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Poking Holes in High-Gain Guitars - Case-in-Point Tutorial

Discussion in 'F.O.H.' started by Ermz, Feb 20, 2012.

  1. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    Hey guys,

    I've wanted to do something like this for a little while. Originally in video form, but that may have to wait. It's basically a supportive tutorial, using the methods outlined in this guide: http://www.ultimatemetal.com/forum/...-series-1-poking-holes-high-gain-guitars.html

    I've been mixing an exceptionally difficult project over the last little while. The guitars on this one have been giving me trouble due to a few factors:

    - Budget DI recording chain.
    - Very bright guitar/pickups into very bright/fizzy amp
    - High track counts, which means lots of potential clashing

    This is why I realized it's a perfect example to use for this little tutorial. It illustrates how you can go about 'cleaning up' a raw tone into something a bit more mix friendly, while at the same time illustrating the limits of what you can do in post processing. As much as you can tidy up a tone, you cannot change its inherent character or harmonic structure, so you still end up with many of the characteristics endemic to the raws. In this case it's an abrasive, peaky high-end, and flat, 2-dimensional midrange, which can be subdued to a degree, but never entirely eliminated.

    As a note, please realize that the mix of all the instruments outside the guitars here is from the band's pre-production demo. This isn't a reflection of the final mix of the CD - we're only using this backing track for perspective on how rhythms can be mixed to fit into an arrangement.

    Raw guitars with pre-production backing track:
    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/285689/Foru...ssing Tutorial/Judgment Rough - Cobra Raw.mp3

    Processed guitars with pre-production backing track:
    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/285689/Foru...Tutorial/Judgment Rough - Cobra Processed.mp3

    You can see a picture of the processing chain here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/285689/Foru...orial/Ermz---Guitar-Processing-Screen-Cap.jpg

    Please refer to the picture as you read through the explanation of why certain things were done.

    Filtering

    Firstly, there is something not shown in the picture. That is the high-pass filtering, which was done at an earlier stage. The guitars are quad-tracked, broken up into 2 pairs. I grouped those pairs individually, prior to the overall guitar bus. Those earlier groups are where I put high-passes of 18dB/oct at 113Hz.

    The reason I staged the high-passes earlier was so that there was no undue low-end causing the compressor to act and 'pump' the guitars.

    A lowpass at ~7.5kHz appears later in the chain, on the main EQ.

    Saturation

    The first element I hit the guitars with is saturation - two stages of it. The first stage is VCC Neve saturation, and that's to give the guitars a subtle depth, width, and to round off the transients, helping to glue the guitars into the mix. I originally used the 4k saturation, but it created tubbyness around the lower-midrange and otherwise just didn't lend itself well to the tone of these guitars. The Neve saturation created extra depth, while also subtly rolling off some abrasive highs.

    The second element is Nebula CLC Input Line saturation. This is essentially a frequency shaping stage, which further prepares the guitars for what's to come. The overall effect moves the tone further into the midrange - helping roll off more abrasive high-end before the equalizing has even begun.

    Broadband Compression

    This is something I don't always employ, but I've come to realize its benefits when dealing with less than ideal circumstances.

    The Waves SSL Bus Compressor is one of the only software compressors I've found to work well on distorted guitars. The irony here is that my hardware GSSL does not work anywhere near as well as the Waves version for this purpose.

    The overall effect of setting a slow attack time and automatic release on this compressor is to tighten up the overall sound. It helps focus the transients and give a sense of punchier, cleaner playing. It also unifies the tone of the guitars and lets them sit within the mix more easily. If the compressor had a stereo 'unlink' function, it would make for a great day-to-day guitar bus compressor.

    Equalization

    This is where things get interesting.

    When I first listen to the raws, I try to zero-in on the most abrasive, or detracting element from the tone. In this case that was clearly the huge fizz spike at 6.2kHz. After this was attenuated, I focused on the 'flat' midrange character, centered around 600Hz.

    After these were worked out, it became a matter of needing to clean up the higher midrange. I started with the wide scoop at 2.5kHz to create more space within the tone, and further attenuate the overall 'junk' midrange content. When this was achieved, it became obvious that some harshness presented itself around 4kHz, which I then notched out.

