Recently I've been running into brick walls with mixing distorted rhythm guitars. It seems that whatever I do the tone is either indistinct/muddy, fizzy, wimpy or over-processed.

Approaches tried (and failed):

  • Mixing in mono - I generally swear by this technique and it works well enough - for other instruments,
  • Sweep-and-cut - good for finding nasty resonant noise, but I find myself in a situation where applying a narrow notch gets rid of the resonance but makes the entire tone sound squashed, flat and generally over-processed, while getting rid of it means I'm suddenly hearing the resonant dirt twice as loud as before,
  • Dialing back the distortion - I'm aware that too much distortion washes out over all frequencies and kills the articulation of both the guitars and everything else, but cleaning up leads to a wimpy sound - not at all what I'm after,
  • Reamping - instead of getting one displeasing tone, I seem to end up with tens to choose from, none of which sound better than what I started with. To clarify, I am recording a completely unprocessed signal for this purpose.

Note: I am EQing in the mix at all times.

I suspect the fact that I'm playing in C# slack tuning is an issue - but an unavoidable one, given the material.

"Have a great tone coming in and do minimal EQ" is not really an answer, because if I did, I wouldn't be asking this question. Right now, the best I can do is sorta-kinda get what I want, hoping to chisel it into something that works in the mix.

I'm not looking for a canned solution along the lines of "this curve is quaranteed to work", because I know they don't exist. Rather, I would like to know whether there's a better way than trial-and-(mostly) error.

  • It isn't entirely clear if your "reamping" bullet point implies that in all cases listed you are recording dry signal and then applying distortion. If that is the case, then when you mention ducking EQ etc, is this before or after (both?) distortion? Also, do you have access to a piezo setup where the soundbox resonance will not be so prominent?
    – Yorik
    Sep 26, 2017 at 20:52
  • Afaik your second to last paragraph is the way of the world. Get it close during recording or you're going to be carving for hours and still not be happy. Note that you can't EQ in isolation. The EQ should serve the mix, not the guitar sound. The bigger the mix, the worse the different tracks usually sound when soloed. Sep 26, 2017 at 22:36
  • @Yorik Edited to clarify. Soundbox resonance isn't the issue, because it's a solid body.
    – user321
    Sep 27, 2017 at 4:35
  • @ToddWilcox Oh, I am EQing in the mix (added note to that effect). As for getting a good sound when recording: doesn't that simply push the matter back a step? I'm already reamping, so in practice I am dialing the tone while mixing. An approach to setting up such a good sound would be an answer - given that amp/effect setup and mic placement is EQ, in a way. Otherwise, I'm stuck with "if you have a good sound that works in the mix you won't have to adjust it any more". I know that. It isn't very helpful.
    – user321
    Sep 27, 2017 at 4:41
  • Perhaps if you can post a sample of the whole mix we could give specific advice. Since each mix is different, how could anyone possibly know what your mix needs on any instrument? In terms of getting a good sound going in, that takes years of experience and practice, IME. An approach might be, decide the order of importance of each instrument, make the most important one big and tall, and make each less important one progressively smaller. Usually only a couple tracks can have a lot of low end. The more other tracks the less low end they can have. Sep 27, 2017 at 11:08

1 Answer 1


C♯ slacktuning will be a contributor to the problem: for rhythm guitar rather than lead guitar, distortion can only be applied quite moderately or the chords get muddied out. Instead of an actual distortion pedal, one rather tends to use the right pickups (close to bridge) in order to get "hard" harmonics to start with and then puts in a modestly amount of distortion via the amp.

Slack tuning cuts down considerably on the harmonic content particularly of the attack. Maybe EQ a larger amount of high frequencies back in before applying distortion? Or even split off high frequencies and amplify/distort only them? Or try other schemes of band-specific distortion (which muddies the chord relations less than global distortion)?

  • +1 This does reflect my experiences to date and the pre-distortion EQ/crossover distortion techniques look very interesting.
    – user321
    Sep 27, 2017 at 4:45

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