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How to help a muddy guitar sound — part I
A mentee asks:
A person I’m working with really wants to have her electric tenor guitar on as many tracks as possible. I'm having an issue where the pickup in her guitar first of all makes a really quiet sound that I have to really crank the input gain on, and, secondly, is just muffled and muddy. I was able to improve it somewhat with trial & error in EQ & compression, but it doesn't hold a candle to what a good electric guitar tone should be.
Is there anything I can do to give her what she wants and have her tenor electric in these songs?
My first thought: it’s always a bit strange to me when someone insists on using an instrument that doesn’t sound that good. If it were me, I would probably be interested in probing that a bit further — if only because “fixing it in the mix” isn’t typically the best option.
But, also, sometimes people just want to use favorite instruments, for reasons that have nothing to do with how they sound! And I get that. So, with that in mind, here are some things you can try to help a muddy guitar:
Low shelving EQ: 250Hz, -6-ish dB (season to taste). Attenuate the mud!
HPF around the same place. Eliminate the mud! Whether this or the low shelf works better is situational; I usually try both and pick the one that sounds best to me.
Find a frequency that helps the instrument poke out, and boost it.
Add some distortion. I like Decapitator for this — typically I just click the Punish button and back the mix off to like 30-50% (again, season to taste). FabFilter Saturn also works great for this; try it in single-band mode.
Add an amp simulation! This is a variation on the above idea. Plugin Alliance bx_bassdude is a perennial favorite of mine for this; I also like Nembrini Audio’s amp emulations.
Use a transient designer to take some of the sustain out of the sound. This one is hit or miss, but can be cool every once in a while.
Working with what we have — jamie