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How to Mix Electric Guitar

When mixing electric guitar, it helps to emulate the sound of an amp if you’ve been recording via DI. To do this, I use compression, saturation, short delay, saturation that mimics the speaker’s response, and then collective reverb and compression for all guitars in the mix.

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Start with Subtractive EQ

For this video, I’m going to use this KSHMR chain plugin to more easily AB my processing, help me monitor RMS changes between inserts, and to make it easier to copy settings later on in the video.

First I’ll insert this Shade EQ by UVI, and perform some simple subtractive processing -I’ll cut out the unneeded lows, dip a little of the fundamental, and a little presence to help balance the spectrum . Everything I did here was pretty subtle, aside from the more aggressive high-pass filter.

Let’s listen to the demo, but I want to show the full before and after of the chain so we can hear how we go from a super dry DI guitar recording, to something that sounds a lot closer to a real, professionally recorded amp in a studio.

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Mimic Circuit’s Compression

An amp’s circuit is going to compress slightly, especially if you drive the input and reduce its output - to emulate this I’m going to use this PSP impresser and use a harder knee while compressing a few dB. I used automatic attack and release settings, and auto make-up gain.

To compensate for increasing the amplitude, I reduced the output to more or less match the level of the incoming signal.

Let’s take a listen and notice how the guitar is slightly more controlled, and how you hear mild distortion on the transients.

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Emulate Amp’s Saturation

In addition to compression, an amp’s circuit will saturate - meaning it imparts harmonics and produces very gradual compression. I’ll use this tube emulation to mimic the effect that tubes or valves have on the signal - also, I’ll keep the mix at a moderate level.

Let’s listen and notice how the dynamics are more controlled,and the tube distortion gives the guitar a unique character.

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Recreate Amp’s Delay Circuit

Sometimes an amp will have a delay circuit, or a guitarist will output the signal to a delay unit before routing it back into the amp. To recreate this I’ll insert a tape delay plugin and introduce a short, thickening delay with an emphasis on higher frequencies.

Let’s listen to how the delay thickens the guitar -starting with the effect higher in the mix before being blended in.

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Recreate Speaker Breakup and Response

A huge part of an amp’s sound is the speaker - to try and emulate this I’ll insert this saturation plugin and use a follower linked to the drive, mix amount, feedback, dynamics, and EQ. This will simulate how a speaker reacts differently to the signal’s level.

I turned on oversampling as well to avoid aliasing distortion and create a more authentic sound. Let’s take a listen.

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Simulate Mic’s Proximity Effect

The Inflator brings up quieter details of a signal - this makes it a great option for recreating how a microphone pressed up against the amp’s grill, would increase detail. Although I could a mic’s IR, I like the sound of this plugin when set to 100% with the input lowered.

Let’s listen and notice how causes a fuller sound and emphasizes low frequencies slightly, similar to how a cardioid mic would.

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Boost Air Frequencies

Although this plugin doesn’t fit into the theme of creating a realistic sound, adding air to a guitar increases often lost details. With fresh air, I’ll boost both bands, but mainly increase the high air band when a lot of subtle details get buried due to lower, more powerful frequencies.

Let’s listen to how this brightens our guitar and makes it more complex.

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Copy Settings for Additional Guitars

If you have another guitar, maybe a double or in this case a melody or lead, you can copy settings from the first guitar you worked on, onto this guitar. Since I’m using this KSHMR chain I can set up a follower and sync the 2 before making small changes.

For example, I used a slightly longer delay, a little more distortion, and some brighter EQ settings to help differentiate it from the rhythm.

Let’s take a listen.

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Use Plate and Room Reverb Sends

Next, I’m going to send both my guitars to some reverb by using buses. The first reverb is a rich plate setting which I find works great for guitars - if you don’t have this plugin, see if the one you use offers something similar; I’ll emphasize the high frequencies slightly.

The second reverb is a studio room emulation, which creates a more realistic sound as if the guitar was recorded in a treated room.

What’s nice about routing the guitars to reverb using sends is that their reflections blend together, and I can decide if I want to send one guitar more to a particular reverb by increasing the send’s amplitude.

Let’s listen to how reverb fills the sound, and emulates a recording environment.

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Route Everything to EQ

After introducing reverb, I’m going to change the outputs of my guitars and my reverb to a collective bus on which I’ll insert an EQ. This EQ will let me shape the overall sound of my guitars - you’ll notice I emphasized the low mids and the highs on the side image.

I also increased the overall presence by subtly boosting roughly 2kHz. Let’s listen to what this EQ does, and keep in mind that since we’re affecting the full signal, this EQ gives us a lot of control.

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Blend Guitars with Compression

Last up, if you’re like me and your guitar playing is a little sloppy, even after editing, you may want to insert a compressor on your guitar’s collective bus. This will create a cohesive timing for everything by affecting all dynamics simultaneously - especially when using slower settings.

For that reason, I like to emulate optical compression and use an auto-release to help bend everything together.

Let’s take a listen to how compression makes loose performances sound more cohesive.

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