Kit Tang Reveals Secrets Behind His Guitar Rig Rundown on "The Voice of Belief"
What's going on guys? This is Kit Tang. Welcome back to my page!!!
I have been asked on facebook and youtube about how I get my sound for my recordings. So I decided to write about it in detail and share to you guys. Honestly, there are no secrets behind. In the recording situation, I use both amp simulator and real amps. In this article, I am going to show you how I setup the lead tone on my song "The Voice of Belief" released on Jamtrackcentral.com "20 Uplifting Rock Ballad Licks" with my favorite amp-sim Native Instruments Guitar Rig4. If you are using a newer/older version, that is totally fine as long as you understand the principles.
From my experience and years of experimenting in the studio, to have a killer guitar tones no matter with amp simulator or miking a real amp could be a headache and it could really take times. First I have to tell you that it is NOT just adding many effect/pedals on the signal chain. DON'T do that unless you really know what you are doing.
The key to creating a great tone is to truly understand Signal Flow, Frequency Spectrum, Dynamic Control, Stereo Imaging and Depth of Field. And of course...good sound always start from the source - your GUITAR.
PRO TOOLS SESSION DOWNLOAD
DIGI 96 I/O Audio Interface (Red), API 3124+ Mic Preamp (Blue).
My basic hardware signal flow:
Guitar (Suhr Standard Pro) -> Tuner (TC electronic Polytune) -> Mic Preamp (API 3124+) -> Audio Interface (Digi 96 I/O) -> Pro Tools on Mac -> Monitor Controller (Coleman Audio QS8) -> monitor (Adam S2A)
EL8-X Distressor Compressor x2 (Green), Coleman Audio QS8 Studio Monitor Controller (Yellow).
My Pro Tools setup and some tips:
I have been using Pro Tools for a while since version6.0. and still, it is the best DAW I would recommend you to work with.
I use Pro Tools 8 HD system, the audio interface I am using is separately from my mic preamps. For recording purpose, having an outboard compressor inserted after your mic preamp but before your interface can be a life saver. You will create much more headroom by tame the peaks, bring up the quiet parts, and get a big guitar sound before the signal reach your DAW. However, not many audio interfaces have insert I/O in the back, so I'm not going use outboard compressor now. For a home studio, you will use interfaces with built-in preamps like Focusrite's Scarlett 18i20, UA's Apollo Twin Solo and etc.
Before we go to the guitar rig settings, one thing you need to keep in mind that you should ask yourself what your ideal guitar tone sounds like before you try to dial the knobs.
Remember how the amp sounds (without pedals and effects) = 80% of the sound you want.
It's just like buying an amp, you'll pick the one that can produce the sound you want. If you are a metal guy, you would definitely choose something like Randall, Peavey or Engl type of amps rather than a Vox AC30. Many people just care about getting more distortion by adding many pedals and ignore the characteristic of the amp.
So let's start and I will walk through all the settings step by step in detail with you!!
The first thing you want to do is to create a Stereo Master Fader if you are using Pro Tools. Always keep your eyes on the buss meter.
Set the "Buffer Size" as low as possible to reduce latency under Setup>Playback Engine.
Get the right preamp level before you insert Guitar Rig. Create a mono Aux track and then assign the corresponding input from your guitar. I usually hit the guitar strings real hard at full Vol and Tone to get the level at about -6dB.
Remember you should create a MONO Aux track and insert Guitar Rig in STEREO.
Use new guitar strings and try guitar picks with different thickness to enhance clarity. I use PLANETWAVES Duralin 1.50mm pick.
Fig.1 Here you can see (from the left to right) 5 Auxiliary tracks with Guitar Rig inserted (Blue, Pink, and Orange), another Aux track with a compressor (Yellow), Master Fader (Red), and 4 other Aux tracks for Delay and Reverb (Green).
