7 Tips for Mixing Guitars

by Phillip Nichols, iZotope Contributor

January 18, 2018

In part one of this four-part series, we focused on the versatility of Neutron 2 for mixing vocals. In part two, we’re using Neutron as an all-in-one dynamics processing tool for guitars. In parts three and four, we’ll be going through tips on using Neutron 2 for bass and drums.

So check out the video, and read the tips below (plus three tips that aren’t in the video).

A word to the wise: these tips aren’t sequential, so feel free to bounce around when trying them.

1. Use width control for a wider guitar sound

Sometimes you or the artist wish that a guitar would sound wider. If only one mic was used on it, it isn’t going to be that way. Even some stereo mic setups yield a narrow sound. Sometimes you only have a stereo mix of guitars rather than individual guitar tracks.

Regardless of the situation, a fast and simple tweak is via the Width slider in Neutron 2. It’s not flashy; in fact, you might easily overlook it. In the image below, Neutron 2 has been inserted on a submix of multiple mandolins. Look hard and you’ll see that the none of Neutron’s modules are active. Only the Width control—the small slider beneath the input meter—is in use. A quick swipe to the right and things really open up!

Image 2-Width


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2. Run Track Assistant on submixes

When dealing with guitar submixes, you’re presented with a complex combination of frequencies, positioning, and dynamics. When you need some direction, Neutron 2’s Track Assistant can get you started after a few basic questions.

As shown in the image below, the Track Assistant lets you choose the core sound that you’re after.

Image 7a-TA Step 1

Track Assistant Step 1

As you play the track, it analyzes the audio and configures the various modules and parameters within the plug-in according to the information specified in the previous step.

Image 7b-TA Step 2

Track Assistant Step 2

Once that process is complete, you can look through the modules it activated and see how it applied various processes (the Equalizer as configured by the Track Assistant is pictured below). If you like the new tone, take time to review how each module was modified. If it isn’t what you were after, try the Track Assistant again with different specifications or adjust the modules and settings manually!

Image 7c-TA Step 3

Track Assistant Step 3

3. Use Transient Shaper to modify pick attack

When playing acoustic and electric guitars, the intensity of the attack is influenced by many factors including the properties of the pick, the gauge, age, and material of the strings, pickup selection, playing technique, and more. That’s all before relevant elements in the recording chain such as microphone selection and placement, preamps, and compression.

If the attack is overpowering and distracting or is too subtle and soft, try using the Transient Shaper in Neutron 2 to adjust it. Unlike most envelope shaping plug-ins, it is capable of three independent bands for separate envelope control in different frequency zones. Knowing that pick attack is normally in mid to high frequencies, you might want to leave the lows and low-mids alone. In the image below, note a few important parameters:

  • Although the first and third bands are enabled, the first one is bypassed

  • The crossover point has been placed at about 2.6 kHz to allow the third band to impact only the upper-mid and high frequencies

  • The Contour shape has been set to Medium for general use

  • The Envelope Mode has been set to Balanced for quick attack and medium release (not as fast as Precise, but faster than Loose)

  • The Attack gain is set to -7 dB to make distracting attack more subtle (though you gain could be increased to make the attack more prominent)

  • The colored line superimposed over the waveform shows the gain adjustment applied by the Transient Shaper in real time

Image 1-Transient Shaper

Transient Shaper

4. Use Dynamic EQ to tame unruly notes

Guitarists hop around the fretboard like it’s made of lava; they never stay in one spot for very long. As they’re moving up and down the neck playing their fingers off, some instruments produce drastically different levels. Sometimes, it’s a zone of just one or two frets on the low string that yields a noticeably louder sound and with more low-end than sounds appropriate.

Neutron 2’s Dynamic EQ allows you to control those resonant low frequencies without removing them throughout the entire performance.

The image below shows the Equalizer in Neutron 2 with Band 1 set to attenuate a narrow frequency band centered around 100 Hz, where a particular note is a little out of control. Since it is in Dynamic Mode with its sidechain assigned to the same frequencies, it only attenuates those frequencies when there is an a sharp increase in the level of them.

Image 4-MultiBand EQ

Multiband EQ

5: Use Multiband Exciter to add body and presence

Thin, wimpy distorted guitars can ruin what should be powerful rock riffs. Many guitarists and engineers pine for the low-end magic of analog tape and the midrange harmonics of tubes. Not only does the Exciter in Neutron 2 offer different styles of harmonic emphasis (tape, tube, and more), it also offers them independently for each band!

The following image shows band 1 applying 4.4 dB of tape-style saturation to the low frequencies below 126 Hz, while band 2 is adding 3.3 dB of tube-style saturation to the mids between 126 Hz and 5.62 kHz.

Image 3-MultiBand Exciter

Multiband Exciter

6. Use Filter and Exciter to soften harsh highs

In the world of direct recording and amp simulations, acoustic and electric guitars often come out sounding brittle and unnaturally harsh in the top end. However, if you simply cut some highs, the tone can become too dull. Using Neutron 2, you can gently filter out some high frequencies and use the slightly mellower tone to feed the creation of more musically-pleasing harmonics.

In the first image below, the Equalizer is set to do nothing more than reduce some high frequencies via the low-pass filter. In the second image, the Exciter is placed after the Equalizer and utilizes the third band to add some harmonic excitation blended between tube and tape styles.

Image 5a-Filter


Image 5b-Exciter


7. Use Multiband Gate to tame a roomy sound

In the increasingly common scenario where recordings are made in acoustically untreated rooms such as places with tile, concrete, and other reflective surfaces, unwanted room sound may present a problem, especially after strong staccato chords. Room ambience is most distracting to the listener when it is bright. So, why not use Neutron 2’s Gate in multiband mode to lower the level of the upper-mid and high frequencies in the spaces between notes?

The following image displays the Neutron 2 Gate configured for a mandolin. Notice that band 1 is bypassed, but bands 2 and 3 are active. Band 3 is set to attenuate the high frequencies a little bit faster than band 2 will attenuate the mids. This is because high frequencies typically decay faster than mids and lows in an actual room. So, the gate is helping to create a less noticeable room reverb without having to use EQ, which would sacrifice the tone of the mandolin when it is played.

Image 6-MultiBand Gate

Multiband Gate


With the right approach and a little scratching of the surface, you can use Neutron 2—a single plug-in—to do the work of a bundle of different processors. Due to the drastic variances in guitar tone and dynamics from artist to artist, track to track, and part to part, you need flexible and capable processing. Try Neutron 2 on a variety of your own guitar tracks!

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