Wall of ampsHere’s a classic thread from Prosoundweb with some of the pros sharing their thoughts on getting a thick guitar sound:

It’s a lot of things, but most importainly[sic] it’s the blend of guitars and bass in the arrangement. If you listen closely to your fav guitar sounds, the guitars aren’t really that big on their own, but when played with the bass…..

Also, it helps to have a good player, with an in tune guitar, with a well maintained head and cab, and then you can throw up a couple of mic’s, blend them properly without phase problems (which cause comb filtering/cancellation of freq’s that make your guitars not huge), then mix them well and your done.

From Homerecording.com, How do I improve miking my guitar amp?

Get the amp cabinet off the floor. Use 1 ear and act like a mic. Move around and listen to the sound. If you like the sound, put the mic there. Many times, there is no place that has the sound you want. If that is true, then use a different amp, pedel, guitar etc. Don’t put the mic to the cloth. Put about 2″ from it. You will get a better sound if you back off on the distortion (if you are after distorted guitars). Don’t try to get a super heavy sound like some records as they double, triple etc. guitars. You are after a good sound with detail. More distortion kills the detail and hogs the available space for the total guitar sound. Doubling shitty guitar sounds only makes things worse.

… and some thoughts on thickening guitars:

Boost a wide band from80hz to about 150 hz.
Boost till it sounds fat.
Then put a multiband compressor next in line (Like a waves C4 or something of the like) to push the lows down under control. Doing this keeps the lows fat but not out of wack. This typically works well for me. Youll need to experiment, but its a good possiblilty you can make it work for you with some patience.

And finally, more on the same from TapeOp – Big ass guitar tone:

Whatever distortion/overdrive you think you need live, scale back by a 1/4 or 1/3 when you record.

Also: use heavier gauged strings on your guitar.


Sound WavesA custom reverb can add a unique signature to your recordings. And since practically every space reverberates, a home made reverb often requires no more than a speaker, and microphone to capture reflected sound. Understandably, then, reverb units are popular do-it-yourself projects for musicians and recording engineers.

Spring and plate reverbs are the easiest designs to implement. Though depending on your skill with a soldering iron, you can also build an electronic reverb. And capturing the natural ambiance of a space, with a speaker and mic, offers almost unlimited possibilities.

Here’s a collection of links to the Web’s best plans for these homemade reverbs:

Spring Reverbs:

Plate Reverbs:

I got a sheet of steel, about the size of a very large refrigerator, this was about 1 X 2 meters more or less. I built a wooden frame of 2X4s. Two holes were drilled near the top of the plate and it was suspended to hang on two wooden dowels through rubber grommets.

I took an old 12″ speaker and cut the metal cage off of it and trimmed the speaker cone so as to only have about 1″ from the driver. Then I built a wooden cross member across the plate but not touching it to hold this speaker and glued the shortened cone to the plate. I attached a contact microphone to the plate. I drove the plate through a 50 watt amplifier connected to the speaker (glued to the plate) and took the signal from the contact mic. The placement of the mic is determined by experimentation. I built a simple wet/dry mixer. In those days people built their own circuits. Today I’d buy the mixer.

This entire apparatus was in the basement below my studio.

Electronic Reverbs:

Natural reverbs:

  • Electronic Musician’s Keeping It Real article describes some great approaches to capturing natural reverberance (including a washer or dryer, and an old Gibson guitar.)
  • Upload an audio file to Silophone, and hear how it sounds played through speakers in a grain silo.

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Hometracked NoteI previously discussed the best bit rate for the MP3s you distribute. (Short answer: Probably 128KBps or 160KBps, but test your own music to be sure.)

There’s a more important bitrate for most home recordists, however: The number of bits you use to record raw tracks. In all likelihood, your recording system gives you two choices, 16-bit and 24-bit. So which should you use?

Tweak has the most accessible discussion of the subject I’ve read. Short answer: Record everything you do at 24-bit. The article spells out a few good reasons, but here’s the meat of it:

You can record at lower levels, with more headroom. This ensures that the occasional peak is not truncated at the top and it will give converters some room the breathe. Because you are not pushing the limits of your bandwidth, your instruments will sound clearer, and the vocals may sound “cleaner”, the song will mix better and there will be less noise.

(The article also touches on the optimal sample rate, and while I agree with the conclusion, it’s for different reasons. For more details, see the discussion of the myth that higher sample rates yield more accurate recordings.)

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MicrophoneIn audio, a transient is commonly defined as “an abrupt or sudden change in level.” We associate transients with sharp, harsh sounds: Think of cymbal crashes, hard-strummed acoustic guitar, and a singer’s T’s and CH’s.

A microphone’s ability to accurately capture these transients is known as transient response, and it’s an important property to consider when selecting a mic. To understand why, think of how a microphone works.

Diaphragm and Transient Response

All studio mics operate on the same basic principle: Sound energy moves a diaphragm, and the diaphragm’s motion is converted to an electrical signal which can be measured and recorded.

Diaphragms differ from mic to mic. Dynamic mics have a coil or ribbon, where condenser mics have a lighter (more…)

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Lego man with guitarWhile it has nothing to do with music, this story of Lego’s success with Mindstorms hints at some powerful lessons:

Lego […] realized that their proprietary code was loose on the Internet and debated how best to handle the hackers… Some Lego executives worried that the hackers might cannibalize the market for future Mindstorms accessories or confuse potential customers looking for authorized Lego products.

