OOOOOH! guitar pads. everywhere guitar pads!
About 9 years ago I had just become the worship leader of a church in southeast Louisiana. I really hadn't spent much time with the pastor, but from what I had seen in the short time I knew him, his personality was like a breath of fresh air.
Our first practice was pretty jamming. I had brought in some old musician friends of mine that could seriously rip! The first song we worked on was a cover of this one:
It was actually pretty darn raucous (not as tame as what you hear above), and I was kind of afraid that the pastor was gonna tell me that we may need to tone it down a little. After about a 10 minute version complete with an extended ripping guitar solo from my friend Ben (one of the best players I've ever played with), the pastor comes to the front of the page with a big smile and says, "Heck yea! Bring back the guitar solo!!! That was awesome!"
Ha ha! That was the beginning of a great relationship with a church that proved to be family years on down the road.
so where am i going with this?
What happened to the wild side of guitar? Big open rocking energized guitars? Nowadays it seems there's this trend of guitars imitating keyboard pads bathed in reverb!
BRING BACK THE GUITAR SOLO! Rock out with wild abandon! Let an electric guitar sound like an electric guitar!
So I walk into church the other day a little late during worship, and the mix is just a big pile of mush. No definition. Can't pick out individual parts. Just a big pile of auditory guacamole. Thankfully, this is an exception at my church, but it does happen on occasion. Now, any engineer that has any experience at all will tell you this has happened to everyone (myself included). If you find yourself in this this situation, here is a list of things you can do to rectify a mushy mix!
1. HIGHLIGHT CERTAIN KEY INSTRUMENTS
This is going to sound crazy, but work with me here: Your first line of defense against the horrors of a mushy mix, is to gently take the faders down a few dB of everything else in order to clear sonic space for these 4 instruments:
In other words, bring these 4 instruments out in the mix above everything else. Make sure your lead vocals are the star of the show with the other 3 instruments as a solid support/foundation. Work on getting these sounds out in front of the mix; making sure the kick drum and the bass guitar are not stepping on one another. Same thing should happen with the snare and lead vocals. No one ever walks away from a gig humming the snare drum!
2. KILL reVERB & OTHER EFFECTS
Even if only temporarily, kill your reverb until you get a workable mix again. It's better to roll dry and have a great mix, than super wet with an unintelligible mix. What most novice engineers don't realize, is that reverb "pushes" and instrument back away from the audience sonically. It creates a sense of space in your brain. It also can "smear" the intelligibility of the instrument you put it on; especially if you don't know how to properly set it up. Have you ever been in a gym or racquetball court, and couldn't understand what the other person was saying if they spoke too loudly? That's because your brain has a combination of all of the waves the ear presents to it all at once. Learning what type of reverb to use on certain instruments, and how to use the controls of a reverb processor, is a God-send in a mixing situation.
3. THE MUTE BUTTON IS YOUR FRIEND
One of the most powerful tools in your mixing disposal, is the mute button. I have had times when the band is killing it, and then there's some dude rocking a solo that sounds something like Yoko Ono getting in a fight with a bumble bee.
There are times when somebody in the band is just not paying attention and are off in La La Land, or sometimes you'll have somebody who is convinced that they should play as many notes as possible. This can leave you in a difficult situation because you don't want to be rude and mute them, but you know what...you totally should. Go ahead.
One of the most effective uses of the mute button, are out-of-tune background vocals. Have you ever had that situation where you have a "vocalist" that hears everything a half-step lower than the actual song?
How about the guy that is convinced he should try and play the "new" blues minor pentatonic scale "he just learned" throughout the entire song?
Or the same guy that just bought an e-bow, and decides he wants to run it through a flanger because "it sounds soooo cool."
I think you may be getting the idea now.
Here's a technique developed by Courtney Love's engineer he has used countless times (I'm almost sure of it): When there is something coming across the speakers that sounds like someone is torturing a possum with a cattle prod - you grab the fader and start bringing down the volume gently but quickly...and then in one smooth act of mercy, you bring the other hand up to the console and press the Mute Button.
Aaaahhhh. That's better!
4. MAKE EVERYTHING SOUND AS NATURAL AS POSSIBLE, NOT AS BIG AS POSSIBLE
This really is something you should be doing during sound check as a common practice. The worst disservice you can do for yourself and your audience, is to try and make every instrument as huge sounding as possible. Don't waste your time going through each instrument separately trying to make them all sound massive. Your audience won't ever hear it that way once the gig starts going, and you have just created for yourself a beast that will eat your lunch later. You don't want every instrument fighting for the same space in a mix. The beauty about making every instrument sound as natural as possible, is that they will almost mix themselves. A kick drum doesn't sound the same as a bass guitar unamplified.
Hopefully the above information will give you the tools to get past a mushy mix. There are other great resources on this site, like some of these pages as well:
The Voicing Concept
IS IT REALLY THAT SIMPLE?
These two steps will indeed radically improve your mixing. Whether in live sound or in recording, implementing these two simple things will be game changer. Yes, it really is simple.
WHAT IS IT, WHAT IS IT?
