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vstrattomusic

Helix - Getting a good recording tone

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Hey everyone, so how do you get your recording tones?

 

I've already got a couple good ones but it took a lot of experimenting, and I have bought IRs from pretty much every popular company that sells them nowadays (and some not that popular), what I do is, I record the DIs and then hear them through the reamp option and tweak them, but as you can imagine, it's a pain in the lollipop to do it this way, because it's very slow, I have to re-record with every little change that I make, it's a pain because I have like 6 guitars going on at the same time sometimes, it was a lot easier when I did it with VST amps.

 

How do YOU get a good recording tone? By ear is really difficult to believe because a guitar that will sound good in the mix often sounds bad on it's own.

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It's not much of a problem for me.  I take the patches I've worked out for playing the song live and record it.  I simultaneously record a dry track should I need to work with it, but I find I rarely need to.  Other than that it's standard mixing operations to develop the soundstage I'm looking for.  It may be that you're overcooking your tones.  It's easy to do to chase after something on just the belief you can improve it.  Sometimes I may tweak something but generally if it works live, it will work on a recording.

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2 hours ago, vstrattomusic said:

 

 

How do YOU get a good recording tone? By ear is really difficult to believe because a guitar that will sound good in the mix often sounds bad on it's own.

 

You're right, an isolated guitar sound that may be somewhat less than inspiring might sit just fine in a mix. The converse can just as easily be the case...but what else is there to use but one's ears? Listen back, and EQ when necessary. Every instrument you add to the track makes a difference to the overall mix too(to a greater or lesser extent), and each tune you record will have its own set of EQ issues that'll need to be dealt with after the fact. And if that wasn't enough of a PIA, no two tracks are ever gonna be the same, lol.

 

Frankly, getting a final mix to sound good is every bit as much of an art as being an accomplished player/songwriter. You start with a tone that's in the ballpark, and you go from there... but you'll never find a magic formula that'll guarantee a tone you've dialed in solo will be perfect for any given mix. It's just doesn't work that way...

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I'll add that it's not just the tones of the different tracks working together, but also the musicality of the tracks working together, which adds another layer of complexity. And to make matters even more complex, all these components working together are dynamic, and may not be consistent throughout an entire song.

 

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I definitely think you are overthinking it. Just figure out what tone you are trying to get and then tweak until you get something close. When I initially did that, it did take me a while, but only because I really wanted one specific tone. Everything else I've just messed around with until I got the sound I wanted. I tweak things occasionally if I learn something new (for example, bringing my high cut down to 7.3k instead of 11k recently), but otherwise I generally leave well enough alone.

 

I think the trap people get into with the Helix is that because there is so much you CAN do with it, people think they HAVE to use that power. And you just don't. Sure, you can spend forever dialing in just the exact perfect tone for each and every song, but maybe that's not the best use of your time. Most great albums are probably recorded with one or two amps and probably not much changed from song to song. That also helps cement your own personal tone. For example, with only a few exceptions I use one IR for everything. Clean, dirty, doesn't matter. I found one I liked and I stick with it. Makes building new sounds very easy.

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Major things to tweak are the amp gain (distortion) and the frequencies used for high and low pass. Adjust those to fit the song, then go from there. Often I'll add delay or reverb with other DAW plug-ins, if needed. I usually have some Helix presets I gravitate to for rhythm, and some for lead. 

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Just echoing what's been said above - there's really no formula or "obvious" thing, every case is different.  Certainly just recording your "go to" tone is a good starting point, you're in the ball park.  I've yet - in 45-odd years of recording - to NOT have to eq a track surgically to make it "right".  Duncann and Crusin pretty much nailed it, that which sounds great by itself can take up a lot of space in a mix.

 

What's the "right" tone?  Some years back I was working on an album for a local artist, the songs were all hers but production was strictly mine, as were electric guitar parts.  I'd been trying to fit a certain line into the mix, but everything I dialed up from my various amp rigs just wasn't right.  Finally I DI'd the guitar signal in dry and opened up Amplitube (an early version).   Started going thru presets - "nope...nope...blech..." - and suddenly there it was!!  The SOUND - fit right into the mix, was present without being pushy, had it's own space.  Got curious and soloed the channel - god, what a horrible sound!  Thin, abrasive, grating - working from the amp forward I would NEVER have gone with this tone, would have dismissed it without a moments thought.  But first heard in the context of the mix it was perfect, absolutely the right sound for the moment. 

 

So - on any given track, do you find the sound - or let the sound find you?

