Guitars can energize a mix or absolutely destroy it. I’ve watched rookies look dumb-struck at the mixing console because they didn’t know how to handle mixing two guitars. Mixing two guitars is a simple process in which you do the same thing to each guitar channel EXCEPT with one added step.
First of all, you MUST identify the role of each guitar in the song. A guitar is either going to play rhythm or lead. Take the two guitars in the song and identify the role of each.
Let’s say, in this example, there is a rhythm guitar and another guitar that will play rhythm with the occasional lead elements in the song. Let’s make them both electrics.
Electric Guitar Number 1
Start with the rhythm-only guitar and go through these three steps:
- Roll off the low end. Drums and bass should be working the low end so let’s clean up this first guitar by using a high pass filter. There is no perfect frequency cutoff for a HPF so I can’t say, “enable it at exactly 104 Hz.” Start at around the 100 Hz point and slowly sweep the HPF frequency up until you hear a better sounding low end from the overall mix. I’ve used it as high as 280 Hz. Don’t worry about the number, listen for the right spot. Much of it depends on what the electric has going on; mucho distortion, overdrive, pick a flavor. If you only have a fixed-point HPF then enable it.
- Remove the bad. The old rule of cut first comes into play here. Take a sweep-able EQ point and cut it around 6 dB then sweep from 250 Hz up through 4 kHz. At some point, the guitar’s mix will sound better because you’ve notched out the offending frequencies. Hey, I don’t know why there are usually offending frequencies in everything that produces sound, there just is!
- Give it presence. Take another sweep-able point and boost 4 dB with a moderately wide frequency range (adjust the Q value). Sweep it from around 1 kHz to around 3.5 kHz. Likely, you’ll find a point in the middle of that area where the guitar comes to life.
Guitar Number 2
Perform the above steps on this guitar as well.
Now for the tricky part! The result of this work is two guitars that sound great on their own. But together, they just aren’t ready for the dance.
Remember the guitar roles; one is rhythm and the other is rhythm / lead. Who should stand out between the two? The answer; the second guitar.
Look over the EQ settings for the second guitar. You want this guitar to be heard more clearly during the lead portions of the song. You DON’T want it fighting for space.
Look at the area where you boosted the presence for the second guitar. Let’s say it’s at 2.3 kHz. Jump back to the first guitar and apply a cut into that same area. If you are running an analog board, try this with a sweep-able mid-range control. If you only have one mid-range sweep then use it. The goal should be to allow the lead guitar to shine through.
Listen to the result. For added separation, boost a bit more presence for the second (lead) guitar. In the end, trust what your ears tell you is right – unless you’re tone deaf in which case you are in the wrong line of work.
This process will also work with acoustic guitars. Electrics seem more daunting but don’t fret it. [rim shot]
The Take Away
There’s a dance between like instruments. The one who leads can change from one song to the next. The key is allowing that guitar to lead the dance. So in summary, roll off the low end, get rid of the nastiness, add presence, and then provide separation by giving dominance to the leading instrument.
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