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Tips for layering guitar sounds in a recording?

Posted: Mon Jan 10, 2022 5:04 am
by stevejamsecono
Anyone got any favorite go-to tricks for guitar layering when recording? My new band did some demos over the weekend and I'd like to try a more lush approach than my previous bands. We've got two guitars in this band so I want to take full advantage, as well as get some acoustic sounds in there for texture. Inspirations right now fall within the realm of Pretenders, XTC, Go-Betweens, Johnny Marr's work on the Smiths records -- just a lot of rich jangle and detail.

Re: Tips for layering guitar sounds in a recording?

Posted: Mon Jan 10, 2022 8:19 am
by øøøøøøø
The only thing that feels universally-applicable is to give the music what it's asking for, and nothing more.

Most of the time when I end up with several guitars on a recording, each of them is doing something very narrowly-defined and specific; playing way less than I would ever would play in any kind of live performance.

I essentially never end up with multiple parts playing exactly the same thing in any spot, except for the occasional double-tracked and hard-panned thing (which is rarer and rarer and rarer).

I never find myself layering identical parts with different sounds... this never worked as well as I imagined it would. I always seem to have more success spending the effort to get the sound exactly as I want it from a single layer.

It's somewhat more common that I'll have multiple layers with the same sound. Sometimes this is to separate certain notes from the chords to reduce intermodulation on overdriven/distorted/fuzz type sounds. Sometimes it's to create a "choir" with single notes, which is such a different sound than "playing chords." But in either of those cases, I think of the multiple tracks as one part that's been separated for technical or artistic reasons. And sometimes it's just one or two chords that will get an extra note, and that track will look very spare/weird. Again, I only want to stack when my imagination tells me there's something specific that's missing.

Thinking about it right now, if there's one part/layer that's a little bit loose and improvised, then typically virtually all other pieces will be playing even less, and will strictly be playing parts/arrangement. There are always exceptions to everything, but this is the overwhelming majority of the time.

The more parts/layers, the more careful I have to be that each layer is doing exactly what is needed, and only what is needed.

Broadly, conceptually: it all has to come out of the same two speakers, and things that aren't essential to the artistic purpose will tend to detract by dilution.

Occasionally the goal is to create unfocused wash and chaos, and lots of busy tracks can accomplish that. But if it's about the song, I try to only answer the question being asked--never to contrive reasons to add more.

All technical concerns are secondary to well-conceived parts.

Re: Tips for layering guitar sounds in a recording?

Posted: Mon Jan 10, 2022 10:43 am
by marqueemoon
One of my favorite things!

One lesson I’ve learned generally with recording electric guitars is less gain than you think you need is better. It’s an old saw, but it’s true.

On a related tone note one thing I picked up from the engineer I’ve been working with is darker (but not muddy) sounds often work better. When we were stacking parts we had amps in another room so we could listen through the monitors in the control room to see how the tone we had dialed was working in the mix. The majority of the time the darker sound was the winner (neck pickup, rhythm circuit, etc).

That said, buildup in the low mids is something to watch out for.

Don’t underestimate the composition aspect. Things that work live may need a re-think when recording.

Getting back to topic 1 varying gain can help create texture when doubling a rhythm part, or there’s the tried and true technique for stacking electric and acoustic.

Find ways to play things in different voicings. Get good at transposing things with a capo, get a cheap acoustic and put Nashville strings on it.

For acoustic guitar decide what role it’s playing and chose and instrument/pick/mic/signal chain accordingly. If you want a big chunky rhythm sound or a shimmery barely-there texture sound it starts at the source.

For “texture” acoustic parts I will often either not compress or only knock down peaks or go in and automate specific moments to even things out. I also tend to double these kinds of parts and pan them out wide.

Bring things in and out of your mix and vary tones to create interest and move the song along. Listen to XTC’s Life Begins At The Hop for a master class in this.

Some of the best moments are spontaneous. If the music suits a little improvisation give it a shot. Often you can piece together something cool from a few different passes, or take a part that’s improvised and learn/refine it.

Swells can be a really fun way to add some depth and contrast to a recording. It’s not just a lazy alternative to synth pads.

Re: Tips for layering guitar sounds in a recording?

Posted: Mon Jan 10, 2022 1:14 pm
by Dok
Use different pickups/guitars/pedals for each layer. Pick one of those three things to change out each time. You don't usually need more than 2-4 of those kind of layers layers unless you're really going for a My Bloody Valentine wall of sound thing.

Re: Tips for layering guitar sounds in a recording?

Posted: Mon Jan 10, 2022 1:49 pm
by marqueemoon
I agree with Brad on the compositional aspect.

There are a lot of different and valid approaches to layering guitars, but “is this necessary, and does it move the song forward” is always the best place to start.

Committing to sounds is important. There are some exceptions, but stacking up a bunch of parts and carving things away has usually not worked for me.

Re: Tips for layering guitar sounds in a recording?

Posted: Mon Jan 10, 2022 6:20 pm
by øøøøøøø
I'll also throw out that generally I feel it's very important to avoid prescriptive thoughts and received wisdom.

There's really only one answer, and that is "do what makes the music better." Without the context of a specific recording of a specific piece of music, it can sometimes be hard to predict exactly what this will be.

If the music asks me to do something that goes against everything that I and everyone else has said in this thread, then I will absolutely do it. If, for some reason, it feels like there is a good reason to play the same exact part ten times on the same guitar through the same amp with the same pickup, I'll do it. You know?

Sometimes it's a good idea to make a study of what has worked in specific instances for other people, but it's often a less-good idea to try and replicate those tactics in a totally different context.

Re: Tips for layering guitar sounds in a recording?

Posted: Thu Jan 13, 2022 5:01 pm
by jorri
Id agree that its really style specific. One style may double similar sounds, another a wall of sound , another gets there with fx on one track. So many ways such as doing a gainy dry take with a clean take that has all the reverb.
But it's part of the fun of arranging that there are really no rules and you can't get past judging it by ear really

But something:
- use pickups selection to separate. Its very effective.

-think in ranges. If something needs to be distinct keep it in a different octave. If meant to blend, have it be in the same octave.

-find alternate chords. Inversions and different ways of playing for rhythm. Or even different chords for something more coloured. Even have done things like split a chord into single notes or played open string droning on one/changing fretted notes on the other but this gets well into the first point i made- its a specific arrangement for a specific sound and way of achieving it.