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I'm using my trusty Ibanez S5470 (wonderful guitar, if a little weak in sustain due to its scant weight) to record some dry audio inputs to use for re-amping later, directly into my Focusrite Saffire 14 PRO FireWire interface, into my iMac and Logic.

I'm noticing that the tone of those dry recordings, when compared to others provided by other members of my team, is very "dull". It's difficult to quantify, and I initially assumed it was the strings that were at fault, but I've changed them and am experiencing the same difference with brand new strings.

It feels like when listening to other dry guitar inputs that they're starting off in a much healthier position than mine are (before the re-amping process begins) – crisper, clearer, brighter, with a more precise low-end, etc. I know that they weren't recorded through any EQ or compression, and that they weren't altered after recording.

I'm following the chain and I'm guessing the issues are either: my picks/picking/playing (feasible, since I use very thin picks, but not likely), my guitar or its pickups (they're not active and are kicking out a good output), the cable or interface (again, very unlikely), or some other unknown issue.

Anyone have any thoughts on what I might be able to do to get a better "base" dry sound to work with in this instance? I realise that it's quite a wide issue, but it's a specific thing I'm trying to do so hopefully that won't enrage the moderators too much :)

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In my opinion (and depending on how light a pick you use), a heavier pick can increase "brightness" to some extent. Probably not the whole picture. –  horatio Mar 5 '13 at 16:56
I assume you are using the Focusrite's Hi-Z inputs? High impedance is very important when direct-recording guitars with passive PUs; with too-low ohmic load their inductance makes a strongly damped low-pass filter, which always sounds in fact dull. –  leftaroundabout Mar 5 '13 at 21:26
Drivers. I've got an 18i20 and had the same problem. Latest drivers made a difference, but still not 100 per cent, and the only way to run it at its full 96 kHz is on beta drivers. –  mattskii Sep 28 '14 at 7:06

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Since another member of your team has achieved a suitable tone, I would try to analyze the situation by starting to a/b aspects of what he/she did with what you did. Experiments like:

  • You play your part through his/her rig,
  • Using the other guitar as a reference, try to match the tone with the pickup/tone/volume controls on your guitar.
  • Compare the various features of how your gear differs,
  • Allow him/her to play your part through his/her (or your) gear, etc.
  • Swap picks with the other player,
  • etc.

In the end, I think of it as sort of like trying to diagnose where noise is coming from; swaping component in/out until you've located the problem; except that in this case the players themselves may be part of the cause.

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Also, string gauge may be an issue. Don't rule out multiple issues too. –  filzilla Mar 5 '13 at 18:34

There are two possible culprits for what you are hearing. One less likely, the other more.

The less likely culprit is that your audio interface does not have enough impedance for a guitar. If that is the case, you will get a dull sound. Passive guitar pickups need to see an input impedance of about one million ohms or more. A significantly lower impedance than this will rob the signal of a resonant peak prior to the high frequency roll off (caused by the inductance of the pickup interacting with the instrument cable capacitance). The signal will lose its "chime". However, the Focusrite seems like a decent unit that should have decent instrument inputs. (Though the web spec however, is silent on the matter of input impedance of the instrument inputs, the text assures us that "[T]wo Hi-Z instrument inputs let you plug straight in[.]".

The more likely culprit is simply that what you're hearing is in fact the unfiltered tone of the electric guitar. Electric guitar pickups sound "dry". They have a strong bass and midrange response, up to some corner frequency after which the response rolls off at 12 dB per octave.

Guitar amplifier makers realized this from the early beginning, and so they built tone control circuits which gut the midrange, and boost high frequencies. For instance the classic "Fender style" tone stack cuts out midrange and boosts highs when the controls appear to all be at "twelve o'clock".

Furthermore, not only does the tone control implement a "smile curve" EQ, but so does the power section of a tube amplifier, because of the way the output impedance interacts with the speaker. Solid-state guitar amplifiers often incorporate a similar response in the power section and modeling amplifiers probably do this as part of the amp model, before the power amplifier.

So, to make a long story short, if you hear the raw signal captured by your instrument input, you're missing some two stages of mid-cut/high-boost, as well as the contribution of a speaker cabinet and room ambience.

Other people's completely dry, unequalized guitar tone recordings may sound better to you because, perhaps, the guitars being used have brighter pickups which capture more high end. High output passive humbuckers designed "shred" music usually do not have a well-defined clean tone.

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Note that "smile curve" is a quite simplified description on what goes on in a guitar amp. If you implement such a curve through a generic EQ, you're likely to end up with a muddy, interference-laden sound without much power in the mix. For a proper tube-amp sound, you always need to consider the complex nonlinear distortion effects as well, and the response of the cabinet itself. Effectively, this often boosts the midrange and cuts away even more highs; but the result still won't sound dull because of the nonlinear excitation effects etc.. –  leftaroundabout Oct 5 '13 at 9:23
Definitely agree with @leftaroundabout. There's enough of V-curved guitar tracks out there. –  Meaningful Username Apr 9 '14 at 22:51
@leftaroundabout That may well be so, but there is nothing in the question about tube amps or cabinets; just comparing dry recorded sounds. EQ will improve a dry recorded guitar sound relative to one that isn't EQ'd, and the EQ that will almost certainly be required is a "frown curve". –  Kaz Apr 10 '14 at 1:04
That is to say, maybe the dry tones that the OP is comparing his tone to probably do not sound great (like a recorded tube amplifier in a nice sounding hall or whatever); they sound better than what he's getting. The answer is an attempt from that angle, anyway. –  Kaz Apr 10 '14 at 1:07

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