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Mix Recipes: Heavy guitar Haas and EQ

There are many approaches to mixing heavy guitar tracks. Striking a balance between clarity and thickness is a constant struggle. There is a general tendency in the recording of heavy music to layer many guitar tracks, but how do you maintain that razor’s edge clarity of a single track? Here is a mix recipe to take a double tracked rhythm guitar, give it the thickness and stereo spread of a quad tracked guitar but the clarity of a single tracked guitar. This technique will also work on guitar styles other than metal.

Layered rhythm tracks with panning

The conventional way to record really heavy rhythm guitar is to layer many tracks of the same (or slightly varied) guitar parts on top of one another. I have done many heavy recordings where we did two, four or as high as eight tracks of the same rhythm guitar part layered on top of one another. Typically you would vary the tone slightly (or greatly) with each take to create a pallette of timbres that will combine to create a much richer sound. Pan the tracks across the stereo spectrum and you will have a very large sound. Typical drawbacks of this approach include an increased tendency to create muddiness and a lack of sonic focus on the guitar in general. We can overcome both of these problems by using an effect commonly known as the haas delay trick. Let’s take a look at how a heavy rhythm track will take shape while using this technique.

Case Study: The Ballad of Stumpy Ron

The Ballad of Stumpy Ron is a track that was meant to fall sonicly somewhere between the original release recording of Paranoid and the sound of metal in the 21st century. Here is one approach I took while experimenting with guitar sounds for the track. I started with the initial rhythm guitar track using my POD X3 set to an Engl Powerball amp model. Here is what it sounded like:

Sound clip 1: Engl Powerball panned center

Not too bad, but it is not the final sound I’m looking for and I know I can do better. First trick in the bag is to double track it. I dialed up a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier sound on my POD X3 and doubled the track.

Sound clip 2: Powerball and Triple Rectifier panned center

The guitar sounds a lot thicker now but it has no transparency or depth. Also it is covering the bass guitar almost completely. The most common treatment of layered guitars is panning them apart.

Sound clip 3: Guitars panned 100% left and right

The sound opens up quite a bit with the two tracks panned hard to each side. You can hear the bass a lot better, but the guitar seems very disconnected now. There is a giant sonic hole in the center of our mix. Let’s try bringing the guitars in a little bit.

Sound clip 4: Guitars panned 50% left and right

The hole in the center is gone and we can still hear the bass guitar. This is probably where most people will stop. If we were going to stop there though, you wouldn’t need this article. So what can we do to get even more excitement and heaviness out of this track?

Enter the vescoFx Free Haas VST delay plugin (or its big brother, the professional Haas Delay plugin).

Pan the guitar tracks back to center and drop the Free Haas plugin on each guitar track. Make sure to set the image control to left on one track and right on the other (see Figure 1).

free haas vst image left free haas vst image right
Figure 1

What does this sound like?

Sound clip 5: Two guitars with free vst plugin

There are a number of presets included with the plugin and one of them is called Heavy Guitar. Select this preset to get my favorite haas delay settings for heavy rhythm guitar tracks. Make sure your two tracks are imaged left and right (they will default to both on the left)!

Figure 2
Figure 2: Heavy Guitar setting

Sound clip 6: Heavy Guitar preset on both guitars

The difference is very subtle, so you may have to listen a few times to hear it. Mainly though you’ll want to adjust the delay time up or down just a little bit to make sure you aren’t getting any strange phase cancellation with your particular guitar tone. About the only thing missing is a bit of that razor’s edge found in a lot of metal guitar sounds. This is easy enough to add by boosting a high shelf eq band around 6kHz by 4-5dB. I used the vescoFx Free Queue vst plugin a la Figure 3.

free queue vst eq plugin
Figure 3: Razor’s edge eq setting

Sound clip 7: Razor’s edge eq added to guitars

The debate over whether to add reverb to metal guitars has been raging as long as metal itself. I grew up on Metallica era thrash and they’ve always got a shadow of reverb on the rhythm guitars and I like that sound. So I put just a hint of reverb on an aux send from both guitar tracks. Here is the final result:

