High gain and high frequencies in modern metal guitar recordings

Discussion in 'Recording Studio' started by JediMasterThrash, Jan 6, 2018.

  1. JediMasterThrash

    JediMasterThrash SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    110
    Likes Received:
    12
    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2014
    Location:
    Minneapolis, MN
    I'm looking for any insight or comments people might have on high gain metal recordings.

    Over the years (and lots of research into pickups, amps, mics, etc) I've got a much better ability to hear the electric guitar in recorded mixes.

    I used to "hear" the traditional scooped sound, and always tried to replicate it with my amp settings (gain to 11, bass to +9, mids to -6 highs to +6), but now it's obvious that the low thump I always tried to emulate with bass cranked is actually the bass guitar doubling the rhythm guitar.

    In most modern recordings it seems the rhythm guitar is dramatically low cut, probably up at 250hz. And maybe that's fine if the bass is always doubling the low-end anyway.

    But what's been bothering me is the amount of high-end gain. It seems like the distortion is so high, the lows so cut, that there is no fundamentals anymore, it's just a sea of white noise. If you isolate the guitar track, you can't tell if they're playing an E6 or an E5 power chord. And you can't tell if they're playing an A, E, or G for that matter. The actual "note" is completely lost in so much distortion.

    What I'm finding is that the only reason I can hear the note and chord is from the bass guitar. The melody is really only coming from bass and keys (if present). The electric guitar is just adding a sea of white noise on top of that.

    It's so prevalent, I"m just wondering if I'm in a minority in thinking that's audible nonsense.

    This sound was of course pioneered by things like Justice for All tone, and pantera. But even modern prog that should know better still create this all the highs gains tone, like pagan's mind and dream theater.

    Of course when the note being played moves up a couple octaves, once you're into bridge rhythms and fills, you can hear the notes better. It's mostly 6th and 5th string based rhythms that get completely lost.

    Some artists have a guitar tone with more audible lows and not the extreme highs/gains and it creates a rhythm where you can actually hear the notes better, like kai hansen and kiko loureiro.

    Some trademark 80's metal was definitely a more melodic guitar, still metal and distorted but less gain and highs, like craig goldy and vivian campbell from Dio.

    Cranking the upper mids and gain definitely creates this wall of infinite sustaining power that is a metal trademark and has it's place. But it seems overused to the point where it's only the bass and keys creating sound in much of modern power/prog metal and the electric guitar rhythm is just this white noise rhythm in the background doubling on top of it.

    I personally think it's better to create sustain using compression and regenerative effects like chorus, than by using active pickups and cranking the gain.

    I just feel a breath of fresh air when I listen to an old dio or early gamma ray album and can actually hear the rhythm guitar notes and the lower fundamental frequencies in the guitar. I never noticed how rare it was in modern metal to be able to hear those until I trained my ears to separate the bass guitar from electric guitar. And now I can't unhear it!

    I also find that the high frequencies tend to be very taxing on the ears, even if they are initially pleasing in the mix.

    For instance, despite thinking justice for all is an eponymous metal album and the guitar tone is something people will try to emulate forever (like somewhere in time tone), by the time you're halfway through the album the upper mids and high frequencies are starting to fatigue your ears.

    Similar with Royal Hunt. In that case, the audio is just an incredibly crisp recording. There's a full frequency range from the low bass to the upper highs, and every note and word sounds like a pin drop crisp. But there again by the time you're half-way through the exaggerated high hissing starts to fatigue your ears.

    There's also the possibility just nobody can hear those high frequencies anymore. Maybe I should start going to concerts without earplugs and in a few years everything will start sounding right.

    When I record guitars I tend to crank presence down to 0 and tame those highs above 8k pretty well. In the mix, I think the drum section owns the highs. The hi-hats and cymbals need to crash up there, and you can give the vocalist room to have some crispness and air. Bit if you let the guitars go up there as well it starts to sound like an airy hissy mess (like modern helloween)

    When I listen to the guitar solo, yeah it sounds a bit like i've got earmuffs on. But when I put it in the mix with drums, keys, and vocals, you don't notice the lack of upper highs at all.

