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Thread: 3 guitars all playing together seperation tips

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    3 guitars all playing together seperation tips

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    Really struggling with 3 guitars all with a bit of overdrive varying from slightly to more distorted, playing counter riffs similar to the strokes/Xtc/Television/Blur.

    No single notes a lot of Rhythm/Lead riffs two strings etc.. and again countering each other to create an off kilter angular sound... If this makes any sense radiohead do it quite a bit but usually with cleaner guitars.

    I've been subtracting from one frequency one guitar and boosting the same frequency on the other when its just two guitars but no idea how to go about it with 3.

    Anyone got any big tips for getting each part to be recognisable if focused in on ?

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    IME this is an arrangement issue in re: the average listener requires a mix that focuses on one element at a time and everything else supports it at that moment.

    In operation that means having three guitars going at the same time is a constantly shifting balancing act.

    I have the undesireable habit of coming up with more and more guitar parts and my method for dealing with the issue goes something like this:

    I listen to the whole composition with each guitar panned separately (LCR) and note which part i want to hear at a particular moment with a marker in the DAW and a written list if necessary. Once i know my schedule of what get's featured when, then i can decide where to place each part (again. at that moment). It seems counter intuitive but i feel that it's actually better to move the parts around as it creates interest for the listener

    Also you might consider adding them one at a time, say the first by itself until the first chorus , then add the second, etc. Three guitars from the very start can often be overwhelming
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    Its funny that you mention this as tonight for the first time I noticed exactly what you are talking about. I was listening to a Blur track called caramel and when listening with speakers you don't pick up on it but with headphones I could hear guitars tracks completely cut out whilst another would come in and it was constantly doing this for me this sounded awful on the earphones as you would hear a whole guitar just cut out like the amp had lost power then come back in... but on stereo speakers it creates a pink floydish atmosphere with different elements popping up and fading away.

    I've thrown this quick track together excuse the timing and lack of polished finish it was just to show the kind of thing im going for and if it's achievable without removing whole tracks at certain points.

    The bassline is actually more melodic however I played it straight to allow the guitars to be the focus for this quick throw together and I haven't added crashes and other percussion and obviously no vocals either.

    I could turn down the central rhythm part however again there is tiny add ons esp the chorus that I really want to shine through whilst the other two guitars are duelling which is leaving me with an overdriven mess.


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    You might be able to automate (ride) the levels with a volume envelope depending on what needs to have more focus at whatever time. I'm getting the impression that the countermelodic stuff when there's 3 guitars is getting buried by the rhythm guitar. I'm also wondering what it might sound like if the rhythm guitar had around half as much gain, or even a clean sound. Especially when all 3 guitars are playing.

    If that doesn't work out then simplifying the arrangement as suggested can do a lot. You'd still include the key parts obviously.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fendertelemusik View Post
    ...I could hear guitars tracks completely cut out whilst another would come in and it was constantly doing this for me this sounded awful on the earphones as you would hear a whole guitar just cut out like the amp had lost power then come back in... but on stereo speakers it creates a pink floydish atmosphere with different elements popping up and fading away.
    It took me awhile to mentally get past this type of thing, too. I use to always approach a song recording as though there was an imaginary band playing, and generally, if you have a band, everyone tends to play their parts straight through the song. You never see a band member just stop during some section. They might switch to some different part, but everyone plays.
    So the idea of another guitar or keyboard track or whatever...just popping in for the chorus or whatever...seemed odd to me at first, but the reality is that recording is not about capturing a live band performance, for the most part. Yeah, you can do it that way, it's a valid approach...but much of modern record music is about a production that goes beyond the live realm of performance capability.

    Of course...the opposite end of that is where people will lose their minds and have a dozen guitars and multiple layers of keys and other elements...because the can (especially in the DAW)...and then it gets harder to give each element any space, or you end up dropping elements in/out of the mix to keep everything up front and more manageable.
    Somewhere there is a happy balance...but it's usually dictated by your song, the arrangement and your production goals. If you can work a lot of that out in your head during pre-production...then it's easier to record it with all the elements in mind. If you just stack and stack...you run out of room and/or it's a sonic mess.

    I've gone a bit heavier with tracks/elements...but nothing like I see with some modern productions where there's 100 tracks or more. I'm looking to do more sparse stuff with some tracks in the near future...not worry about filling up a mix with elements, but rather allowing just a handful of elements to really breath and create that "space between notes" so to speak. So in some ways, I will get back to thinking about some new songs/arrangements more like capturing a band rather than an embellished production....though I still love doing more involved stuff too, and it's OK to drop tracks/elements in/out of the mix.

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    Quote Originally Posted by snow lizard View Post
    You might be able to automate (ride) the levels with a volume envelope depending on what needs to have more focus at whatever time. I'm getting the impression that the countermelodic stuff when there's 3 guitars is getting buried by the rhythm guitar. I'm also wondering what it might sound like if the rhythm guitar had around half as much gain, or even a clean sound. Especially when all 3 guitars are playing.

    If that doesn't work out then simplifying the arrangement as suggested can do a lot. You'd still include the key parts obviously.
    I think my biggest problem is im giving myself too big an ask, im trying to produce a song at the same level as a radiohead track and coming up way too short.

