There are several spots on a guitar that resonate and produce unpleasant ringing overtones. These three easy tricks will improve your guitar tone for recording.
Don’t record electric guitars until you read this!
Too often, a recording engineer will take a microphone, stick it in front of a guitar amp, hit record, and call it a day. I want to tell you about a few tricks I’ve learned over the years to instantly make your guitar tone more clean and focused – all before the guitar signal even reaches the amplifier.
This is incredibly important because any extra noises from the guitar that get to an amplifier can be increased hundreds, if not thousands, of times. The tricks I’m sharing with you work well for aggressive styles of music like hard rock and metal, but you should experiment to see if you like what these tricks do to your guitar tone, whatever your genre or style.
Everything connected to a guitar resonates when you strum the strings.
This is why guitars made of different woods have different tones – they resonate differently! However, there are several spots on a guitar that resonate and produce unpleasant ringing overtones. The trick is to stop these unwanted vibrations from sabotaging your guitar tone. This can be done by dampening these vibrations. There are commercial products available for this, but you can use common household items instead to save you time and money!
There are two (sometimes three) places you need to dampen these vibrations:
- Between the nut on the head stock and the tuning pegs
- Between the saddle and the bridge
- The springs inside the body of a guitar with a tremolo system (e.g. Stratocaster style guitars)
How can you dampen these vibrations and improve your guitar tone?
You can use anything that will make good contact with the strings but not get in the way of your guitar playing. Below you’ll see three different common items that get the job done: tape, towel (cloth or paper), and foam earplugs!
To dampen these vibrations most effectively, try to make as much contact with the string and the dampening material as possible. This can be done by weaving the paper towel in between the strings and securing the remaining paper towel with something like tape or a paper clip. In the case of the painter’s tape, you can see the tape is pinched around each string to minimize the vibrations. (Click the images to enlarge.)
If you have space between the saddle of the guitar and the bridge (like on a Les Paul style guitar), make sure to dampen this area as well. Below are some ways I dampen those vibrations. If using a paper towel, make sure to weave it in between all the strings and not just put it behind the strings. This is important because you want to make sure the paper towel makes good contact with the strings.
You can also use tape again, making sure to pinch the tape around each string then secure the ends to the body of the guitar. If using earplugs, just gently compress an earplug, then put it between two neighboring strings. It will expand and support itself.
Making good string contact is essential for this dampening to work!
Make sure that if you use a paper towel behind your saddle, you weave the paper towel in between the strings to improve the contact with each string. Then, just simply tuck the excess paper towel under the strings to secure it as shown below.
The last place you want to dampen unwanted vibrations is the springs on the tremolo system (if you have one). This is found underneath the rear back plate (you will need to remove the screws holding the plastic cover to the guitar body). The springs for the tremolo system are susceptible to vibration and generate lots of unwanted noise that reduces the articulation on the guitar.
Typically, these tremolo systems have three springs, so make sure to tape each spring individually and secure both ends of the tape to the guitar body. You can verify that you have successfully dampened these vibrations by plucking the springs. If they don’t ring after plucking, you did it correctly. You can also use a paper towel, just make sure you wave it in between the springs.
Note: Tape those springs down in the back of your guitar if you have a floating tremolo system! You can also use a paper towel here as well.
Now that your guitar is properly dampened, all of the annoying ringing will be stopped, leaving you with a tighter, punchier, and focused guitar tone. While your individual results might vary, these tricks will make an enormous difference in your recordings – especially if you have multiple guitar layers.
Bobby Balow is a mixing and mastering engineer, entrepreneur, and owner of Raytown Productions. Raytown Productions originated as a home recording studio and has transformed into a one-stop shop for professional online mixing, mastering, and production. Bobby also launched the Raytown Productions blog, an online educational platform providing top-quality tutorials and tips for musicians, producers, and home studio owners looking to take their music to the next level.
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