Feb 212015
 

Last time we discussed double-tracking problems you can avoid by doing Guitar 1 well, so this time we’ll cover the same for Guitar 2, with more modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record your guitar solos.

Aside from the difficulties mentioned under “Performance Issues” below, there are some disadvantages to double-tracking:

  • Some people feel a doubled performance has less character
  • It takes longer to record (which may mean more money)
  • If you don’t double track something challenging, other guitarists may assume you couldn’t
  • Mixing becomes more difficult if you want your rhythm parts to be heard clearly

Let’s tackle these one by one. It’s true that individual character can be overshadowed, but this will depend largely on your style. More improvisational players are more affected, but some find it easy to play something repeatedly. It’s a judgment call only you can make. In exchange for some individuality, you get a thicker, fuller sound. One or the other will be worth its weight in gold to you.

If you record in your own studio, the extra time for double-tracking won’t cost more money, but in either case, consider this: if it takes you 20 minutes to record Guitar 1, it will not take you another 20 minutes to record Guitar 2. In my experience, it takes a quarter of the time for Guitar 2 (5 minutes). This happens because your playing is already smoking by the time Guitar 1 is done. If you’re not improvising, you’ve also been playing the same line for 20 minutes.

As for guitarists assuming you couldn’t double track something, not every guitarist has this competitive attitude. Many are just good musicians who, like you (hopefully), care more about the song than their ego.

Mixing Issues

Problem: Muddled mix. If you’re a metal head, the traditional mixing approach is riffs hard-panned right and left, lead guitar straight up the middle, but the whole point of double-tracking is to have full stereo leads, usually hard panned, too. Now you’ve buried your rhythm section!

Solutions:

  • Be nice to your mixing engineer and make sure he knows what you want, for his skills can keep an interesting riff audible beneath double-tracked leads, using a combination of compression, tone tweaking, riding the faders, and careful use of that big reverb/delay you have on that solo
  • A well-chosen lead tone will help it stand out without burying your riffs
  • Write a simple rhythm section so there’s nothing to miss. If you’re the only guitarist, your bassist must hold down the riffs alone live anyway, so you may as well go for simple chords under your solo. For songs with vocals and a lone guitarist, this is the traditional approach
  • Double-track leads over simple chords, but single-track leads when the riffs are interesting

Problem: Mix balance during harmonies and dual-lead lines. If Guitars 1and 2 play in unison and then break into harmony, or into two completely different lines (Guitar 1 is a slow melody while Guitar 2 is a fast scale), both guitars may sound quieter overall.

Solutions: Both issues can be solved by double-tracking the original lead all the way (Guitars 1 and 2), then make the harmony/dual part into Guitar 3 (and maybe Guitar 4, if you double-track this, too). Be aware that you’re more likely to bury the riffs this way. A lesser solution is to raise the volume where needed, though this doesn’t always work.

Performance Issues

In the previous column, I mentioned using two different articulations for Guitars 1 and 2, in which case the performance will not be exact by definition. If you use the pick throughout Guitar 1 but use slurs within Guitar 2, for example, you may have to experiment with exactly what is different (and when) to make this sound good with full stereo separation. Sometimes there’s no choice but to put both guitars in the middle of the mix instead.

Problem: Timing. This is the most obvious issue with double tracking and is why most people don’t do it.

Solutions: Practice. Guitarists practice all sorts of things with a metronome, but you need to practice double tracking itself. There’s nothing like playing along with yourself to discover how inaccurate your timing is. You need to learn your own habits to fix them.

  • Find a rhythm guitar part (or entire song) with a fair amount of activity. What you need is something with both steady motion and briefly held chords, preferably in alternation. The reason is that you may speed up or slow down when switching. If the rhythm part is constant 16th notes, that won’t help much. Neither will long held chords. Without using a drum machine or click track, record yourself playing the rhythm(s) for several minutes. Then put on the headphones and double track it. Pay attention to every place where you rushed (or are rushing now). If you realize the original performance was bad, redo Guitar 1, then try doing Guitar 2 again. Keep doing it until you succeed or get better
  • Do it with many songs, harder songs, with lead guitar, and finally with a drum beat
  • Do it for weeks, months, and years. When you eventually lay down a smoking, complicated guitar part and then double it exactly before everyone’s stunned ears, no one needs to know how much you practiced

Problem: Headphones are cramping your style. Whether ear fatigue, the cord getting in the way of your windmills, or just a fashion emergency, headphones can drive people crazy when recording, so how do you double-track without them?

Solutions:

  • Don’t use them during Guitar 1, just during Guitar 2
  • Don’t use headphones during recording, only during playback to verify the guitars match. This can be tricky while playing (too many sounds might be bouncing around in the room, making it hard to focus)
  • After recording Guitar 1, turn off Guitar 1 altogether while performing Guitar 2 “blind” and without headphones. Verify they match during playback, using headphones. This is tricky but impresses witnesses. If you’re getting frustrated and/or feel your spontaneity is going away, this can also make you feel free again

Problem: Guitar 2 out of tune. Sometimes the guitar just goes out and you can’t get it back in tune with Guitar 1. Now what?

