by Metal Mastermind

November 18, 2020

post processing for metal guitars

So, you’ve got your metal rhythm guitar tracks recorded. It took a few days of relentless days in the studio tweaking your amp settings and getting your performances tight.

But when you playback the full mix, something’s still not quite right. Maybe your guitar tracks have too much low end or high end, or maybe you hear too many uneven spots in those tracks.

That’s because there’s one more step that’s needed to make your rhythm guitar tracks sit better in the mix.

This step is called post processing. And this is where you need to make some adjustments to those tracks in your DAW.

The good news is this does not have to be an overwhelming process. And in this post, I’m going to show you exactly what you need and how to use what you already have to make your rhythm guitars sound awesome in the mix.

The caveat (and the cool part) here is this guide is for recording your guitars with a real amp!

In a world of perfect and robotic sounding music, we’re going old school here and recording guitars a real amp with a real cabinet miked up with a real microphone.

And I can feel those chill bumps of excitement you have…because there’s just nothing like the tone of a real amp!

Why You Need Post Processing

Now, you may be thinking:

‘My amp settings and tone were perfect during recording, so why do I need post-processing?’

This is why you need post-processing on your rhythm guitar tracks:

When you’re recording guitars, specifically with a real amp, you’re going to produce frequencies that may clash with frequencies from some of the other instruments in the mix.

For example, some of those low palm mutes and riffs may be producing low-end frequencies that are competing with similar frequencies that the bass guitar and kick drum are producing.

Or your rhythm tracks may have some high-end frequencies that need to be reduced. And that could be clashing with cymbals (no pun intended there!).

Of course, you probably didn’t hear these issues when you were recording your initial rhythm guitars. That’s normal. This is simply part of the process of recording, making those final tweaks to your mix (not just to the guitar tracks, but to other instruments and vocals as well).

And don’t fret (ah, another pun!) – if you got everything right prior to this, like your amp settings and mic placement you will have to do minimal post-processing to these tracks.

If you’d like to learn some cool tips on getting a good metal tone fo recording with a real amp, be sure to check out this post: Recording with a Real Amp

The Only 2 Post Processing Plugins You Need

I told you this was going to be simple, right? I’m going to share the only two plugins that you really need for the post-processing of your guitar tracks.

Even better, you don’t have to buy anything new. You already have these plugins in your DAW.

  1. Compressor plugin
  2. EQ plugin

You’ll also place these plugins in that order. The compressor is first followed by the EQ plugin. The reason for this you want to compress that raw track first before making any adjustments to the EQ.

MONEY SAVING TIP: There are premium plugins that you can purchase from manufacturers like Waves, Slate Digital, UAD, iZotope, Native Instruments Komplete, and several others.

But we recommend starting out with the plugins that come with your DAW. Learn how to properly use these plugins first. Because more expensive plugins are not going to do much for you if you’re not familiar with how to use them.

And more than likely, you’re going to find that the plugins in your DAW will do the trick for your rhythm guitars.

Metal Mastermind just saved you some money!

Compare Rhythm Guitars With and Without Post-Processing

Here’s the Metal Mastermind video for metal rhythm guitar post-processing. You’ll hear several samples of guitars with and without these plugins, as well as how both sound in the full mix.

How a Compressor Plugin Works and Settings

In layman’s terms, a compressor works by bringing up the lower levels and calming down the higher levels of your track. In essence, it makes your track smoother.

With guitars, specifically metal rhythms, you’re going to typically have a lot of ups and downs. This comes from the palm muting, alternate picking, and overall aggressiveness of playing metal and the nuances captured during the recording process.

You’re necessarily altering your tone here. You’re just making the tracks even. And that’s what will make your entire mix sound better.

Here are some basic compressor settings to start with for metal rhythm guitar tracks:

  • Threshold: -8 dB
  • Ratio: 2:1
  • Attack: 1.0 ms
  • Release: 50.0 ms

PRO TIP: When you drag your DAW’s compressor plugin into your track, look to see if there’s a preset setting for rock or metal guitar (or guitar, in general).

Much of the time, this preset will work just fine for your guitar tracks.

EQ Plugin for Your Rhythm Guitar Tracks

Compressor plugin for rhythm guitars

Once you place your compressor in the track, you may only need to make some adjustments with an EQ plugin. And there are usually only two things you’ll need to do:

  1. Roll off the low-end
  2. Possibly roll off some of the high-end

The low end is usually where the issues can be heard. And even more so if you’re guitars are downtuned or if you’re using a seven or eight string. Those lower notes will naturally produce lower frequencies.

In short, you want to leave plenty of room for the instruments that are supposed to cover those low frequencies, like the bass guitar and kick drum. If you’re guitar tone is competing with those, your mix will sound muddy.

Some rhythm guitars can have that high, almost fizzy sound. Especially if you recorded your amp with the mic placed closer to the cone of the speaker.

In that case, you may need to roll off the high-end frequencies. This will prevent your guitar tracks from, as mentioned earlier, clashing with the frequencies that come from the cymbals, and in some cases, the vocals.

PRO TIP: In some cases, you may not even need an EQ plugin. So make sure you listen closely to your mix after adding the compressor plugin to your rhythm tracks.

Then you can drop in an EQ plugin and make whatever adjustments you feel need to be made. But then go back and compare the tracks with and without the EQ plugin.

From there, you can make an educated decision of whether your guitar tracks need that additional EQ.

Make Studio Life Easier with a Bus

I personally record two rhythm guitar tracks and hard pan each one. This brings more life and an organic vibe to your guitars.

You may even record more tracks than that. And that’s fine.

But you may be wondering if it’s necessary to add those post-processing plugins to all of your guitar tracks. And what if you decide to change a setting on, let’s say, your EQ plugin for a track? Now you have to go into every other tack and make that adjustment, right?

Fortunately, there’s an easier way…

You can use what’s called a bus for your rhythm guitar plugins. And no I’m not talking about the cheese wagon that you rode to school on.

A bus allows you to create a track just for those plugins. From there, you can assign any track in your studio to use that bus. If you need to make an adjustment to the plugin settings, you simply make it in that bus and it’s applied to all of the tracks that are routed to that bus. Simple and easy.

That’s just a huge time-saver if you didn’t already know about it.

Every DAW is a little different but I’m sure there’s a YouTube video for your specific DAW to show you how to use a bus.

Metal Rhythm Guitars in the Mix

Now you have everything you need to get an awesome rhythm guitar sound in the mix. This is going to allow you guitars to standout while also leaving room for the other instruments to be heard.

It will also add more clarity to your guitar notes. The last thing you want is to pull off those amazing riffs during the recording process only for them to sound muddy in the mix. All you need is some slight post-processing.

I hope this tutorial helps you! Now go record your guitar tracks and start mixing!

Horns Up,

Jason Stallworth
Metal Mastermind

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