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1 hour ago, ricstudioc said:

Just echoing what's been said above - there's really no formula or "obvious" thing, every case is different.  Certainly just recording your "go to" tone is a good starting point, you're in the ball park.  I've yet - in 45-odd years of recording - to NOT have to eq a track surgically to make it "right".  Duncann and Crusin pretty much nailed it, that which sounds great by itself can take up a lot of space in a mix.

 

What's the "right" tone?  Some years back I was working on an album for a local artist, the songs were all hers but production was strictly mine, as were electric guitar parts.  I'd been trying to fit a certain line into the mix, but everything I dialed up from my various amp rigs just wasn't right.  Finally I DI'd the guitar signal in dry and opened up Amplitube (an early version).   Started going thru presets - "nope...nope...blech..." - and suddenly there it was!!  The SOUND - fit right into the mix, was present without being pushy, had it's own space.  Got curious and soloed the channel - god, what a horrible sound!  Thin, abrasive, grating - working from the amp forward I would NEVER have gone with this tone, would have dismissed it without a moments thought.  But first heard in the context of the mix it was perfect, absolutely the right sound for the moment. 

 

So - on any given track, do you find the sound - or let the sound find you?

 

Yup, to all of that... it's trial and error every time. Heavy on the "error". Forgive the use of the ridiculously overused term, but it is an "organic" process, that can't be reduced to an equation, or list of magic frequencies to boost or cut. 

 

One thing that does help me is that almost everything I write starts with improv over a drum loop... so right from the start I have something to balance the guitar tone against. Sometimes it means changing that to fit the drum sounds, and sometimes I'll leave the guitar alone and pull up a different kit, or maybe just change out the kick or snare to make everything play nice together. But whatever one's personal approach is, it like building a house... if the foundation sucks, sooner or later something's falling over. 

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5 hours ago, DunedinDragon said:

It may be that you're overcooking your tones.  It's easy to do to chase after something on just the belief you can improve it. 

 

Agree and disagree, a little difference can make a major impact, say you're playing fast open chords with a hi gain amp, that's 2 guitars + 2 more guitars playing octave chords underneath, depends on how you set the Tone knob on your OD pedal will make that part of the track a harsh, unlistenable mess. It's hard to get that right just playing with the guitar tone alone, you have to listen to it together with the mix.

 

3 hours ago, njglover said:

Most great albums are probably recorded with one or two amps and probably not much changed from song to song. That also helps cement your own personal tone. For example, with only a few exceptions I use one IR for everything. Clean, dirty, doesn't matter. I found one I liked and I stick with it. Makes building new sounds very easy.

 

I used to have an IR like that but I stopped using it because it was the only one that was I able to make a good mix with, it was pre-processed I think, sounded different and fuller than any other IRs I'd ever tried at the time, but I wasn't feeling too good about that, I wanted to learn to mix IRs mics on my own so I'd be able to shape my guitar tone more freely. I gave it a lot of use though, made 3 EPs with it.

 

3 hours ago, soundog said:

Major things to tweak are the amp gain (distortion) and the frequencies used for high and low pass.

 

I usually do that (without the hi and low pass, I do that when mixing), but in more detail, I set all controls to 5, set the Gain, then start with the bass, set it to 0, then increase it until it's right, then the same with mids, treble, and all the other controls.

 

1 hour ago, ricstudioc said:

Certainly just recording your "go to" tone is a good starting point, you're in the ball park.  I've yet - in 45-odd years of recording - to NOT have to eq a track surgically to make it "right".

 

Tell me, how do you EQ guitars without them sounding horrible? I don't mean surgically removing noise, but big EQ moves. Like I said, I own a ton of IRs from a lot of companies, most of them sound good on their own. Hell, the Helix stock cabs sound good on their own, they have this cool midrange growl that's deep which I haven't really found in any IR. But when you put them in the mix most of them just disappear. I'm a bit mad at this because the only sound that ever seems to work for me is 5150 + Mesa Cab and so I always end up with a similar sound. I want to get different sounds but I can't.

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Regarding EQ, I think it depends on the tone. With the Helix, I find I don't usually need much, but it probably helps that I thoroughly vet my tones first and the other guy I've mixed is also very careful with his choices. When recording my other guitarist, who uses a real amp, I have to be more aggressive.