After a few months of wait-and-see, Lego concluded that limiting creativity was contrary to its mission of encouraging exploration and ingenuity. Besides, the hackers were providing a valuable service… Rather than send out cease and desist letters, Lego decided to let the modders flourish; it even wrote a “right to hack” into the Mindstorms software license.

The end result of Lego’s “right to hack?” Mindstorms became their all-time best-selling product.

Fast-forward to 2007, where (more…)

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FadersFrom homerecording.com, a collection of approaches to mixing:

First thing is to do the faders up listening. If you’re a member of the band, or the engineer, or even worse both (as well as the song writer and the overall aranger of the songs….like I am), then TRY REALLY HARD to forget that. You have to become the mixer and listen to the track with fresh ears. Once you done the faders up listen a few times, you will have a pretty good idea of how the track goes …

Here, the folks on Gearslutz discuss modest low-end microphones. They list some great options if you’re in the market for a decent pro-sumer microphone:

I’m a drummer and I’ve always been satisfied with a D112 on the kick and an SM57 on the snare. I’ve got a very old pair of Oktava mk012s that I love for overheads. I’ve also used these for room mics and acoustic guitar with nice results… SM57 is good enough honestly on a snare. If you can’t make a snare pop with a 57, it’s not the mics fault.

(The thread introduced me to Sweetwater’s customers top mic picks page, which, depending on how you view Sweetwater’s customers, could also be a handy reference.)

Finally, here’s a thread with some interesting thoughts on modulating tape speed to change a recording’s character:

if you were to take the original tracks and layer them with the slowed down tracks (providing that the tracks weren’t *that* slowed down and could occassionally be resynched) then yes, the sound will get thicker. Simply slowing the tape speed down though will do absolutely NOTHING to “fatten” the sound. No additional overtones are added, no distortion should be added (provided your tape machine is properly calibrated) and even if it were, I doubt it would be the euphonic type of distortion you’d be looking for …

I’m not sure how effective the trick would be for fattening the sound, especially in a tape-less DAW, but if you’ve got a “try anything once” mindset here’s Audio Mastermind’s list of free pitch-shift VST plugins.

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Copyright symbolA couple of weeks ago, Avril Lavigne found herself facing allegations that she’d plagiarized a 30 year old song. (Here’s some quick background.) It’s old news now, but worth revisiting because some aspects of the case could be important for amateur producers and home recordists.

Lavigne and her co-writer didn’t rip off The Rubinoos. Not even close. Yet most of what passes for discourse on the subject takes the form of sarcastic, kneejerk reactions like this one:

Those songs are basically the same. Hilarious! Avril seriously has the songwriting skills of a 1970s folk artist. She’s Woody Gurthrie reincarnated!

As a writer, it bothers me that anyone thinks the case has merit. But as an amateur producer and songwriter, it particularly troubles me that my peers think there may be something to it. To explain why, I’ll start with the reasons Lavigne is in the clear. (more…)

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Here are a couple of sites I’ve enjoyed recently that you might not have seen:

Homemade noize, a growing collection of DIY projects and software plugins, mostly aimed at amateur recording enthusiasts.

And Spinmeister’s Extreme Mixer (eMXR) site, which focuses on online collaboration and remixing. From the site:

Long held business models for recorded music are crumbling not only because of file sharing, but also because of the increasing supply of free or inexpensive music of excellent quality created in homes rather than recording studios. Long held country specific IP (intellectual property) and licensing models are made obsolete by the global reach of the Internet for music makers and consumers alike.

On that topic, here’s a chilling little anecdote from Seth Godin’s blog about
choosing music in a world with limitless supply

It’s almost impossible to buy music with no frame of reference. There were no hits, no recommendations, no “if you like x, you’ll like y”. I realized that the time it would take to decide if I liked an album was probably worth more than the $3 it would cost to buy one–in other words, not even worth it for ‘free.’

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Drumtrig drum sample replacer pluginStorm Recording Studio has disappeared off the internet, taking with it the only source of drum sample replacer Drumtrig.

I mentioned Drumtrig in the list of drum replacer plugins. It’s a free, dressed-down alternative to Drumagog: Only one sample per track, but incredibly easy to use.

As with the similarly-fated Paris EQ, I saved the install file:

Here’s a brief description of the plugin from Storm’s old site:

By using this plugin on single drum tracks like Snare or Kick you can replace the sound with any sample (.WAV file) you like. Great if you’ve tried everything to salvage a poorly recorded drum sound and got nowhere!

If you like this plugin but fancy something a bit more sophisticated, have a look at Drumagog. It’s not free but it has a lot more features.

And there’s a copy of the Storm Recording website on archive.org with some more information. (Note that the plugin is Windows-only.)

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Michael Dean and Chris Caulder have released a CC-licensed (and free) eBook about making music digitally: Digital Music – DIY Now!

The book claims to be “for people who want to record their own compositions and get them out to the World” and “for people who want a career making music for films, TV, and video games.” It’s definitely more the former than the latter: Long on technical details (aimed squarely at beginners,) and short on anything I’d call “career” advice.

That said, the book is worth checking out for the thoughtful introduction to songwriting, and the closing commentaries. (Chapters 1 and 12.) One of my favorite quotes: “You can’t become a better or more creative musician if you listen to only one thing, all the time, and write it…

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