Sound clip 8: Guitar tracks with haas delay, eq and reverb

Mix Recipe: Heavy metal guitar tone summary

  • Double tracked rhythm guitars (sound clip 2)
  • Add a haas delay of 20-25ms to each guitar track (vescoFx free vst plugin freeHaas or pro Haas make this easier) (sound clip 6)
  • Add a 4-5dB boost on a 6kHz high shelf to add some extra cut (sound clip 7)
  • Sprinkle a subtle layer of reverb on the guitars (sound clip 8)
  • Experiment, and don’t be afraid to try this on single guitar tracks too!

Related reading

  • Here is another article that explains how to set up a haas effect if you prefer to use your own favorite delay plugin.
  • Get the free Haas delay, professional haas delay, free EQ and other free and professional vst plugins from vescofx.com
  • You can read more about tracking rhythm guitars for The Ballad of Stumpy Ron and see the POD X3 patches here.

76 replies on “Mix Recipes: Heavy guitar Haas and EQ”

That sounds awesome.

However, there seems to be some small artifacts that show up after approximately 7 seconds in the original audio. The applied EQ and delay really exacerbate them.

Maybe it’s the pick noise? After all the processing, it sounds like a cross between an electronic “bloop” (the technical term) and a short pick slide.

It sounds a bit more noticeable in the left channel.

Yeah, those are pick chirps and seem to be a nearly unavoidable artifact of my picking style. Hopefully the sound clips still work as good examples of the application of the technique though.

Ah, are they small pinch harmonics then?

I’ve only recently started recording and mixing music (though I’ve been playing for a while). Up until now, I’ve just been recording acoustic guitar.

This tutorial is pretty timely, as I was planning on doing some metal, but I’d be totally clueless as to how to get a thick guitar sound like you’ve got here.

I’m definitely going to give your plugins a go and see how it works out.

Yeah, I play about the same (but with the Yellow .63 Tortex picks). I do stay choked up on the pick during lead playing, though.

Maybe I’ll hear the same type of thing when I record some of my electric guitar playing.

That’s a shiny-looking guitar you’ve got there. Is it a Jem?

I thought the idea was to expand ,[ the tone ] and cutting back on C.P.U. and the time , etc…. Though my p.c. could handle a couple of GTR. TRACKS , at 6-8-to a track, when you not only look at it in writing, [the suggestion ] it does seem a lil’ ridic??? Not getting down or poking at ya but saying what I see and feel! Guess if it’s your own baby then well, do it, yet again I feel we all have the need to conserve ; esp. after mixing down a few tracks and the heavy tone slowly turns to mud and drums, bass will be very hungry for attention..
Take Care,
TOMMY

I certainly hope this article does not give the impression that you should ignore your drums and bass. Never do that, it is not a good idea. This is a tutorial on performing a popular studio trick to get a heavy sound. You can certainly stick to whatever method works for you. Give this a try sometime though, the sound samples speak for themselves.

I found that Internet Explorer wasn’t cooperating but I was able to get the files instantly when I used Safari or Firefox. Maybe Microsoft is displaying Apple envy again. ;)

Hi!

Interesting post, I’ve been looking for some information on how to make guitars thicker.

I’ve tried the suggested haas plugin, but I can’t get it work fine. The sounds is kept panned in the center :(

I’m using cubase SX3, and introduced the plugin in a mono guitar track. I tried both mono and stereo version of the plugin, with no result.

What am I doing wrong? Has anyone experimented the same?

Cheers.

Bvesco,

I’m not sure, but I guess It does, since I can pan the mono track. I would expect this VST to do something like that.

In some cases when stereo effects doesn’t work with mono channels it helps to create stereo Group Channel for guitars and route your rhythm guitars there. Add the stereo effects there and it probably will work.

Thank you for this and all the articles you do in your ‘tonemonster’ section… always a great read and extra handy considering I’m an X3 Live owner :) Looking forward to trying your plugins!