Solutions:

  • Recording Guitar 2 ASAP after Guitar 1 helps avoid this, but not always
  • If the performance has extreme bends at the end, record right up to that note, stop short of it, do the double tracking, then add the bend to both tracks via punch-in afterwards
  • Sometimes only a few pitches are off, so just record Guitar 2, then re-tune the offending notes and re-perform them via punch-in
  • If the notes on only one string are off, play those notes on a string that’s in tune. This may change the tone, however
  • If the notes are flat, you can try slightly bending them up when playing, but this may not work either because the note goes by too quickly or because you’re doing vibrato or something else while sitting on that note
  • The culprit might be the riffs, which can sound perfect until you play lead over them and a slightly bent string in the riff causes this
  • If all of Guitar 2 is out, you can save Guitar 1 and do another Guitar 1 and then Guitar 2. Otherwise, erase Guitar 1 and start over
  • Finally, you can always try for Guitar 2 on another day, but you may play differently then. In 20 years, I don’t think I’ve ever once doubled something more than one hour after I did Guitar 1

Problem: Final note doesn’t end at the same time. Sometimes you let go off the last note at different times for each guitar, or one has better sustain. We’re not talking huge differences here, but even small ones can sound bad, especially if there’s a rest in the whole band right then or your digital delay repeats the two slightly-off endings over and over!

Solutions:

  • Re-perform it. This is not good if the performance was otherwise great. Besides, you may miss again
  • Punch-in just to fix that. A good bet, though you can still miss
  • Fix it in the mix. Use the automation features of your recording system, ala ProTools, to mute the note that goes longer so it ends when you want it to. If your signal routing is set-up right, when you mute the offending guitar, its last note will still go into the delay unit to avoid an unnatural cut-off there. And yes, this is cheating, but so is punching in. To be accurate, mute both leads at once by grouping them. Your mixing engineer may have other solutions, such as fading out the notes before they end
To Double-Track Or Not To Double-Track

If you decide to double-track certain lead phrases and not others, it is good to know this in advance. After all, let’s say you decided to double something, did so, and change your mind later? Simple. You just turn off one guitar. But what if you didn’t double it and now wished you had? Can you get the gear set up (if it’s gone) and re-perform it days or weeks later? My solution is simply to double everything and make my decisions during mixing, but I own my studio and am a glutton for punishment.

So is double-tracking worth it? Here’s a final thought. It often sounds good to double your themes, which tend to be simple and easier, and not double your more solo-like passages. You keep spontaneity where you need it and get fuller sounding themes. It’s the best of both worlds.

Best of luck, and may your fingers fly true…both times.

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 1

In an age when few want to play lead guitar at all, not to mention twice, an article on double-tracking guitar solos might seem pointless, but for those players keeping the faith, this one’s for you. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of double-tracking lead guitars and ways to get around common problems. For those […]

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Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 2

Last time we discussed double-tracking problems you can avoid by doing Guitar 1 well, so this time we’ll cover the same for Guitar 2, with more modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record your guitar solos. Aside from the difficulties mentioned under “Performance Issues” below, there are some disadvantages to […]

0 comments
Reamping

How To Re-Amp Guitars

If you’re like me, you’re not really an audio engineer despite all your research and efforts into capturing high quality sound in your home studio. Though it’s increasingly easy to buy quality gear, that doesn’t mean you have the training or experience to master it. Enrolling in engineering school, sound proofing your house, and upgrading […]

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Feb 212015
 

In an age when few want to play lead guitar at all, not to mention twice, an article on double-tracking guitar solos might seem pointless, but for those players keeping the faith, this one’s for you.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons of double-tracking lead guitars and ways to get around common problems. For those new to the concept, double-tracking is when the guitarist performs and records the same exact part twice, usually turning one performance to the left side of the mix and the other to the right. It’s frequently done for rhythm guitars, but less often with leads. What follows are some modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record these guitar solos.

How To Do It

First off, why double track? Lots of reasons:

  • Two guitars performing the same thing sounds fuller (like a chorus compared to a single voice)
  • Alternating between doubled and single-guitar creates variation
  • You can use two different guitar sounds for a new tone
  • You can use two different articulations (one legato, one staccato)
  • After a decade of no guitar solos in popular music, we have to double-up to make up for lost time
  • Impress other guitarists

If all of that sounds good to you (and I know the last one does), here’s how to do it.

The Method

For starters, you should be able to play the lead part note for note, so take some time to memorize it. Some feel this will rob their lead playing of spontaneity, but if you feel this is true, just improvise your first performance (“Guitar 1”) and then learn it for the doubling (“Guitar 2”).

In theory, double-tracking is simple. Just record Guitar 1 like any other lead part, then turn Guitar 1 all the way to the left (or right). Turn the live Guitar 2 to the other side. Then, wearing headphones, listen closely to Guitar 1 while recording Guitar 2. That’s it!

Problems and Solutions

If that sounds too easy, you’re right. There are a lot of problems to worry about, but you can avoid some by doing Guitar 1 well, so we’ll focus on that first.