    And I have to ask the question, what's the point of 7 and 8 string guitars at all? It seems like most who are into extended range guitars are all about "tight low end" and djent tone, which is all cutting the lows below 250hz, What is the point of having a low B at 62hz or a low G at 46hz if you're going to low cut at least at 100hz, if not 200hz? Once you've got the gain cranked, you can't tell if you're hitting a G on the 8, 7, or 6th string. We should be cranking that bass! And just make the bass guitar do something other than doubling, and tame that bass drum back to the 80's sound, where it was more of a thud than a boom.
     
  2. Descent

    Descent SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    758
    Likes Received:
    93
    Joined:
    May 7, 2014
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    A lot of it has to do with tape and signal bleed, on older recordings the band was recorded as an ensemble. It really depends on the bands and producer, but overall I agree with you.
     
  3. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    1,624
    Likes Received:
    961
    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Location:
    china
    tl/dr
    you love the 80s. w/e
     
    schwiz likes this.
  4. pipelineaudio

    pipelineaudio SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    131
    Likes Received:
    29
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Location:
    Oahu
    One key concept here is that "bass" and "low end" are a matter of perspective and suggestion. Most of what we think of as "lows" on a modern recording are actually the perception or appearance of lows. Mainly because they have to be able to play somewhat close to the idea of the producer on smaller speakers and convenience devices that really weren't meant to show low end.

    In the same way that compressors can create the effect of sounds so loud that they change the dynamic response of their ears, piles of products are out there that give you the perception of having lows, when they also high pass
     
    Descent likes this.
  5. TonyFlyingSquirrel

    TonyFlyingSquirrel Cherokee Warrior

    Messages:
    3,624
    Likes Received:
    705
    Joined:
    May 4, 2006
    Location:
    Auburn, Washington
    Look at Black Sabbath. People think that Iommi's tone is full of low end & attribute that to some of the hugeness of his tone, but in reality, he has loads of mids, and most of the low end you hear, along with some of the upper mid that gets his distortion & fret noise is Geezer.

    It's the conjunction of both of them together that make up the huge sound of Black Sabbath, not just Iommi or just Geezer.
     
    Descent likes this.
  6. Capacon

    Capacon SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    26
    Likes Received:
    1
    Joined:
    Dec 17, 2010
    Location:
    Melbourne

    Totaly agree.
     
  7. Spaced Out Ace

    Spaced Out Ace 0 0 1 0 0 6 5 0 3\

    Messages:
    4,685
    Likes Received:
    1,508
    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2010
    Location:
    Washington
    But part of Iommi's tone, at least with Ozzy for some time, was him playing on the neck pickup. That said, Iommi's tone was pretty huge for a guitar in the 1970s.
     
  8. TonyFlyingSquirrel

    TonyFlyingSquirrel Cherokee Warrior

    Messages:
    3,624
    Likes Received:
    705
    Joined:
    May 4, 2006
    Location:
    Auburn, Washington
    True, he had one of the most massive tones of the 70's. Neck pickup use changes the timbre a bit to aid that.
    Another band that had a similar large tone was Nazareth. Listen to "Beggar's Day" off of Hair of the Dog. Way Huge! It's got some layers with guitars in different gain voicing.
     
  9. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

    Messages:
    14,935
    Likes Received:
    2,846
    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2005
    Location:
    St. Johnsbury, VT USA
    I love mids and a medium-gain tone, but I also love lows and highs. I think I personally prefer most amps with the EQ and gain at 12:00 and a little added presence, and then tweaking from there.

    One big source of trouble, though is that "Low" "Mid" and "High" can have different meanings on different amps, so it's a bit of handwaving involved in explaining how to set an EQ without specifying a particular brand of amp.