All my donations are handled through PayPal and you don’t have to join any forums to do so. Messaging you privately to work this out.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Thanks for the useful article.

However, I was missing a bit a description what your Haas plugin actually does.

Could you elaborate a bit?

edit:

Reading up on the other article about Haas delays I assume what your plugin does is panning hard left + right and delaying one side an adjustable amount of ms?

The sound links worked fine in Opera browser. This was a great explanation in mixing heavy guitars, learned alot – Thankyou
Not a fan of the reverb sound in particular, but with a better, maybe analog reverb, that would have been a great touch. Can’t wait to try the plug-in.

This article is great. I’ve tried it and it really makes the guitars sound thicker. I’ve recorded 2 guitar tracks but there are bits where one is played in harmony to the other one. Kinda like what Killswitch Engage does. How do I use this technique if I want one track panned left and the other one panned right? The whole idea of this technique is to use stereo imagery to make the guitar sounds thicker. It works if you are double tracking but what if want the 2 tracks panned left and right?

You can do that all with FreeHaas. Set the pan switch on FreeHaas to left for one track and right for the other (leave the track pan control at center, control it with the plugin). The use the level control on FreeHaas to turn down the delayed signal. You will probably find that in a mix setting the level control to -3dB or -6dB is more than enough to make the track sound panned, but still very full and natural. If you try it, post a link to your clip!

Actually that is what I did. But I turned the level controller all the way down. I tried at -6dB but it sounded a bit muddy (or it could be that my mix is a bit muddy). So I decided to set it somewhere in between. In a mix like this, are the guitars normally panned hard left and right? Anyway this is a clip from my mix. Would like to know what you think about it.

http://www.upload-mp3.com/files/20838_8djjz/Sample.mp3

Sorry dude. It was a bad mix anyway. I’ve been reading your other tips on mixing and mastering. I have to say your tips are a lot better than the ones I’ve been getting from other sites. Now I can set the level controller to -6dB without the mix getting muddy. My mix is also a lot clearer now. The tip on using HPF for all instruments really did it for my mix. I’ll post you a link to a clip when I’m done. Gotta sort out the access denied thing first.

One thing that I do to thicken guitar tracks relies on the POD and the POD Farm plugin. I record the dry signal from the POD over USB and then I make at least two different amp sounds. The dual tone feature helps, but sometimes, I’ll do 3 or 4 amps for on signal. A lot of times, I’ll use the same tone on a dual tone except for the cabinet and mic type and then pan the two away from each other to create some space. You can then do some Haas effect one or two of the tone and create a wall of sound from one guitar, so you keep that tightness

I forgot to mention that you can do this without the POD. but it gets more complicated

dry signal from the pod over usb?
I am using pod 2.0. Is there anyway to record dry signal from the pod while monitoring on pod tones? without using mixers that is :p

Brilliant article. I used to achieve the same thing by copying panning tracks and delaying one a little bit. Trying to use this technique. I am using Cubase SX 1. Copied the haas plugins in the directorybut they dont seem to appear in the insert effects list. Usually with all vsts it works by just copying them into the plugins directory.
Has anybody else had this problem?

Yeah, the track copy/pan trick is the same effect. This plugin just lets you do it without the extra work. As far as the plugin not working for you, what type of processor do you have? The plugins aren’t currently working on older Athlon XP processors (or any other CPU without good SSE support). It’s an issue I’m working on and want to have fixed by the end of June 2k9.

P.S. Savatage fan?

I have an old Celeron processor with XP. Your guitar tone sounds quite good and ofcourse the overall mix, maybe i should ditch the pod 2.0 for xt?

I have had this nick for 10 years and you are the first person to have recognized it :). Yes a fan since i was a kid. particularly jon oliva era. too bad will not be able to see them live ever :(

Brilliant article, Ben – I’ve been doing variations on this for years, and I’m convinced that while there are more complex approaches out there, they don’t work any better. Waves’ Doubler is the tool I usually invoke, in part because it offers pitch-shifting in addition to the precedence effect. This would be a great addition to your plugin!

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