(Blue): Clean Tone (Pink): Low Gain Tone (Orange): Lead Tone (3 orange channels should be ON simultaneously)
Basic Clean Tone (Blue channel on fig.1)
As you can see the setup is really simple. A TWANG REVERB (Fender Twin Reverb) -> Vintage 4x12 cabinet. In the "Control Room" panel, I mixed 5 mics together, 3 in the center and 2 panned slightly to the left and right. The "Air" control adds some room space to the sound. And I added a tiny bit of reverb at the end of the rack.
Sometimes I turn on the "Bright" switch on rhythm session to make it easier to cut through the mix.
You should use the Amp EQ, mix and match different cabs and mics, or adjust the BASS/TREBLE knobs on the "Control Room" panel before adding an equalizer.
Low Gain Tone (Pink channel on fig.1)
For low gain, I use JUMP (Marshall JMP) with a Vintage 4x12 cab. 2 mics in the center and 2 other mics panned slightly to the left and right. This amp has the sound that I wanted, but it is a bit muddy on the low strings on my guitar when I try to get more drive. So instead, I reduced the drive on the amp and added the red TREBLE BOOSTER pedal (Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster) which helps to maintain the clarity on low strings.
Lead Tone (This is the setting I used on my JTC release "The Voice of Belief")
My lead tone setting is different from the 2 previously. It is a 4 amps setup. (The 3 Orange channels on fig.1)
"HG JUMP" (the Orange channel in the middle in fig.1)
Let me begin with the one in the middle (HG JUMP) which is the main sound of my lead tone, (Mid Gain) is a thick creamy tone, (HG Stereo) is a stereo dual amp set up.
I have my guitar going into the SKREAMER (Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer) followed by JUMP (Marshall JMP) with the same cabinet as my low gain setting. I used the Tube Screamer to add extra distortion. Compare to the red box that I used previously, this green box sounds fatter with more mid boost. For microphones, 1 in the center and 2 panned slightly to the left and right.
I put a very cool delay box PSYCHEDELAY (Eventide H3000) on the rack but it's for another purpose so I had it bypassed.
"Mid Gain" (the Orange channel on the left in fig.1)
"Mid Gain" is the second layer of my lead tone. It is a thick creamy sound for supporting the low-end. I keep it at a lower volume just enough to thicken my main sound otherwise it makes the whole thing very muddy. HOTPLEX (Marshall Plexi 1987) with a BRITISH 2x12 cabinet is one of my favorite combination on GR4. Added extra distortion with SLEDGEHAMMER (Marshall Jackhammer JH-1) which gives more sustain and saturated fat to the sound. One mic in the center and two panned slightly to the left and right. At the bottom, I put delay and reverb to create depth of field to the sound, so you'll hear it slightly behind my main sound, not In-Your-Face.
Okay, now we have a decent lead sound. It sounded great and full in the center. However, It's a bit too narrow, as a lead tone for instrument music I want it to sound wider to fill up the stereo image. Besides panning the mics in the "Control Room" So I added a stereo dual amp setup "HG Stereo" to maximize the width. Guitar Rig's Splitter is a powerful Tool lets you create your own user-defined signal paths.
Split A of "HG Stereo" (the Orange channel on the right in fig.1)
Split A: GAIN BOOSTER -> ULTRASONIC (Bogner Uberschall) -> Matched Cabinet
Split B: SKREAMER -> GRATIFIER (Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier) -> Matched Cabinet
I chose 2 very aggressive amps. You might notice that I cranked up the "Boost" and "Drive" on the pedal instead of the Gain on the amp. This can help to maintain the clarity on low strings.
Split B of "HG Stereo" (the Orange channel on the right in fig.1)
In order to make it sounds real wide, you want to pan both amps to the hard left and hard right on SPLIT MIX. And the key is to make 2 amps just slightly out of phase to each other by mixing and matching amps or moving MIC A/B fader. This could trick your ears to think that it's wider. You can do the same thing by delaying one side about 6-12ms, but you have to insert the delay plugin outside Guitar Rig, otherwise, the delay boxes in Guitar Rig will do only send/return which is just adding effect instead of delaying the signal. Also, you can choose to have either A or B louder by moving the fader on SPLIT MIX.
So now we have guitar rig set up and ready. The next stage is COMPRESSION. (With Real Amp, I always have a compressor BEFORE amp, and so do most other guitar players.)
