How to make your guitars sound bigger... a lesson learned

First thing first, before I get into what I learned today. I double track my guitars, two different amps, two different cabs, two different mics, two different pedal chains, and I hard pan them left and right. They generally end up sounding really big.

The lesson I learned today, though, is this one… If you want your guitars to sound even bigger, turn down the vocal. What?

I was setting up for my live stream today, as I do most of the time, but I’ve been thinking that my vocal was a little loud for a while. So I stuck a vca fader on it (it’s heavily automated), and dropped it down 3db. Checked it, seemed fine.

During the stream, I asked another recording friend what he thought about how it sounded, and he said, “the guitars sound bigger.”


I think two things happen - one - my vocal and much of my guitar take up a lot of the same frequency range, so if I drop the vocal some, there’s obviously more room for the guitar, but I think it also probably had some effect on how the limiter on the master buss affected the material.

Anyway, my vocal is where I want it (I think, for this week, at least), and the guitars apparently sound bigger, which, for what I do, is music to my ears.


If you want to hear the difference for yourself…

From two days ago…

From today (after the change) (click ahead about 9 minutes 40 seconds to hear the same song as the first song in the other vid)


I’m listening on tiny speakers, but I think you have a win-win in that case. I think the vocals sit a little better in the mix now anyway :wink:

It’s funny, I was actually listening to some early 90’s grunge stuff this last week just to reminisce a bit, and I was taken back a bit by how buried the vocals felt to me. It made me think similarly how they were really focused more on that big grungy sound more than concerning themselves with making sure the lyrics were clearly understood.
Anyway, sounding great!

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I agree. It’s such a challenge to mix yourself live. Record, listen, tweak, record, listen, tweak. And then play it live, listen back, tweak again.

Hi @Mark.Fassett Good to hear from you again! That’s a big guitar sound you have there!..

…yes, you’ve really honed in on an essential mixing maxim - that of contrast. Without small, you can’t have big; without dull you can’t have bright; without narrow, you can’t have wide.

This guy highlights this over-riding concept:

In a mix, I call this concept “proportion”. I’ve mentioned it a few times in mix critiques here eg:

There is even more to it than just level - EQ and compression are a big part of the puzzle too. In your mix, dropping your vocal in level worked because it was already very compressed, and the tone of your voice and the range in which you were singing already created good separation from the guitar.

In many cases, when a mixer simply drops the level of a vocal, the vocal intelligibility disappears under the instrumental backing, so eq and compression need to be summoned (often quite aggressively) in order to keep the lyrics understandable.

Nice example of the concept in action! :+1:

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@ColdRoomStudio Thanks for that post! Definitely a concept which I’ve been struggling to define for myself (and some friends of mine). And that video you linked was great. On my rhythm guitars, most of the time, I don’t put any reverb on them, but I put a ton of reverb and delay on my vocals and on leads, and I put some on drums, too. I definitely grew up musically in the early '90s :slight_smile:. Bass & guitars turned up, drums and vocals less so, because if everything is loud, nothing is. I wish I’d seen that video ten years ago, though. It took me years and years to kind of figure out what I was aiming for, and how to get there.

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