Lead Guitar Recording Techniques:
Tips for the Mix

These guitar recording techniques are geared toward lead guitar. If you have rhythm guitars in your mix, it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge giving your leads their own space.

Lead guitar needs to be heard loud and clear!

The way to do this is to make sure your lead guitars are sonically different from your rhythm guitars.

On the Recording Tips for Lead Guitar page we talked about the importance of gear and miking. The guitar recording techniques outlined here will happen in the mix.

Compression

using guitar recording techniques with Les Paul© Ctacik | Dreamstime.com

I don't always compress my rhythm guitars, but I do like to use some on my leads.

Even though the amp settings I use sound pretty good on their own, a little extra compression can work wonders!

It helps to give my solos a nice fluid, legato feel. I like to compare it to the sound of running water.

I compress my tracks before I EQ them, but you can do it the other way around if you want to.

Don't be afraid to get a bit wild with the compressor, especially with the attack and release.

Although it's true that most of the time you won't need much of it, there are times when outrageous amounts will sound great!

And it's a good way to learn exactly how a compressor works.

Equalisation

Another way to give your leads a different sonic character than your rhythms is to use different EQ settings.

When recording guitar, you'll usually want to roll off the bottom end below 100 Hz or so. If you don't, your recordings will sound muddy.

With the bass guitar and the kick drum dominating the low-end, there will be too many bass frequencies all competing with each other.

This is what we mean by carving out a space for each instrument.

When it comes to EQuing lead guitar, I like to keep a bit more of the low end intact. Not a lot. I just don't cut as much of it out as I do with rhythm guitars.

I also like to boost the mid-range somewhere between 3-5kHz, but in a slightly different place than I boost for rhythm guitar. Experiment and have fun with this. But remember, less is usually more.

Miscellaneous Guitar Recording Techniques

Experiment with panning, as well as effects such as reverb and chorus.

Panning an instrument even slightly left-of-centre will help to give it it's own space.

If you have harmony lead parts spread them apart a bit, like you might do with harmony vocals.

A nice reverb can do a lot for a lead guitar, especially one with a bit of pre-delay.

Pre-delay will give you a sense of spaciousness, without burying everything in a big reverb wash.

Lead guitars also like a cool slap-back echo. Pan your track to one side a bit and pan the echo to the other side. Experiment with the width of this effect with the pan controls.

And don't forget the chorus. Guitars love chorus! They love flangers too. I usually use a touch of chorus on my vocals, but with guitar you can really go to town.

Try a nice slow stereo chorus for thickening up your track, or a faster one for a more obvious effect.

The Song Is King!

Have fun employing these lead guitar recording techniques, but remember the reason you are doing all this in the first place:

To enable your songs to be heard!

Don't lose sight of the fact that the song is the most important aspect of any recording. Even if it's badly recorded, a good song is still a good song. And people can tell it's a good song.

It doesn't really work the other way around.

Have you heard the saying, "You can't polish a turd"? Well you can't.

You can, however, polish your songwriting and your guitar recording techniques!


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