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So I've got a Westone Thunder connected to my Focusrite audio interface running on Logic Pro X. I'm brand new to guitar production so I'm looking for some tips on how to mix high-quality guitar sounds. The harmonics are weak and the quality seems to be worse than the sound I get when I mic my tiny Marshall amp with an iPhone.

Basically, when I play through my Marshall it sounds metallic yet fine and in the DAW it always seems to sound too tinny. Maybe I just need to experiment more but I'm also interesting in hearing some tips on what helps create professional tier guitar recordings.

How can I achieve dynamic harmonics with a thunderous, heavy tone without sounding like it's being recorded out of a can? Should I be layering my guitar tracks?

  • Is some kind of amp simulator a part of your setup? If not, that would be my first suggestion. – Tetsujin Jul 1 '15 at 16:59
  • additionally do you monitor your DAW and Marshall amp through the same speakers? If your iPhone makes it sound better, than perhaps it's a lack of proximity effect or microphone overload? – Arnoud Traa Jul 2 '15 at 12:43
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Imagine a professional mix engineer who has just started playing guitar asking you "How can I play guitar as well as Tom Morello or Pat Metheny?" You would probably see at least 5 - 10 years of practice in their future to be able to play guitar at a professional level, if not much more (20 years?).

You are in the reverse position. Creating a professional sounding recording involves just as much practice and experience as playing a professional sounding guitar part. There is also a lot of money invested in equipment and facilities that are used for professional recordings, and yes those things make a difference.

Just like you might give tips to someone who has just started to learn guitar, and at the same time make sure they don't expect to sound like a pro right away, here are some things to work on as you get started on learning how to record:

  • I would get a serious microphone, which doesn't mean expensive. A Shure SM-57 is a great place to start for about $100.
  • The pros definitely record amplifiers. In small rooms, I DI (plug straight in with no amp) bass guitars a lot, but an electric guitar will never sound as good through an amp sim as it will through a real amp. Pick up a low end all tube amplifier. There are a few options with low power outputs and small speakers that might seem wimpy, but are actually used on pro recordings to get big sounds. The Fender Champ is a good example of one of these.
  • With the above basic tools, start practicing. A lot of recording is moving things around. Move the amp around the room to get the best sound in the room. Move the microphone around the amp to see where it sounds best. Point the microphone in slightly different directions. Experiment. Put the amp in the bathroom or garage or stairwell or outside. Try the mic right in front of the amp or up near your ears or pointed at a glass window that is reflecting the amp sound.
  • Don't get hung up on EQ, processing, compression, etc. in Logic or any software. The most important part of getting a great sounding track is recording a great sounding track. It's very hard to make a terrible recording sound any better. Sometimes we deliberately make a part sound worse so that it doesn't compete with a more important part.
  • Have fun with it! It's kinda like learning to play guitar. It's work but it's fun. And be patient, it takes about as much time. It's an artistic endeavor and very rewarding.
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Nothing beats recording live from a great amp. However, even a guitar player with 20 years under his or her belt might need to use laptop setup with a DAW to put down ideas. Producers and engineers need to know how to get good tones even if they don't play instruments (of course, playing instruments helps). You didn't mention what style of guitar music (you did mention "thunderous, heavy" tone) you're recording but I record hard rock and metal. It's important to get your equipment checked out. I had a Gibson Les Paul that wasn't shielded well and took it to a reputable guitar tech who took care of it. Be sure to get the best sound BEFORE you record. I've switched out the pickups to all my guitars to get better sounds. I like EMGs on my Gibsons and Seymour Duncan Antiquity Texas Hot pickups on my strats. Once you have your guitar(s) setup to your liking, you play and record a section multiple times. You're looking for a number of tracks to playback at the same time. Do not duplicate! You'll be bussing these tracks to a single track most likely, and you'll also be bouncing it down. Use the best takes. You'll need at least 2 to get a great sound. A lot of productions use four tracks at once. I've seen more. Check out this YouTube video:

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It describes in detail a method that's pretty close to what I do for recording straight into a laptop. In short, record multiple takes of the piece. Use high and low shelves. Even though you want a massive guitar sound you don't want the guitars competing for frequencies with a second guitar or the bass. You could scoop mids for the "Metal" sound but a lot of people I've recorded with have been moving away from this. If you keep the mids, turn down the gain and boost with a Tubescreamer plug-in before the amp sim. You might need to use a gate or at least an expander if you're getting a lot of "buzz". This will help quiet the signal. I'm assuming you know how to set the threshold on gates and expanders. If not, youtube it. If you plan to do a lot of recording into your computer's DAW and to use plug-ins to get your sound, I recommend the LePou plug-ins. Their amp simulation is quite good. Finally, I'll leave you with this link about free plug-ins which you can use for recording guitar.

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Good luck!

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    I would say double tracking (or quadruple tracking) is not always the best way to get the tone you want, especially for metal. Some metal sounds, like Metallica, are more layered with multiple guitar parts. Tool songs, on the other hand, often have only one guitar track at a time. Sometimes the combination of multiple layers of guitar actually thins out the sound, instead of making it thicker (counterintuitively). Also, many times the part of the sound that really punches you in the gut is actually the bass. – Todd Wilcox Jul 2 '15 at 11:55
  • Double tracking is meant to be stretched , or at least stereo. Metallica was a weird time cause they still thought about mono at that time. Nowadays theres no single way a single take can sound fatter than a double tracked guitar hard L-R. If you start layering guitar takes/microphones you should consider phase as this is the only way you can thin out your sound. Also of course the rate of "fattening" becomes somewhat negative after some layers for obvious reasons so the fattening is not a linear effect :D. Bottom line double tracked guitars and L-R are massive. :) – frcake Jun 17 '16 at 8:51

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