    My tone isn't super great, though, so it's just my take, but I do cringe a lot when I see bands playing with B:10 M:0 T:10 G:10 type settings, for exactly the reasons you brought up. It might sound okay-ish on the guitar, but in the mix it sounds like the band is bass drums and bees.
     
    schwiz likes this.
  10. billinder33

    billinder33 SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    182
    Likes Received:
    83
    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2017
    I'm pretty big on middle-high gain with the mid-frequencies forward (750-3k) sound, and rolling off the highs and lows. When you're playing lower strings, you're below the vocals without creating too much 'mud', and when the vocals stop and you're soloing, you're delivering a lot of energy into the vocalist's frequency range to cover for when they are not signing. You also leave plenty of room for the bass to cut through the mix as well.

    My style is more in the modern/alt-rock/prog vein, so leaving space for nuances in drums, bass, vocals, and other instruments is important. There are a lot of modern metal or djent styles where the guitar effectively is the entire instrumentation. Scoop-mids and broadband frequency coverage is more important here because the guitar basically IS the band. You see a lot more of this these days because inexpensive laptops, DAWs, and VSTs allow good guitarists to essentially be one-man-bands. They can use drum software and pick up a bass to double the guitar, or just leave the bass out altogether, depending upon what they are trying to accomplish. It's probably getting tougher to find real bassists in this current environment, because why would anyone want to invest time learning to play bass just to end up buried in the mix like Jason Newstead on '...and Justice for All' anyhow?

    All this to say, "different tones for different intended outcomes".

    In the 80's and 90's, to get a crushing metal guitar tone meant $2000+ and a 100lbs of amps and cabs to drag around. So there was a very real barrier to entry to getting that awesome crunch tone. Now every guy with a laptop has it, so the tone itself lacks the creative impact it once had, because access has been democratized to every aspiring shredder. For some, like possibly the OP, the proliferation of this tone is tiring and un-inspirational. For others, picking up the guitar and hearing all those sweet harmonics is an incentive to practice.

    IMO, there is definitely an over-saturation of repetitive high-gain riffing going on as amp modelers, sims, and VSTs have finally delivered the high-gain tones at a reasonable price that guitarists have been craving for many years. Overall, I think it's just a phase and over the course of the next decade or two, the next generation of shred guitarists will possess more advanced jazz/fusion/funk/blues inspired styles, or possibly delve deeper into the FX/guitar-synth/Variax technologies, where I think there is still a lot of innovation yet to be discovered.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2018
  11. Descent

    Descent SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    758
    Likes Received:
    93
    Joined:
    May 7, 2014
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    Iommi has always had massive tone, that is his signature.
     
  12. TonyFlyingSquirrel

    TonyFlyingSquirrel Cherokee Warrior

    Messages:
    3,624
    Likes Received:
    705
    Joined:
    May 4, 2006
    Location:
    Auburn, Washington
    I setup all my POD presets against basic tracks ie; drums/bass in Pro Tools. It's the best way to get them to sit in the mix, and excessive gain & extreme scooped curves are a sure way to muddy up a good mix. I do as much on the POD as I can practically so that I'll have to only do minimal eq'ing in Pro Tools, and much of that would be subtractive.
     
  13. schwiz

    schwiz Lefty

    Messages:
    1,198
    Likes Received:
    136
    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2013
    Location:
    Burnsville, MN
    Lots of assumptions and opinions about guitar tones...

    Anyone whos done some recording knows that if you put your gain to 11, it's going to sound like complete fuzzy crap. The days of blazing your metal zone presence to the moon and back, and cutting all the mids are gone, and I'm glad. Those tones don't work well in a modern mix. Today's metal tones are more rounded and less scooped. Think about everything else that needs the high end in a mix such as VOCALS, cymbals, synths, keys, and other ambient background noises. I believe that the guitar tones we are hearing today are partly a result of more complex and robust productions that do include layers and layers of vocals, synths FX, etc etc etc. Back in the Pantera days, do you think they had 20-30 synth tracks in their mixes?