    I don't particularly want all 3 guitar tracks to be fighting for the focus, however when listening to say a radiohead track... there is always one guitar buried way back in the mix but if you choose to listen closely to it you can make out whats being played very clearly.... similar to someone shouting in the distance.. you cant hear them over the noise that's closer but if you really focus in what they are saying is clear enough to be made out.

    I don't seem to be getting this right in the eq side of things that I can bury the track further back but if I chose to try and focus on it I could hear whats being played clearly.

    I guess that's the trick im looking to learn.. and im guessing it all about eq ? or does reverb and other things lack that also play a big part as its something I haven't dove into yet... I've just been recording the tracks and then levelling them and tinkering with eq so far.

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    Processing can often be a double edged sword. If it frames the performance in the right way it can add focus or the right texture, ambience or whatever. It's very easy to overdo it, which can make things muddy real quick. If you hear a tone in your head that could be made to happen with a gentle bumb with an EQ, that's fine. I like to keep things very dry and unprocessed, at least initially until I've spent a fair amount of time playing with balances. The midrange is where it all happens with guitar.

    One thing that can help if you're going to layer guitar parts is changing the sound of each guitar. Different amp/guitar/pickup type and/or gain structure.

    Having a part back in the mix so it's there if you focus on it but not stepping on the other parts is totally fair game. If everything's up front you're going to run out of real estate quickly. It can be hard to get used to the mute button being your friend sometimes. Even simplifying a rhythm part so maybe it's blazing full chords in the chorus but laying back or maybe playing single notes out of the chord when other elements come in to play can help sometimes. Dynamic changes and allowing a mix to breathe can make a big difference.

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    Quote Originally Posted by snow lizard View Post
    Processing can often be a double edged sword. If it frames the performance in the right way it can add focus or the right texture, ambience or whatever. It's very easy to overdo it, which can make things muddy real quick. If you hear a tone in your head that could be made to happen with a gentle bumb with an EQ, that's fine. I like to keep things very dry and unprocessed, at least initially until I've spent a fair amount of time playing with balances. The midrange is where it all happens with guitar.

    One thing that can help if you're going to layer guitar parts is changing the sound of each guitar. Different amp/guitar/pickup type and/or gain structure.

    Having a part back in the mix so it's there if you focus on it but not stepping on the other parts is totally fair game. If everything's up front you're going to run out of real estate quickly. It can be hard to get used to the mute button being your friend sometimes. Even simplifying a rhythm part so maybe it's blazing full chords in the chorus but laying back or maybe playing single notes out of the chord when other elements come in to play can help sometimes. Dynamic changes and allowing a mix to breathe can make a big difference.
    IS it something specifically about guitars and distorted ones that cause this issue more than any other instrument?

    I'm just listening to a few 80s synth led songs that to my ear have at least 4 or 5 different things going on at once but each are clearly audible and all have there very own space... yet when I listen to songs with heavy guitar for example helter skelter by the beatles even the when the guitars are isolated.. they are all fighting with each other a barely distinguishable from each other almost like one massive noise with tiny spikes hear and there of individuality.

    I mean if you can play 6 synth parts and make them all stand out and not clash with EQ and such, then surely the same can be done for a guitar ? or is there more frequencies being taken up by a guitar or more specifically a distorted one?

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    Distorted guitars lose their dynamics and clarity of tone...so they don't "pop" as much.
    When recording them, it's often the case that whatever the distorted tone is in the room that sounds good to your ears...take about 30% of the distortion off, sometimes more...if you want it to sound as good to the mic and in the mix. Always err on the side of less.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fendertelemusik View Post
    IS it something specifically about guitars and distorted ones that cause this issue more than any other instrument?

    I'm just listening to a few 80s synth led songs that to my ear have at least 4 or 5 different things going on at once but each are clearly audible and all have there very own space... yet when I listen to songs with heavy guitar for example helter skelter by the beatles even the when the guitars are isolated.. they are all fighting with each other a barely distinguishable from each other almost like one massive noise with tiny spikes hear and there of individuality.

    I mean if you can play 6 synth parts and make them all stand out and not clash with EQ and such, then surely the same can be done for a guitar ? or is there more frequencies being taken up by a guitar or more specifically a distorted one?
    Distortion adds harmonics by it's very nature which is inevitably a more complex waveform, IOW there's "more there", so yes, you are correct, it is harder to have more than one playing at the same time.

    A few of many possible ways to help this situation is to make the parts less similar by doing things like using different guitars for different parts, making some parts a lot less distorted/cleaner and using filtering esp high cut to move parts further back in the mix.

    For instance, the rhythm guitar part can often be treated as a "pad" when other guitars are in front IOW a high pass filter starting ~ 2-4 k pulled down 5-8 db will sound terrible by itself but when in the track you can actually increase the volume of that track a bit to keep it from disappearing completely without having it compete with the upfront instruments, though it frankly wont disappear even if you leave it turned down. The filters are then automated so that when the rhythm needs to be more forward they are disabled or pulled up.

    Less high end = further away to our ears and can be used to move focus/apparent depth
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