We’ve all been there: you dial in your brilliant tone, forecast the soaring solo section, engineer the underlying rhythm parts, and then, you settle in to jamming with your band and the inevitable happens. Your carefully curated dynamics and tone disappear in the mix. Sadly, one of the main culprits in this battle for a space in the EQ range is often the other six-string counterpart in the ensemble. You’re trying to build something together, yet it’s all too easy to muddle one another’s sound. What’s the fix to this timeless struggle?
As Dan & Mick explored this week, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to retaining your character and contributions when playing with another guitarist. There are, however, a number of strategies you can deploy during practice or a gig to ensure your guitar parts shine through to create a sound that is bigger, bolder, and better for the both of you.
Add Texture to Similar Rhythm Parts Rather than Mimic Patterns
Unless you’re in a band that intentionally orchestrates unison guitar parts, having two guitarists lay down the same material is most often an opportunity lost. In addition to this, unless the two of you are twins with identical minds and muscle memory, chances are your strumming and chop patterns will be out of sync. This makes for an easy distraction in sonic structure.
As Dan recommended, the most basic but brilliant way to enhance a core rhythm part is to layer either chord inversions or capo chords atop the foundational part. This approach means the two parts are differentiated yet built in a common direction. To do this successfully also requires a bit of planning and a pre-gig conversation. So figure out who’s playing what and join forces to make for epic tag-team rhythm lines.
EQ Matters: Abandon the Mid Range in the Live Setting
As Mick commented, it is almost inevitable that the sounds played at home won’t translate exactly to the gig setting. Planning to be flexible and leveraging strategies to adapt your sound on stage will mean enhanced guitar representation in the mix. As Mick commented, rather than jockeying for volume, some simple EQ contouring can go a long way. “When I’m playing here [in the studio] I’ll set up a sound I like. Then when I go to the gig and in the first four bars of the first song I turn the bass down, treble up, and the presence and bright switch on in order to cut through the symbols and all the rest of it.”
In any live setting, the competition for mid-range frequency real estate is massive. This is naturally where the guitar sits. When you multiply that by two, it becomes all the more important to shape and refine your sound to come out front. If your amp doesn’t have the onboard features to press through the mix, an EQ pedal can help refine your place in the spectrum.
Develop Different Distortion Dynamics
We’re all used to stacking overdrive pedals to develop a custom gain sound. However, thinking about gain characteristics of the two guitars can be a way of separating out your sounds in the mix.
As Dan & Mick demonstrated, if both players are dialed in with a similar mid-scooped overdrive sound, neither gets heard. This confusion is compounded further if the guitarists are using similar guitar and amp typologies. To resolve this, Dan prescribed building intentionally different and diverse gain structures for the two parts so they either sit apart or one functions as a foundation for the other. In their example, Mick played a mid-range type drive on the Keeley D&M Drive while Dan set a fuzzy foundation beneath with a supporting riff. In short, if you want to get heard in the mix more overdrive might not be the answer — it might be what you need is less similar styles of gain.
Introduce Modulation to Rhythm Sections
Modulation doesn’t have to be left only for interludes or ambient sounds. As Dan emphasized, laying down some washy chorus or a lightly soaring flanger on rhythm sections is an excellent way of extending the range of the guitar parts, diversifying arrangements, and tightening up the bottom end frequencies. “It’s a great way of just making everything pop. For me it’s also a way of really making the guitar parts part of the overall rhythm section.” For Dan, this tactic was particularly relevant for playing beneath solo. As a subset to this, Dan & Mick both demonstrated how a splash of vibrato or tremolo on one of two rhythm parts was also ideal for expanding rhythm progressions and riffs. The result here was a bit of movement to the overall sonic structure.
If you need some new tools to tinker on your band’s gigging dynamics, head over to Riff City either online or instore for everything you need to pop out in front of the mix.
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars: Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster.
Dan’s Pedalboard: Sonic Research ST-300 Turbo Tuner Mini, JAM Pedals Rattler, Analog Man Mini Bad Bob Booster, Frederic Effects Dresden Synth Fuzz, Boss VB-2W Vibrato, Hartman Analog Flanger, Keeley D&M Drive, Analog Man King of Tone, Analog Man ARDX 20 Dual Analog Delay & Amazeo, Red Panda Tensor, TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up.
Mick’s Pedalboard: Boss TU-3S Tuner, Analog Man Sun Face BC183 Fuzz, Mythos Pedals Argo Octave Fuzz, Kingtone The Duellist, Klon Centaur, Boss DC-2W Dimension C; Dawnder Prince Boonar, Analog Man ARDX Dual Analog Delay & Amazeo, Neo Instruments Mini Vent II.
Amps: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III with standard speaker, Sovtek MIG-50 with Custom Bob Burt 1×12/Celestion Alnico Cream speaker.