1. Make all instruments and voices as natural sounding as possible.
For instance: Does that acoustic guitar sound just like what it would if you were sitting in front of it unamplified? This is THE test!
DON'T MAKE EVERY INSTRUMENT AS BIG SOUNDING AS POSSIBLE, BUT RATHER MAKE IT AS NATURAL SOUNDING AS POSSIBLE!
2. Make sure you can hear EVERY instrument & voice clearly in the mix.
If something is stepping on something else, or something gets lost in the mix, you aren't mixing up to your potential. It's that simple. No excuses. Don't settle for anything other than the best.
THE LITTLE FOXES THAT SPOIL THE VINE
His problem wasn't any of his hardware, but that his guitar was filthy. His strings (that probably hadn't been changed since the 80's) had caked on dirt and sweat. The fretboard looked a lot like the one in the picture here, but it was far worse. I spent at least 2 hours just cleaning the guitar before changing the strings. Once I gave the guitar back to him, he plugged it in, and was blown away by the difference. He asked me, "what did you do?" I replied, "I cleaned it."
You Know Where This is Going Don't You?
"THERE IS NO "FIXING IT IN THE MIX"
DISCLAIMER: IT'S LIVE - DON'T TOTALLY STRESS OUT ABOUT BLEED
Now with that in mind - read on:
THINK ABOUT BEING INTENTIONAL
Check this out (what do you notice):
Drum overheads have minimum bleed because they are behind the band.
Guitar amps are in front of the drums and are (for the most part) mic'd with super cardioids.
Keys and the Leslie are behind the guitar amps and not directly in front of the drums.
Monitors shooting in the nulls of the vocal microphones.
Notice the sound absorption between the lead guitarist's amp and the keys area.
Here's another example:
Notice the position of the performers in relation to each type of instrument.
FIND THE BALANCE BETWEEN A CLEAN MIX,
AND NOT UPSETTING WHOM YOU ARE SERVING
Don't be so hard headed that you are going to go for the ultimate stage plot while ignoring the needs of the musicians you are serving. Find the balance. If you are super polite and professional, most bands will compromise with what you want to achieve as well (within reason). Feel it out. Problem solve. Be bendable. If the musicians are not comfortable on stage, you can (and will) lose the vibe very quickly. That's a lose-lose situation.
Stay tuned for the next post as we discuss more creative ways to clean up a live mix.
Yes it's mono. If you want to turn it into stereo, you could build two of these. One powers the tip, and the other the ring.
The original schematic appeared in a Japanese book with a lot more filtering in place. I simplified it for almost anyone to be able to build this easily. The 386 is a very robust and forgiving chip. A 9 volt battery will work fine, but a guitar pedal power supply would be good too if you don't mind the wallwart.
The chip is an LM386 - which is readily available almost anywhere you can get electronic parts. I recommend using a socket for the chip to make the build easier and more successful. This circuit features a low parts count and can be made for about $10.
If you see any corrections or additions that need to be made, please feel free to comment below.
Note: If you'd rather have a volume control, you could add one right before the 1/4" out. If you build a stereo version, a stereo potentiometer would be a great addition. Either way, a 100k, audio log potentiometer would work. 1/2 watt is ideal and will work fine.
If you are not for sure how to build anything electronically, I have temporarily left my electronics page open for a limited time so that you can learn!
So, why not always compress electric rhythm guitars? Here's the reasoning behind it:
Compressor pedals on pedalboards
Stay with me here folks...
the inherent compression aleady found in overdrive pedals
3. Guitar amplifiers can/will naturally compress a guitar signal. This is especially true of tube amps. One of the reasons for this is gain compression.
"A tube amplifier will increase in volume to a point, and then as the input signal extends beyond the linear range of the device, the effective gain is reduced, altering the shape of the waveform."
This effect is also present in transistor circuits. The extent of the effect though, depends on the topology of the amplifier. With the plethora of circuit topologies of guitar amplifiers, there can be other contributing factors of compression (like output transformers & etc), but I think you get the basic idea.
This is where stuff gets really fascinating.
Basically, when you take a device beyond its' normal tolerances, the signal will either be clipped, and/or the top-most part of its dynamic range will be compressed. Acoustic guitars will do this as well. Once you play an acoustic guitar loud enough, and beyond the point where it can effectively reproduce the sound, the soundboard of the guitar (top part where the bridge rests), will mechanically "stabilize" into a slimmer vibrational constant; thus giving the effect of compression.
A Vintage Article By: Malcolm Chisholm
Because of this, I was really into reading what engineers were doing in times passed. Along the way, this journey lead me to a colorful engineer by the name of Malcolm Chisholm - his discography and resume is an insane look into a brilliant, and sometimes controversial giant of an engineer. Most people either loved him, or thought he was nuts. But, anyone that would care to listen for a while, knew he was the real deal. Over the years, I have collected every thing I could find written by him. Here's one such article of the many I have!
We've been providing installation, consultation, mixing, and mastering services for 25 years. We have taught numerous conferences and workshops regarding live sound and recording.