 

For "good" tones, I will typically still cut everything below about 120 Hz (sometimes higher) and everything above about 7.3 kHz. I may be more aggressive with it depending on the song, but that's a good starting point. I have already done that on my patches on the Helix, so I can more or less skip that step for my tones. From there, I may boost or scoop the mids with fairly broad strokes, boost a tiny bit around 3 kHz perhaps for extra bite. Not much else required. This usually works fine on it's own, too, but sometimes it only works in the mix. The exact treatment depends on how the guitars fit into the mix.

 

I've also used multiband compression in some cases where I really want to have consistent tone throughout a song. It's kinda like EQ, but it allows me to maintain a consistent amount of mids or presence or whatever regardless of how the part was played.

 

My approach is largely the same for miked amps, but I may need to get surgical with notched bands on the EQ for weird resonances.

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53 minutes ago, vstrattomusic said:

Tell me, how do you EQ guitars without them sounding horrible? 

 

It's OK if the guitar sounds like $hit solo... that's the whole point of what many of us have been trying to say. If your tones are disappearing in the mix, poke around and boost the low-mids.... just don't be surprised if the result is a nasally sounding mess on its own. But who cares? How it sits with everything else is all that matters. I have one low-gain, edge of breakup-ish patch that I often use with a Strat for bluesy leads...by itself it's kinda bright, tinny sounding... almost hollow. In other words,  "yuck". But I've used it on several tunes because it just happened to fit perfectly with the rest of the track

 

You're trying to make the entire track bend to a guitar sound that you like, as opposed to achieving a balance amongst everything... it's an approach that will almost never work, except through the occasional episode of dumb luck.

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4 minutes ago, cruisinon2 said:

 

It's OK if the guitar sounds like $hit solo

 

Yeah, I know, what I mean is that unless I get a good source tone, EQing the hell out of the guitars never gets me good results, or it can get me somewhat good results, but then I slap on the 5150 + Mesa Cab combo with some minor EQ cuts and it just sounds better than the tone I've been working on for hours. I'm a bit frustrated because I can get all these good tones but I can never put them to use in my tracks.

 

19 minutes ago, njglover said:

For "good" tones, I will typically still cut everything below about 120 Hz (sometimes higher) and everything above about 7.3 kHz. I may be more aggressive with it depending on the song, but that's a good starting point. I have already done that on my patches on the Helix, so I can more or less skip that step for my tones. From there, I may boost or scoop the mids with fairly broad strokes, boost a tiny bit around 3 kHz perhaps for extra bite. Not much else required. This usually works fine on it's own, too, but sometimes it only works in the mix. The exact treatment depends on how the guitars fit into the mix.

 

Hmm, 3k is usually very noisy for me, 4k gets a narrow cut, and I boost 5-6k just a little so the guitar isn't so dark, this can be a problem too because if I raise very high frequency too much it gets noisy, I can boost it just enough which works when there's 2 guitars, but with 6 guitars playing at the same time it can get pretty bad. Also I used to cut 700-900 a lot because it would give me a more metallic sound but now I'm cutting 500-600.

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36 minutes ago, vstrattomusic said:

...but with 6 guitars playing at the same time it can get pretty bad.

 

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this might be part, if not all of the problem. That's a lot of stuff all occupying the same sonic space... I'm not surprised that the tracks are tripping over themselves. Yes, there are a bunch of classic albums that boast some ridiculous number of stacked rhythm guitars... the "wall of sound", as it were. But that's hard to do without a great deal of experience and/or a million dollar facility. I don't mind admitting that I'd probably have difficulty trying to balance even 6 rhythm guitar tracks. I do a lot instrumental stuff, generally doubling the primary rhythm parts, panned hard L and R, and maybe a complimentary rhythm guitar part somewhere else in the stereo field, or perhaps a (really) simple keyboard line,  then the lead stuff on top, drums, bass, etc... and even that limited number of things can be a real challenge to mix.

 

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1 hour ago, vstrattomusic said:

 

Yeah, I know, what I mean is that unless I get a good source tone, EQing the hell out of the guitars never gets me good results, or it can get me somewhat good results, but then I slap on the 5150 + Mesa Cab combo with some minor EQ cuts and it just sounds better than the tone I've been working on for hours. I'm a bit frustrated because I can get all these good tones but I can never put them to use in my tracks.

 

So then use the tone that works better? Why spend hours tweaking if you've already got something that works? It sounds to me like you are trying to fix problems that weren't there and creating new problems along the way.