    At this point the low-end started to become an issue. There was a muddy build-up between 120 to 250Hz, which I attenuated somewhat with a cut at 200Hz, to cut away the content that would clash with the bass, but leave some of the 'fuller' lows around 100hz intact.

    This tone has an inherent cloudyness centered at 370Hz, which I targeted after all the other major issues were sorted. This is a very dangerous area, as too much subtraction here can completely hollow out a tone - leaving it powerless. The lower midrange is a difficult region to balance. 1dB can be the difference between a mix that sounds tight and balanced, or tubby, or thin.

    When I realized that this EQ alone, despite how much I wanted it to, didn't get the guitar tone all the way there, I had to instantiate another EQ. The overwhelming factor at this point was a midrange 'flatness', which I targeted with a wide scoop at 900Hz. This cleaned up the mids, but let some of the more abrasive content across the high midrange come through again.

    Realizing that broad sweeps alone wouldn't solve it, I started to take a notched approach again, taking away from nodes centered at 3.4kHz (right in the middle of the critical vocal range - naughty guitars!), and 5kHz, which had some fairly abrasive fizz left over from what the cut at 6.2kHz originally didn't get.

    After all this was balanced, the low-end started creeping back up, so I set up a low-shelf at 230Hz to allow me to attenuate low-end conveniently as it rose up with each new stage of midrange processing.

    What's important to realize here is that I was always going back and forth with the balancing. I didn't immediately start with a 10dB cut at 6.2kHz. It would've been closer to 5dB at the start, but as I worked out the midrange and certain frequencies started becoming more prominent than others, these cuts need adjustment. Each new stage of processing usually necessitates more adjustment in prior stages.

    All subtractive

    Please note that the EQ processing here is 100%, completely subtractive, exactly as outlined in the original guide. Not a single frequency was boosted at any point. This approach centers solely around removing frequency junk, or 'poking holes' if you will.

    It's not about desiring to alter the tone itself, but rather trying to reveal all the desirable aspects of the tone, hidden beneath all the frequency junk.

    Remember that no matter how much you process, you will not change the inherent character of the tone. Your best option is always to track well, and then smooth out the rough edges using your processing.

    In this circumstance that is remarkably difficult to achieve... impossible in fact. The tone itself will never be 'perfect', and that's why it's good to show you where the limitations lie.

    Further processing

    The tone you hear is only about 80% complete.

    It still requires a multi-band compressor across the mid-bass - that's something which only makes sense to tweak with the final mix rolling along. Without the final kick and bass sounds for reference, there isn't much point tweaking guitar lows.

    It also has some funny abrasive stuff happening across the upper mids. It has to be accepted, however, that some element of this will always live on in the tone. It is incapable of sounding 'soft' without removing all riff clarity in the process.

    Finally, I'll likely try an L1 at the end of the chain, chiefly to see whether it will help glue the guitars into the mix further and gain some free headroom, or whether it will cause the punch of the tone to fall apart. It's a simple 'try it and see' situation. If it works, it stays, if it doesn't, it goes.

    -----

    Anyway, thanks for bearing with me. I hope that despite the less than ideal starting circumstances this guide serves as a useful reference to some of you.
     
  2. Empathy

    Empathy Bulging Member

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    Great post man, cheers for this.
     
  3. LeSedna

    LeSedna Mat or Mateo

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    Still reading, but wanted to thank you for answering a question I was holding before I can read the ebook itself, because as being not too experienced in actual guitar sounds, I quite never EQ guitars except basic LP/HP and here and there a wide boost or cut because I don't know what I wanna hear. This is helpful for me. So thanks!

    EDIT : when did Nebula look decent ? Last time I checked it looked fugly :lol:
     
  4. colonel_claypoo

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    ermz thank you. you rock!
     
  5. Williamn

    Williamn Member

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    Very interresting, gonna hear the audio when I get home.
    I know you EQ a shitload to get everything to fit.. but seeing how it looks was still a bit surprising.