Dynamic Control (GTR COMP, the Yellow channel in fig.1)
Waves Renaissance Compressor
Compressor Control Basics:
Release Mode - "ARC" (Auto Release Control): You set the overall release time and the ARC varies from that point depending on the input signal. "Manual" is fully manual.
Since I use the same compression setting on all 3 different amps, I just set the overall release time and let the ARC do the rest of the job.
Compression Behavior - "Opto": The release time gets slower as the gain reduction is approaching back to 0dB. "Electro" is the inverse.
I usually use "Opto" on guitar to add smoother characteristics to the signal and it softens the attack and release.
Character - "Smooth": Keeping the sound as close as possible to the original without adding harmonic. "Warm" adds low frequency when applying more reduction.
For guitar, I don’t want to have extra low freq.
Threshold: It sets the level at which the compression effect is engaged. Only the level passes above the threshold will be compressed. For example, if the threshold level is set to -12dB, only signal peaks above -12dB will be compressed. When the level is lower than -12dB, no compression will be applied.
It really depends on the level of the signal goes into the compressor, so you might adjust it differently. I feel comfortable to have 3-6db attenuation.
Attack: How fast the compression kicks in.
Release: How long it takes to get back to normal.
For example, you set the threshold level to -12dB, attack 2ms, release 250ms. It means the signal will be compressed 2ms after when it passes above -12dB and the compression ends after 250ms.
Ratio: This parameter defines the amount of attenuation to be applied to the signal. For example, a ratio of 2:1 indicates that a signal exceeding the threshold by 10dB will be reduced down to 5db above the threshold.
I personally don’t like to have too much compression on guitar. I use it more like a level booster. I set it Fast attack and release and ratio starting from 3:1. If you want to have more sustain, set it to a higher ratio like 5:1, Fast attack, and Slow release.
Gain: Output level. Some other compressor named it "output" or "makeup".
Since I am using the compressor as a booster, so I have the output louder than the original sound.
* Please note that Renaissance Compressor uses a soft-knee, so the compression starts with signals 3 dB lower than the threshold.
Depth of Field:
In modern music, one of our main goals is to create a very pleasing and emotional listening experience to the audiences. In terms of mixing, Width, and Depth play the important role. We already created width by planning microphones and using multiple amps. Next, we want to create a sense of depth with Reverberation and Delay.
I use different reverb settings on every single song depending on the mood of the song and instrumentations. Sometimes you want to have your guitar more in-the-face, sometimes you want it to lean back more like blending into the music. Really, there is no rule, it's all about personal taste.
I used multiple reverb set up on the tune "The Voice of Belief". I sent the copy of the guitar signal from "GTR COMP" to 3 different reverb Aux channels "Plate", "Room", and "Lg Hall". On real amp, you need extra tools because you usually see only one send/return in the back.
Plate: Adding an audible tail to the guitar while it seems to become part of the guitar sound but doesn’t have the depth of a hall reverb, this tail will disappear into the mix much easier than the tail of hall reverb.
Room: Adding realism to the sound, gives a real sense of being there in a room with an amp in it. Large.
Hall: To fill out the back of the mixing, adding depth without crowding the foreground.
In standard definition, Early Reflections are sounds that arrive at the listener after being reflected maybe once or twice from surfaces like walls, ceiling, and floor. The early reflections give your brain the idea about the size of a room, the sense of distance of sounds in a room. They arrive later than the direct sound in a range from around 5 to 100ms.
(However, some of the world best reverb units companies like Lexicon and Quantec have arguments against it.)
Most of reverb plug-ins recreate the Early-Ref. by using a bunch of taps off a delay line with some kind of feedback to keep it going.
Waves RVerb "Plate Reverb"
Plate Reverb is a manmade/artificial device that implements a metal plate that vibrates when a sound wave strikes the surface. It is not manipulating the spaces of ambiance like room and hall reverb. Plate reverbs tend to sound very dense and bright which is good for guitar. It adds a tail that almost become a part of the guitar sound naturally.