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1 hour ago, cruisinon2 said:

 

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this might be part, if not all of the problem. That's a lot of stuff all occupying the same sonic space... I'm not surprised that the tracks are tripping over themselves. Yes, there are a bunch of classic albums that boast some ridiculous number of stacked rhythm guitars... the "wall of sound", as it were. But that's hard to do without a great deal of experience and/or a million dollar facility. I don't mind admitting that I'd probably have difficulty trying to balance even 6 rhythm guitar tracks. I do a lot instrumental stuff, generally doubling the primary rhythm parts, panned hard L and R, and maybe a complimentary rhythm guitar part somewhere else in the stereo field, or perhaps a (really) simple keyboard line,  then the lead stuff on top, drums, bass, etc... and even that limited number of things can be a real challenge to mix.

 

 

It's not really 6 rythm guitars, it's 2 guitars playing power chord, 2 guitars playing octave chords, 1 or 2 guitars playing a melody

 

I uploaded a 20 sec example from a song I'm recording, this is 5 guitars, sorry about the low end, it's still kind of messy; Demo Clip

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25 minutes ago, njglover said:

 

So then use the tone that works better? Why spend hours tweaking if you've already got something that works? It sounds to me like you are trying to fix problems that weren't there and creating new problems along the way.

 

Because I want an even better tone, the dream tone in my head so to speak of

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48 minutes ago, vstrattomusic said:

 

Because I want an even better tone, the dream tone in my head so to speak of

 

I get it, and I get caught in that loop too... but it's very easy to makes things worse, the more you muck around. Tone can't get "better" infinitely, especially if you've been at it a while and your ears start getting tired. Personally, I thought the clip sounded pretty good balance wise... might need a little polishing, but I could pick out the individual parts. 

 

I don't know about everybody else, but I gravitate towards just a handful of amps and tones...I suspect most of us do, unless you're a separate patch per tune cover band guy who meticulously tone matches everything in a 200 song repertoire... just the thought of that exhausts me, lol. I really only use 4 or 5 amp models consistently...a tiny fraction of what Helix can do. EQ, or grabbing a different guitar does the rest. 

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1 hour ago, vstrattomusic said:

 

Because I want an even better tone, the dream tone in my head so to speak of

 

But that tone isn't necessarily the best tone for the song, as others have mentioned. You just need a tone that works, and if you already have one that is working then... you are done. Use it and move on. 

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I've been experimenting with various VST plugins.  I get a killer tone from the Helix floor unit using the Archon preamp and Sigma 3 Audio IR's, but having difficulties with Native getting the same result.  I want the option to change tones after recording, so I'm sticking with dry tracks and exploring almost every VST amp plugin under the sun.  

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1 hour ago, njglover said:

But that tone isn't necessarily the best tone for the song, as others have mentioned. You just need a tone that works, and if you already have one that is working then... you are done. Use it and move on. 

 

Okay, well I didn't pay 800€ to get a tone that I can get from a $70 plugin, or a free one, I understand what you're saying but I want to keep pushing it so that's what I'm gonna do.

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2 minutes ago, TRENDKILLCFH333 said:

I've been experimenting with various VST plugins.  I get a killer tone from the Helix floor unit using the Archon preamp and Sigma 3 Audio IR's, but having difficulties with Native getting the same result.  I want the option to change tones after recording, so I'm sticking with dry tracks and exploring almost every VST amp plugin under the sun.  

 

Really? So you record a DI with whatever then reamp it with Helix Floor and Native and get different results? Hmm that's crazy.

 

Anyway I recommend TSE x50 v2 which is not free but kinda cheap, or x50 v1.0.2 which is the first version of the plugin and free, I own both. Also S-Gear 2 is pretty good too, I own it, but I've never tried it in a mix. Then I have some Thermionik amps too, those aren't free but they're very good.

 

 

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14 hours ago, vstrattomusic said:

 

Really? So you record a DI with whatever then reamp it with Helix Floor and Native and get different results? Hmm that's crazy.

 

Not really. If they are plugging the guitar into the floor unit, they'll be using whatever impedence setting is on the Helix. Native can't do that, so you are at the whims of whatever audio interface you are using. The hardware Helix units are much more flexible in that regard.

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8 hours ago, njglover said:

 

Not really. If they are plugging the guitar into the floor unit, they'll be using whatever impedence setting is on the Helix. Native can't do that, so you are at the whims of whatever audio interface you are using. The hardware Helix units are much more flexible in that regard.

To be clear, when recording from the Helix Floor unit I just used a standard guitar cable.  Recording through Native is just a dry guitar signal into my Focusrite interface.  Lately I've been getting really good results with Amplitube - the max bundle is amazing. 

