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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”

Hey just found your sight because I googled “NYC compression” – needless to say I favorited it and will be reading all the articles. Great stuff! The guy that was talking about the pick noises (earliest comments). I get those things too, and I get the same pick wear patterns as you and contact points on my thumb and nail. I only make adjustments when it gets real bad. Your examples have just the right amount to add character, but not be over the top. Have you ever heard some of the Tony Iommi pick noise artifacty things? Especially ‘Live at Last’.

First, exellent articles!

Second, did you try the mix in Mono? Seems like when using this technique the guitars do not sound that great when you collapsed the mix to mono. And yes, there are still times you need your mix to sound good in mono. Though they do sound good in stereo!

Yes, you do have to be very careful about mono compatibility when using this technique. You can make it work though. It requires careful micro adjustments to the delay time and checking in mono. The upcoming “pro” version of Haas will make this much easier to check. I agree that there are times when a mix needs to sound good in mono but the average band or musician posting an mp3 to their site will not have to worry about this. If you’re mixing for TV, elevator, radio, or other mono or “sometimes mono” medium then be very careful with any stereo technique and even panning in general.

Hi, does your original tracks (at step 1) mono or stereo ? Because
some guitar amps don’t produce a mono sound and then all the process is not possible to apply clearly. It would interest me… Thank you

Hi, the original track at step 1 is mono. The majority of guitar amps in our world produce a mono output (including those with two outs, it takes more than two outputs to be stereo). Additionally, even in the case of stereo amps they are often recorded with one mic in front of one speaker cone. The mix recipe described in this article works on any mono track. If you have a stereo track then you will not want to use this trick.

Hi, Congratulations for your work.
Something is surprising with your tutorial using your Haas effect plugin:

Why do we have also to put the plugin on the source track? (in the “manual way”,you only move the second track by 18-20 ms and leave the first one to zero)
Only one track might be delay.Am I right?

Thanks for your fast answer.

But can you tell me if with your hass FX method, you have to put the plugin ALSO on the Source sound.
In this case for me, the sound would be delayed twice?

(I understood that with the “manual way”, you don’t put
this plugin).

Thanks for the great tutorial, Messed with the techniques for a couple of hours for a few days, I think I have it right but hell you can never stop learning, and being creative by doing things a different way then the normal. This tutorial really got the mud out of my guitars from laying so much.

Just wanted to say I love your site bro, It has virtually taken me from nothing to something with my personal home recordings. Ive been in two bands, been in 4 different studios for recording, now that I am on my own wanting to do a solo project, The first recordings just over a year ago for learning purposes were really bad, as I see it now from what I can do today from what I have learned on this site, as well as educating my self with every little bit I can find anywhere, via web, or books, and hands on experience, trying everything I learn. I know its a never ending process of learning, but now I am ready, and able to put something together and feeling quite confident it will sound good. “Not Great!.. but Good!” :)

I like your recipes they are great and very helpfull. How about keyboard and acoustic guitar recipes.

I found this article extremely helpful, minus one detail- I am on a mac. Do you know of any similar tools like the vescoFx Free Haas plugin that are available for the Mac? I am running Line 6 POD farm through Logic.

Thanks for the help!

I am on the verge of releasing the OSX compatible versions of all my plugs! I have just one small issue to work out and they’ll be ready.

WOW , the final guitar is awsome but you didn’t
talk about compression ?

Do you apply compression on guitar during the mix ?

Thanks

Serge

For heavy guitars I often don’t compress before the final mix and master. The rhythm tones I use often have quite enough built in compression as a result of the distortion. There’s not a lot of dynamic range in a cranked and palm muted Boogie type tone :)

Hello,
I tried to import this plug-in in Cubase SX 3 but I can’t see it in the plug-in list and it is shown brown in the Device/Plug-in information window.
My OS is Windows XP 32 bit and my CPU is an i7-2600k.

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