How To Record Massive Sounding Rock Rhythm Guitar Parts

Getting the right guitar sound on your recordings is vital. After years of experimentation here is the way I’ve settled on getting a big guitar sound for power chord based rhythm parts.

One mistake I always used to make was using far too much gain or overdrive. Go back & listen to some of the great rhythm guitar sounds from classic rock tunes (check out early AC/DC or Van Halen) & you’ll notice just how “clean” those “dirty” sounds actually are. Piling on the distortion is often counter-productive – it just makes everything sound “fizzy” and less powerful. Here is my basic rock rhythm tone, I’m using a Vintage V6 strat copy with an AXESRUS “Totally Tappable” hot-rails style humbucker in the bridge position (a great little alnico pickup to turbo-charge your strat & it’s cheap too!). In this example, I recorded the guitar dry – no reverb, and when you hear me switch to the neck single coil you can hear just how clean my sound actually is). Click HERE to listen.

Next, let’s hear that AXESRUS pickup playing a typical rock rhythm guitar part. Again, I recorded this dry – I’ll explain why later – click HERE to the riff being played.

Next up, I added some bass & drums, as well as adding some reverb to the guitar part. I ALWAYS record without any effects other than the basic gain/overdrive from the amp modeller. The reason I do this is because it gives you much more control over the final sound. If you record with all your usual fx on, it is very limiting – for a start, you can’t change your mind later and take the chorus off, or tweak the delay time for example. Many amp modellers (to my ears, anyway) over-do the reverb, delay & chorus in their patches so as to make the unit sound like it’s doing wonders for your sound. Often when you record with these sounds, the fx (reverb especially) has the tendency to “blur” the edges of your sound and make it sound a little mushy & indistinct in the final mix.

Also, if you need to drop in and fix a little part of your performance, not only are you going to be getting rid of the couple of notes you want to re-record, but you’ll also be getting rid of the reverb & delay “tails” from the notes which precede them & “overlap” the notes you’re replacing. This can make that part of the performance sound a little dis-jointed and makes the edit or drop-in much more obvious in the final mix – something you don’t want. By placing the fx on the sound once it’s recorded, you avoid this potential give away.

Having grown up playing through Marshall amps with no built in reverb, it feels natural to me to hear my guitar sound dry whilst recording. If you’re addicted to your huge ‘verby, delayed, & chorused sound, and feel a little “naked” recording without sounding like you’re playing through NASA mission control you may want to try weaning yourself off these fx gradually – just a thought. Anyway, here’s my guitar part with accompaniment & a bit of Cakewalk’s “Tiled Room” reverb preset. Click HERE to listen.

OK, I could just leave it at that, but there’s one final stage I usually go through: double tracking. What I do now is to record exactly the same thing again on another track & pan both performances hard left & right. Don’t be tempted to just copy & paste one part onto another track and try panning them – all you’ll end up with is a much louder performance panned to the centre. It’s the minuscule differences which occur naturally as you hit the strings with ever-so-slightly different amounts of attack on each take, and the tiny differences in timing that you’re not even conscious of which separate the two supposedly “identical” performances. Panning these two parts, one 100% left & the other 100 % right gives a great stereo spread & the slight phase differences between them creates a natural form of chorus, which if you’d recorded with that effect on in the 1st place would be a little over the top. Click HERE to listen to the finished, double-tracked guitar part in the final mix.

I hope you found this informative & until next time…

Have Fun!


John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist


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