). This is always my starting point for micing - being close to the speaker gives you a bass boost, and aiming directly at that seam at 90 degrees gives you the most efficiency of any mic position, this is (in most speakers) almost directly over top of the speaker's voice coil. This is also usually your brightest position. Then start moving it around (without touching those eq/tone knobbs) and recording what it sounds like in different positions. As you move outwards along the cone you will generally find less treble, less definition, more bass (but less "tight" bass), and when you angle the mic (I aim outward towards the cone rather than the dust cap personally) I find you get less of both bass and treble and end up with a more low-mid frequency focus, again losing definition though. Try recording it at as many positions as possible, what you like is personal taste, and every amp and every mic are different and require different things.

Then once you get it as good as you can, start adjusting the tone knobs on the amp to dial it in (based on what you hear played back of course, not coming from the amp directly). Also you can adjust the distortion, but honestly lower distortion levels and simply multi-tracking the parts will give you a sound that's huge and thick sounding (every layer will make it sound like you used more distortion than you really did) while still remaining clear - if you play those layers tightly.

Member for
12 years 4 months

Guitarfreak Thu, 08/11/2011 - 08:51

Haha, welcome to the quest for tone. You remind me of myself a few years back, just keep at it and you'll get there. Don't bang your head too hard on the gear you have now, it will break before your head will and you will just end up with a headache and broken gear.

Member for
9 years 11 months

Vapauskirkua Thu, 08/11/2011 - 19:18

ok so I recorded another 2 sound clips with drums and bass, I recorded two versions of the same riffs, the first one with the distortion set to 5, and the second sond clip with the distortion to the max (10).

This goes for both sound clips:
Recorded with a Shure SM57 on Axis and a Marshall MG50FX.
Drums and Bass were panned in the centre, and are both virtual instruments (I didn't have enough time to pan the drums)
I recorded each guitar track 4 times, I did NOT copy and paste. One track panned hard left, one track hard right, and the other 2 about 30%, again one left and one right.
I think the difference between the two is most noticeable in the intro and outro.

Let me know what you guys think :D

[=""]Awesome Riff Half Gain by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]="…"]Awesome Riff Half Gain by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]

[[url=http://="…"]Awesome Riff Full Gain by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]="…"]Awesome Riff Full Gain by vapauskirkua on SoundCloud - Create, record and share your sounds for free[/]

The only thing is that the marshall amp isn't what I usually use to record, I usually use a different amp and an ''FX Processor'', I will record a bit more during the week and see how it goes.

Thanks again

Profile picture for user Mirrormix
Member for
9 years 10 months

Mirrormix Thu, 08/11/2011 - 22:11

I think there's not that much difference between the two in these examples. I think I'm hearing a slight bit more distortion from the "full gain" version. But it's so slight that it might just be my mind playing tricks on me. Judging whether either take would work ultimately would be a matter of context with the rest of the song arrangement. Both in my opinion are better that what you posted before. They are fuller, more in-your-face. If I had to choose I'm inclined to pick the "half gain" version. It seems fuller to me in the bass frequencies. But again with examples that are this close in sound it's difficult to know if I'm fooling myself. Also, I haven't imported anything into a sequencer and really examined it by playing around with EQ or anything like that to see how it reacts. So I can't give any absolute answer as to which is the "best", not to mention these are clips out of context.

I think you're aiming in a useful direction. Keep comparing them to the sound that you want to hear in a recording that you like. Keep experimenting with chord voicing as you layer. For example if you're layering you might want to instead of simply playing the same part multiple times try playing a low frequency version with power chords and less gain for the low guitar sound and then layer that with a higher frequency version with chords voiced to just accentuate those higher frequencies and then up your gain a little to bring out some of the distortion crunch. In my experience this allows for a fuller sound that you just can't get with a single chord voicing and gain setting.

I like where you're headed though.

Member for
9 years 11 months

Vapauskirkua Fri, 08/12/2011 - 00:24

Like I said, there is more distortion in the second clip, but it is weird that they sound almost the same, when listening to one track or playing live, there is a BIG difference in the level of distortion when set to 5 and when it is set to 10, but once I quadtracked the guitars, they ended up sonding pretty much the same...
Next time I record I'll try to use lower or higgher chord voicings as you suggested :)

Member for
12 years 2 months

AToE Fri, 08/12/2011 - 14:02

That's the magic of multi-tracking heavy guitars, it ends up sounding high gain even on lower gain, but clearer. To me the difference between those two is pretty substantial, the second has smeared attack and less dynamic tone, the first one has crisper picking and more dynamic tone when chords ring out. On a higher gain amp you'd notice this in a much bigger way.

Considering the amp you were using it sounds pretty decent - how far away from the speaker is that mic? To me it sounds like it should be closer, like you're getting room interferance in the manner of making it sound a little "boxy/hollow", but that could totally just be the amp. Those are open-back right? Great for clean sounds, not so much for distortion. If you're going to be using that amp for a while and don't have much else for option, see if you can rig something to seal the back as air tight as you can get it. This will make your amp quieter, but it will give you better distortion tone.

Member for
12 years 4 months

Guitarfreak Sun, 08/14/2011 - 17:08

The second run clips sound better than the first. You are getting a halfway decent black-metal guitar sound, but that's a more lo-fi sounding niche. The amplifier is to blame for this, but speakers play a large role as well. If you could grab a 4x12 cabinet (Mesa, or Splawn are good) with Celestions in it (I would recommend either Vintage 30's or 25w Chinese Greenbacks for metal, stay away from T75's) your sound would improve greatly. Drop an extra few hundred on a midway tube amplifier and your sound will improve even more. It's no surprise that the amplifier you are using is a modeling amplifier, it's not a Marshall or anything close, trust me I've owned them. The only pleasing distortion sound for metal guitars (with the exception of a VERY exclusive handful of solid state amplifiers) comes from tubes. I speak from experience when I say that if you spend the time trying to get good tone from your current setup, it will become more difficult for you once you get legitimate tube gear combined with stage cabs. It's a different animal altogether.

As a final word, keep your Tubescreamer around for when you do take the tube plunge, but don't use it now. Solid state amplifiers really don't respond the same way to boosting as tube amps do. That clip sounded congested and overgained, which is par for the course from doing so.

Not discouraging in the slightest. Keep the quest in motion, but be mindful of the reality at hand.