    I can't think of the last recording I heard where I thought all the guitars were low cut at 250hz, or there was anything above 8k that I'd actually like to hear either. I'd like to know what the OP is listening to today to form your opinion about today's hi-gain tones.

    Again, I don't know anyone that is half-way decent at recording and mixing that would low pass their 6, 7, or 8 string instrument at 250hz. Yes, bass does dominate that region, but that doesn't mean that the guitars aren't there, and that there isn't any sort of compression, whether on a bus or on the 2bus that is helping them glue together.

    Anyways, lots of stuff being thrown around here. Metal today is what it is.
     
  14. GunpointMetal

    GunpointMetal SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    1,511
    Likes Received:
    218
    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2011
    Location:
    Madison, WI
    Depends on what sound you're after. I hear a lot of different types of tones depending on the style of music I'm listening to. I think modern mix engineers get a lot more liberal with cuts in the highs/lows because loud mastering is going to pump those things back up, too. I see a lot of people suggesting keeping a limiter on your master bus so you can flip it on and get an idea of your "loudness" mix as you're going. 7/8/9/10 string guitars are just as viable as a 6 string, and lots of guys like them not just for the extra br00tz, but because you can get a lot of range in fewer frets (i.e. an 8-string tuned to drop E has the full range of a six string guitar between the 12th and 24th frets).
    I don't know anyone who would immediately go and high-pass a guitar at 250, but if the music has the bass/kick/guitar all following the same rhythm and the same notes, you're just going to to get a lot mud in the 8-200hz region if you keep those low fundamentals in the guitar. The lower a guitar is tuned, the more mud you get in the sub-400Hz range if you don't find where to cut, as well. If you're in standard tuning on a six string and your bass is also in standard tuning, you can get away with less cuts in those ranges. I remember when I started learning about this stuff people said the kick ALWAYS had to carry anything below 60Hz and the bass ALWAYS had to occupy the 60-140Hz range, but given how low some instruments get tuned and the style of music, it might make more sense in a mix to high-pass the kick at 80Hz and let the bass carry the sub-lows, etc.....I think these days people tend to get too caught up in what they "should do" according to URM/NTM and certain online producers and they forget to mix to the song/material.
     
  15. pipelineaudio

    pipelineaudio SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    131
    Likes Received:
    29
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2011
    Location:
    Oahu
    High pass, I think you meant
     
  16. schwiz

    schwiz Lefty

    Messages:
    1,198
    Likes Received:
    136
    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2013
    Location:
    Burnsville, MN
    Yep, typo.
     
  17. axxessdenied

    axxessdenied :: 2077 ::

    Messages:
    3,129
    Likes Received:
    518
    Joined:
    Nov 16, 2011
    Location:
    Ontario, Canada
    You wrote way too much because at the end of the day the guitar tone doesn't matter that much. If you nail a great drum and bass sound the guitars just fall into place. What constitutes a great guitar tone is actually pretty vast.
     
  18. ddtonfire

    ddtonfire SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    1,283
    Likes Received:
    194
    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2009
    Location:
    Mojave Desert
    As much gain as you can get away with, but never too much. Hi pass around 100 and cut around 8k-9k to start, and then go from there. But you're right about the power of the guitar actually coming from the bass.

    A good exercise is to listen to isolated guitar from your favorite records and seeing how it is EQ'd to sit right in the mix.
     
  19. TonyFlyingSquirrel

    TonyFlyingSquirrel Cherokee Warrior

    Messages:
    3,624
    Likes Received:
    705
    Joined:
    May 4, 2006
    Location:
    Auburn, Washington
    Not entirely true. You can have great sounding drum & bass & have crap sounding guitar.
    Every single track has to be eq'd to serve the mix, wether that eq treatment is additive or subtractive, but you do have to carve each track into the mix context.
     
  20. diagrammatiks

    diagrammatiks SS.org Regular

    Messages:
    1,624
    Likes Received:
    961
    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Location:
    china
    this is the important thing. Mix > what you think the guitars should like.
     

Share This Page