When I first started running sound oh so long ago, the electric guitar was the last thing a churchgoer would expect to see. Today, it’s commonplace. Just to be clear, yes, we did have color television back then.
The electric guitar can be played as a lead instrument, rhythm instrument, and even like a synthesizer by using it to play swells. It all depends on the arrangement – and sometimes the skill level of the musician. Sometimes, it can take on all three roles during a song, though rare.
Because the guitar can be used differently, depending on the arrangement, there are different ways to mix it, sometimes during the same song – though I find that’s typically just a matter of volume control.
If you’d like help with mixing an acoustic guitar, check out this article:
Let’s dig in!
What’s the Sound Source?
We need to get the audio from the guitar into the sound system and this can happen in a few ways.
Direct In: In this case, the guitar is plugged into a DI box and then into the stage. This is rare as the vast majority of guitarists will use some form of effects processor or pedal. It’s all about the tone! This direct in is common with acoustic guitars, not so much with electrics. We need the DI to convert from an unbalanced to balanced signal.
Pedals: It could be the Ibanez Tube Screamer, or a few pedals daisy-chained together, pedals have been the most popular means of modifying tone. Using pedals, the final signal out will need to go into a DI box unless the musician has their own.
Multi-effects Processors: Be they a Line 6 Helix, Boss ME-80, or any number of multi-effects processors, these guitar-signal processors can create a variety of tones and switch between tones with the tap of a foot. The benefit of such a piece of gear is it can replace multiple pedals used by the guitarist.
Connecting these to the stage can occur in a few ways. Some include a built-in signal converter (think DI box) and therefore you can go directly from the device into the stage’s floor jack. Some do require a DI. Some have both options depending on if you use the XLR jack in the back or the ¼ cable jack.
Amp Modeler: Amp modelers, like the Kemper, take things to a whole new level providing the tonal controls as above but also work as amplifier modelers so the guitarist can sound like they are playing through one of a thousand amps. These can connect to the stage in the same ways a multi-effects processor can connect.
Amplifier: A musician might choose to connect their gear to an amplifier. From there, you have two choices, mic the amp or use a line out jack on the amp, assuming it provides one.
Let’s talk amp usage…
Using an Amp? Use the Right Mic and Placement
An amp can be mic’d from the front, as expected, but it can also be mic’d from the back. My friend Jamie used to do this back in our college days. Way back. And I mean way back. Back when station wagons were the default mode of transport for a band. He’d put the mic in the opening of the back of the amp. It worked and it sounded great. Just an option.
To mic the amp, you’ve got options. I’ve used both condensers and dynamics. Consider the following:
- Shure SM57
- Sennheiser MD 421 II, e609, and e906
- Royer’s R-121 (if you’ve got the money)
- AKG Pro Audio C414
The Shure SM57 is a common selection. I’ve seen it’s used on an amp described as dull and warm but also bright. Why the difference? Simple, it’s all about the mic placement.
Amp Mic Placement
Using close-miking, point the mic at different locations of the cone. You’ll get more mellow tones at the edge and it will brighten as you move toward the cone. I’ve even seen mics pointed at the very center of the cone and while that might not sound ideal, it can give the desired tone.
Also, consider pointing the mic at an angle and see what sounds you get.
Remember to listen to the tone in light of all of the other instruments on the stage as you want it to blend in and not be this harsh thing that sits on top of everything else.
One Last Thing – Sort Of
Before we get to our EQ work, make sure the guitarist has the volume knob on their guitar turned up. This gives you (and them) the strongest signal throughout the signal chain and therefore you get minimal line noise (added little by little throughout the system).
How much “up” do I mean?
This is where things get tricky. Guitarists do like to work that volume knob a bit to modify their tone and volume per the arrangement. That’s ok. As long as they have the volume knob up, say so their range is 80-100% then you should be fine.
Mixing Electric Guitar
So much of what you do with the EQ depends on the song arrangement and the tone they are sending you.
Consider the following as a baseline for the EQ process:
- Cut below 100 Hz – 200 Hz for other bass instruments to have the low end.
- Cut, or use a low-pass filter, above 6 kHz (6 – 10 kHz) so cymbals can own that upper space.
- If you have a lead electric and rhythm electric, cut in the 6 – 10 kHz range on the rhythm so the lead shines through.
- To push the guitar back in the mix, low pass around 5 kHz.
- Boost in the 500 Hz range to add more body into the mix. I suggest rolling through the 200-600 range to find what works best. Listen for mud in the 250 area.
- Sweep through 1 kHz to 6 kHz to find what else you can add (or need to remove), such as brightness, harshness, and presence (in that order across the frequencies).
- If the musician is using distortion and you need less distortion, look to make a cut in the 7 kHz range.
Compression and Effects
This gets tricky depending on the level of tonal selection on behalf of the guitarist. What I mean is if they know what they are doing, you shouldn’t have to do much. But then again, you are hearing it through the house and with the other instruments…let me put it this way, don’t try to make the guitar’s tone sound the opposite of whatever it is they are sending you. That being said…
Use compression if the guitarist is giving you a wide range of volume. Use a fast release time to keep the energy of their playing.
Use reverb or delay to take out a bit of harshness that the EQ work just can’t do.
For mixing multiple electric guitars, check out this article:
Final Mixing Points
Tone is important but how the guitar sits in the mix is even more important. Balance the volume with the other instruments so it sits in the mix right where it needs to go. And if you can’t get the guitar to pop through where you want it, look for other instruments that might be producing sounds in the area you need and cut a bit from that instrument.
The electric guitar is commonplace in church bands and it’s up to us to make sure it sounds great.