When you record Guitar 1, be sure that there are no strange anomalies within your phrasing or timing that you cannot duplicate. The tremolo bar is a good example. You’ve got to repeat any dive bombs or other tricks exactly later. Pinch-harmonics are another problem, as it’s hard to get the exact harmonic you want. Any harmonic will often do the trick, too, so you’ve probably learned to not care which one you get. The good news is that getting a different harmonic (or none at all) on Guitar 2 can work fine or be better. I did this on purpose on “Still at Large” from my album, The Firebard.

 

Slides can be easier, since they’re sloppy anyway, but that only helps with fast slides. These should start from the same place (roughly) and go the same distance at the same speed. It helps to improvise a couple times and notice where you’re starting. If the slide is prominent and in the rhythm track, you can try one of my tricks, which is to start Guitar 1 from a certain note, such as A in A major, and slide Guitar 2 from C#, so they start in harmony.

Slow, expressive slides are more trouble. These need to start from the same place more exactly. The amount of finger pressure can be a factor in the slide’s sound, too. This is more problematic when that pressure must change as you go, and if the slide’s speed changes. All you can do is practice and be aware of speed, pressure, start and stop point, and the emphasis placed on the destination note (how much pressure and vibrato are you using?).

Bends are tough, too. If you’re not consistent and precise with the speed of your bend, hold, and release, the variation when you double will be out of tune. Quickly bent and released notes can be easier, but don’t count on it. You may be more consistent with a given technique, such as bending with your fingers, the Floyd Rose, or the old tuner trick, but you won’t really know until you try doubling and simply can’t do it. To make matters worse, bending is generally an expressive thing, so being controlled about it may rub you the wrong way. The solution is good technique through practice.

Vibrato usually isn’t an issue because most people tend to use the same vibrato each time they play a line, so you may be in luck here. It tends to be applied unconsciously as well, meaning you’ll do it the same without ever realizing it. Still, make note of what you’re doing and the speed of your vibrato. If the lead is almost painfully slow, with long drawn-out notes and vibrato that starts after a few beats, then changes speeds and vibrato types, these variations create more room for error. Then again, such a lead is so expressive that doubling is probably not wise anyway. This is one reason I didn’t double the final lead guitar on “Epic” (many slow slides were the other)

Finally, extraneous noise in Guitar 1 is hard to duplicate exactly, and why would you want to? If Guitar 1 was perfect except for some weird sound in it, you have ask yourself how important doubling is and how noticeable the sound is. A finger sliding on a string can be easier to duplicate, and if only one side does this, it can be okay. It’s a judgment call. With recording software like ProTools, it’s possible to fix it in the mix, but if you aren’t sure, double-track anyway and worry about it later. You can always turn Guitar 2 (or 1) off. You could also save the Guitar 1 with noise but re-perform it. >Maybe another attempt would be even better – and not have the noise.

If you’re starting to think all of this is an endorsement for speed, because that would reduce bends, vibrato, and slides as issues, not so fast. That’s when timing becomes the biggest issue of all. Without good timing on Guitar 1, you’ll really feel the pain later. Practicing with a metronome, while a good habit, may not help with a troubling passage. Maybe the drum groove or rhythm guitars are slightly off, or DAW-induced latency is disturbing your feel, or you’re just having a bad day and can’t do something right. What to do?

It sometimes helps to hard-pan Guitar 1 to one side while playing it, and/or wear headphones. This way, you can focus on the rhythm section on one side while fitting in your lead notes on the other. Turning down the lead guitar helps, too, for if the lead is too loud while you’re playing, it obscures the timing underneath. For latency, try reducing or eliminating it altogether with a no-latency setting. Be aware that on some days, your sense of timing will simply be different/off, just as you might like a guitar sound one day and think it’s terrible the next. Perseverance is king.

Coda

If all of this is starting to sound impossible, just wait until Part 2 of this column! Seriously, though, double-tracking is not as hard as it seems. With a little practice it can even be fun, and most of these ideas will help you get a great performance for Guitar 1 anyway. You also might be more ready for doubling than you think. Try doing it a few times and see what your problem areas are, then work on them. Next time, we’ll focus on the more problematic Guitar 2.

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 1

In an age when few want to play lead guitar at all, not to mention twice, an article on double-tracking guitar solos might seem pointless, but for those players keeping the faith, this one’s for you. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of double-tracking lead guitars and ways to get around common problems. For those […]

0 comments

Double-Tracking Lead Guitars, Part 2

Last time we discussed double-tracking problems you can avoid by doing Guitar 1 well, so this time we’ll cover the same for Guitar 2, with more modern home studio audio recording techniques and tips to help you record your guitar solos. Aside from the difficulties mentioned under “Performance Issues” below, there are some disadvantages to […]

0 comments
Reamping

How To Re-Amp Guitars

If you’re like me, you’re not really an audio engineer despite all your research and efforts into capturing high quality sound in your home studio. Though it’s increasingly easy to buy quality gear, that doesn’t mean you have the training or experience to master it. Enrolling in engineering school, sound proofing your house, and upgrading […]

0 comments
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