    Thanks for doing this :)
    (a video tut would have been cool hehe)
     
  6. MarcusGHedwig

    MarcusGHedwig Member

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    Wow dude, I really have to hand it to you, that's a damned impressive difference - lord knows I remember that 6k fizz and how much I loathed it, but I would always puss out on extreme eq'ing because of pretty much exactly what you described: you cut in one annoying band, then another becomes apparent; so you cut that, and then another, and then on and on, for what I thought would be FOREVER. I'm amazed at how good that end tone can sound (both on its own and especially relative to the original) with such insanely deep cuts, I've never had the balls to do such extreme eq, but now I see that the end result can be worth it!
     
  7. ArthurD

    ArthurD Member

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    Cheers!!!
    Looking forward for the book
     
  8. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    Really? This is definitely the least processing I've done on rhythms since the Memnoir single, over a year ago.

    There are tons of skins out there for it. Some look cooler than others!

    Cheers Marcus. I distinctly recall you and I having a lot of discussion about this very subject, years back when you were doing the Apex Predator EP. I was adamant that the Recto could be 'de-fizzed' further, and as you mentioned above, I think you were quite apprehensive at the time about whether I knew what the fuck I was talking about :lol:
     
  9. MarcusGHedwig

    MarcusGHedwig Member

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    Hey, now that you've demonstrated it so well, consider me a believer! :cool:
     
  10. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    One thing I forgot to mention.

    Taking this approach on impulse-based guitar sounds will NOT WORK. I repeat, using convolution-based cabinets and taking this approach to processing WILL NOT SOUND GOOD. This is where current technology falls flat on its face - only properly mic'ed real cabs, driven by actual amps will be able to tolerate this degree of tinkering.
     
  11. Williamn

    Williamn Member

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    Haha, well its just that usually the advise here is to get it right at source and if you are using that much EQ you are doing something wrong.

    So like Markus I have always been kinda afraid to do extreme EQing to tracks due to different reasons :).
     
  12. Virgil.

    Virgil. ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    Wow, cool. Thanks! Cheers Ermz!
     
  13. Ermz

    Ermz ¯\(°_o)/¯

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    That's spot on. There are definitely a great many things wrong with the source on this project. However, what you have to understand is that 98% of the work I do is under circumstances like this. I've not had a distorted guitar tone come in that I've been happy with in about... 5 or 6 years, I think - that's why developing this approach has been so crucial to my continued survival as a mix engineer. I know there are others in this same position, and they desperately need guidance on how they too can make the most out of limited circumstances.
     
  14. LeSedna

    LeSedna Mat or Mateo

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    A video tutorial of this would have been golden, or a render of most steps, to see what you are searching for at each stage, but yeah doing an eBook is already a big project !

    Like Marcus, I have always been reluctant to removing more than a few dBs, I always felt I was doing something wrong ! Thanks again.
     
  15. Williamn

    Williamn Member

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    Yep and thats why its inspiring to read, as most here will not deal with perfect tones.

    So getting some advise on how to tackle it and not be afraid to larger cuts is really great :)
     
  16. tempe

    tempe Captain Midnight

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    I know this on a per source basis but its creepy how similar your first instance of Equality looks like what I did to the guitars on the most recent record I finished. I had pretty much the exact same problems with your original tone as well. Guess I better learn how to mic a cab better.

    Thanks for sharing this Ermz, its a big help. I can't wait for the book!
     
  17. Steven Otto

    Steven Otto Member

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    Great post Ermin! Guides like these are really valuable to me and I guess to all the other bedroom warriors as well. :worship:

    Way to tease, man. I can't wait to purchase the eBook. :)
     
  18. Line666

    Line666 Fendurr

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    This is actually looking quite familiar to what I've been running recently, nice to know I'm on the right track; the 5-6k region I found you need to be fairly committed to digging out a fair whack of otherwise you do get those other resonant frequencies becoming apparent when you're only doing tiny notch cuts and you can end up making the problem worse.
     
  19. Emdprodukt

    Emdprodukt Member of Dude Castle 69

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    Wow. That's a lot of eq'ing. Good to see, even better to know. Dig your sounds. :)
     
  20. Waterboy

    Waterboy  Certified iPod Trainer

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    Very nice post, Sir.
    Thanks very much for taking the time to go into such detail.
    Take care

    Scott

    :worship:
     

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