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On 9/14/2018 at 6:04 PM, TRENDKILLCFH333 said:

To be clear, when recording from the Helix Floor unit I just used a standard guitar cable.  Recording through Native is just a dry guitar signal into my Focusrite interface.  Lately I've been getting really good results with Amplitube - the max bundle is amazing. 

 

Right. If you are using the guitar input on the floor unit, the default setting is an auto impedence, so it will change depending on what you are using in your patch. Basically this means that the load on the guitar pickups will change depending on what you have set up, so your guitar may be brighter or duller with different amps. The Focusrite is fixed impedence, so you don't get as much flexibility in terms of matching the original amp design.

 

Now, if you were going wireless, that would be different as the impedence matching wouldn't really do anything. Or if you are using active pickups. But going wired with passive pickups it absolutely can change your tone.

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When recording guitars I will always use a scratch guitar first.  This will be done using a tone that I think I want to use in the song.  I will then record as much of the arrangement as possible, usually including a scratch vocal.  The reason for this is so I can hear how the guitars will sit in the mix.  Often I will find that I need WAY less gain than I initially thought - so much so that these days I gravitate toward models like the Matchless with a drive pedal or a Marshall with a compressor.  

 

Once I have most of the track built, I will go back and do my "real" guitar tracks.  Part of the reason I wait to do this is because, often, once the arrangement begins to flesh out, I realize there just isn't enough sonic space for everything I want the guitars to do.  I want to keep frequency range for the bass and the drums.  Not everything can sound "huge" and I would rather each part of the arrangement carry some "weight" then bog it down with one instrument.  A usual song for me, by the time it is finished with drums, vocal harmonies, guitars, bass, synth/keys, buss groups, effects, etc., will be anywhere from 36 to 45 tracks.  Gotta be aware of what frequencies will clog up when working with that many tracks.

 

Another thing that I discovered, and YMMV, is that my Helix (I use the rack) sounds better when run through a channel strip on my console.  Here's my signal path for recording guitars:

 

guitar -> Helix -> channel strip (or two if I am doing a stereo track) -> a sub group -> interface -> Pro Tools

 

I find that by running the Helix through the analog channel strip, I can add back the little "something" that gets lost by staying all digital.  For instance, I have Helix Native, and use it when I am doing mobile work with the laptop.  My tones NEVER sound as "good" as when I have the Helix running through the console.  They are "bad", just not as alive - if that makes any sense.  It might be the extra gain staging - I have to balance the signal coming from Helix into the console's preamp (I use line level signals at +4), then give appropriate signal from the channel to the subgroup, then from the subgroup to the interface (I mostly use a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 for ease, but also use an RME HDSP 9652).  It sounds like it might be VERY convoluted, but I LOVE the sound.

 

In the Helix I still use stock cab models, even though I have more than a few 3rd party IRs.  I tend to do my hi/low cuts in the mix rather than at the Helix.  It is always easier to subtract frequencies than to add them back.

 

How dense are your mixes?

 

I ask because if you are:

 

On ‎9‎/‎13‎/‎2018 at 3:47 PM, vstrattomusic said:

It's not really 6 rythm guitars, it's 2 guitars playing power chord, 2 guitars playing octave chords, 1 or 2 guitars playing a melody.

 

There are ways to approach this using music theory to give you more room sonically.  For instance:

 

*  one guitar playing power chords as 5ths

*  one guitar playing power chords as 4ths

*  two guitars splitting the octave - one plays the low octave, the other the higher octave.  With the octave guitars, actually play a full octave higher.

*  melody/lead guitar(s) should share space with octaves....meaning, the octaves and melodies shouldn't necessarily be playing at the same time if you want those parts to have full impact.

 

Some of getting the tone isn't totally limited to just the "guitar amp" either.  Ideally, I will switch guitars for different tracks.  But, sometimes it is just easier to switch pickups/configs.  I am a PRS player.  I have a couple of guitars with the 408 switching system.  I might keep the same "amp" but use a humbucker for one track, and then a single coil for the next.  The nice thing about the 408 system is that the humbuckers tap to single coils with no volume loss, so it is very easy to just add a different texture from the same amp.  Another thing I'll do is record one tone "dry" and then the other (same guitar and amp) with spring reverb between the amp and cab - even if it's a higher gain sound.  It'll vary the tone just enough to give space in the mix while keeping things strong.

 

Hope some of these things are helpful!!  Good luck!

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