The battle between guitar players and sound techs has been raging for years. Guitar players want to turn their amps up to eleven and sound techs are trying to control the mix. Over past ten years I’ve come up with ten tips to bring peace to this delicate balance.
Get an Amazing Guitar Tone – 10 Tips to Improve Your Guitar Sound
10. Guitar tune up.
Many Guitar Center’s (or local shops) across the United States have guitar techs on staff that offer guitar tune ups. These guys do a great job of finding wires that are about to fall off, tightening tuners, finding the sweet spot on your action, and repairing damaged parts. Often times getting a tune up can help get that perfect guitar sound you’re looking for.
9. Shield the amp.
Just like we put a plexi shield around the drum cage, we can do the same thing for the guitar amp. Often times I’ll even line the plexi with some absorbent foam just behind the mic to control some of the on stage sound.
8. Amplified vs. Direct
There are some advantages to mic’ing a guitar amp. Often time in smaller rooms (less than 200 seats) the guitar can either be wired direct-in to the board or just use the amp unmiced. Wiring the guitar direct gives total control of the guitar to the sound tech, which may help the mix.
7. Tube Amp vs. Solid State
Solid state amps do not change in tone when turned up. Micing a solid state amp and running the guitar DI will do almost the same thing. Tube amps, however, sound much better when the tubes have had time to warm up and the volume is turned up. Guitar players have clung to this concept with all their might to fight for loud amps on stage. The reality is, unless its a tube amp, it doesn’t have to be loud to get the tone you want.
For the best of both worlds, there are attenuators. An attenuator is designed to be wired between the guitar cabinet and the head. This way, the volume on the amp can be turned up for the tone of the tubes, but the speakers can be turned down. Early attenuators got a bad wrap for blowing tubes and wearing on the amp harder. These days attenuators are safe and put no additional stress onto the amp.
5. Isolation cabinets.
Isolation cabinets are often used with touring and mainstream bands. Basically a wireless guitar transmitter comes out of the pedalboard, into the input of a guitar amp that is inside a padded road case. That way, the amp can be turned up loud and be totally controlled. A guitar microphone then mics the cab and gets sent to a feed on the sound board. This is a great solution for getting a great tone and controlling the guitar sound, unfortunately it is also one of the more expensive solutions. To decrease cost, try using close unused rooms as isolation rooms, or putting the guitar amp under the stage.
4. Shielded pickups.
Electric guitars are known to be buzzy or hum between songs. Often times lighting rigs can interfere with the pickups on the guitar and cause some strange things to happen. If this is you, try replacing your pickups with shielded pickups and shielding as much of the electronics in your guitar as possible.
Instrument cables and speaker cables are not the same thing. A quarter inch connector is used for both types of cables, but the cable itself is different. If you unscrew the connector and there are two large connectors soldered to the pins, its a speaker cable. If there is a small inner wire and a larger outer wire soldered to the pins, its an instrument cable. The better the cable used, the easier it is for sound to travel through it. Think of your cables as pipes – the bigger the pipe, the more stuff can pass through it.
2. EQ and compression.
When it comes to the guitar, most people automatically scoop the mids around 500Hz. This isn’t the best idea because the guitars are usually one of the only instruments that live well in the mid spectrum. Often times I’ll keep a rhythm guitar in the low mids and make room for a lead guitar in the high mids. Use your ears, not your past, to tell you what sounds good. Once I find the right EQ settings, I’ll almost always put a compressor on the guitar channel so any inconsistencies in guitar pedals is smoothened out. That way if the distortion pedal is louder than the delay pedal, I’ve got a buffer without killing the mix.
1. Placement in the mix.
One of the most common misconceptions in live sound is the use of panning to create space in a mix. In the recording world this makes sense, but in the live sound world one of the jobs of the sound tech is create the best sound for every person in the room. If the guitars are panned hard right and left, the mix will sound empty to half the people in the crowd. Create space with EQ and with volume before you ever touch the pans. If you are forced to pan guitars, I’d recommend not panning more than 25% in either direction. Consider the hierarchy of sound: vocals on top, melody, harmony, rhythm, then ambiance. Place your guitars appropriately in mix and move with them. When the guitar solo comes in, put them on top of the mix, when the verse comes back, drop the guitar back down to the harmony or rhythm.
What are some of your tips to getting a better guitar sound? Leave your comments below.