How to think to your guitar sound in a mix.

How to think to your guitar sound in a mix.

When recording and mixing a guitar track, you are hearing in your DAW what the microphone is picking up from the speaker. Whereas when you play in your bedroom, you are hearing your cabinet in all its full glory: loads of bass, all the nuances of your pick attacks when playing,etc. However once recorded it all sounds thin and flat.

A good guitar track in a mix can be very different to what you want to hear. An isolated guitar track usually sounds quite dull (to be polite), but inserted in a mix it sounds great. Why? because it blends well with the kick drum, the root note of the bass, fits well with the vocals,etc.

When mixing you need a more scientific approach by cross-referencing the frequency range of each instrument. An easy way is to correlate your fretboard to the stave and the frequencies related, but with a necessary tweak.On a stave, The A4 is equivalent of fretting the 2nd fret on the G string. In terms of frequency, scientifically, the A4 is equal to 440 Hz. What happens in the real world, when you play your guitar is actually an A3 at 220 Hz.

The tweak is to consider all frequencies on the guitar to be an octave higher Hertz-wise. With the precedent example of the A3 played at 220 Hz, you will consider it equivalent to the A4 at 440 hz for your mixing needs. Here is the tweaked chart for the open strings:1 (E) 659.26 Hz E4 2 (B) 493.88Hz B3 3 (G) 3924 (D)293.66 D3 5 (A)220Hz A2 6 (E) 164.82E2With this “value system” in place, you can easily see where your low end sits for your guitar. And if you think about how a bass or a kick drum is usually eq-ed, the Bottom E string is sitting right there. Now you can start making things sit together or more precisely how they will interlock. Beginners, or very direct i-donot-have-time-mixes, will high pass every channel for safety and this where knowing where the bottom end of each instrument helps a lot. With more experience, you will replace the highpass filters with low shelf eq, which will give you a better control low-end in your mix.

In all great mixes you can listen to, the blend between the bass and the guitar is key to this great recorded guitar tone we all crave for.

For the high mids, the competition will be against the lead vocal and the snare. Lots of things will be happening in the 2 kHZ to 4 kHz region: presence of the lead vocal, snap of the snare and pick attack.

The highs are about the sibilance of the vocal, the cymbals and the brillance of the guitar. You can easily place a guitar by cutting a lot of the high out so as to leave all the air for the cymbals, the vocals and the reverbs. A guitar cabinet does not go higher than 6kHz. It will obviously produce higher octave harmonics but you can heavily trim the highs to make way for the drums.

Knowing the dominant key of the track can also help in finding EQ hotspots (the fundamental and its harmonics).

Once your mixed guitar sound sits perfectly in your song, listening to it on its own will showcase how far away the guitar sounds from what everyone usually calls a great tone.

And if you want to train yourself to guitar-tones-in-mixes, listen to Mastodon's guitar sound on "Curl of the Burl" to picture what a good guitar sound can be for a mix, but if played on its own, it will sound very harsh.

This is where tools like the Wall of Sound with its different cabinets for speaker simulation can really help in making a guitar sit right in a mix.


  • Vasily
    30 octobre, 2018

    "Beginners, or very direct i-donot-have-time-mixes, will high pass every channel for safety and this where knowing where the bottom end of each instrument helps a lot."Andy Wallace does this all the time with his SSL console. One of the ideas is that despite of the fact that you don't hear some sound below certain frequencies, the sound can be there and it can affect your master compressor or mask other sounds.

    • Two notes
      20 mai, 2019

      Maybe Andy Wallace classifies more in the i-do-not-have-the-time mixes :D Totally right that by clearing your low frequencies, you will have better control on the compressors, or masking effects. The idea of high passing filter for safety can also be down with a shelf eq, and a shelf eq creates less phase issue than filters, but this is another subject.

    • Two notes
      20 mai, 2019

      Let's take only the Low E string for reference. If you play it, and measure its frequency, you will read 82 Hz. If you put our high pass filter at 82 Hz, you will still have your guitar's bottom end competing with the kick drum and the bass. The tweaked chart tkaes its idea from the fact that if you look at a stave, and look at a note (in our case the Low end E of a guitar), we are reading a note that is one octave higher from what we are actually fingering, frequency-wise. This is why the tweaked chart helps in your highpass filter: instead of setting your high pass at 82 you set it at 164 Hz. without doing much eq you will find that your guitar sits much better in regards of the kick drum and the bass int the global mix, especially if your tune is in the key of E.

  • Tom Buur
    11 mai, 2019

    I don't understand your purpose for the "tweaked chart". Are you saying I should double the frequency of actual the fundamental and use that as my guide when high-passing? Hence letting only the first harmonic and successive harmonics through? Please, be more specific.