So you’ve decided to melt your face off, a beginners guide

So you’ve decided to melt your face off, a beginners guide.

Here we are. You've decided that conservative distortion is not the way you want your guitar to sound. You've listened rapturously to Napalm Death and Nasum, considered Cannibal Corpse and Aborted and swilled a fine claret of corner shop goon to Entombed and At the Gates to come to the conclusion only absolute filth with do. And so HM2 in one hand and drop tuned riff stick in the other you stride with purpose toward the impending darkness. On a journey of riffological filthening to Bangeth thine head, and dismayest thine parents with reckless abandon!

But hark at these words traveller.

There are a few basic concepts to consider when using extreme high gain if you want to sound gloriously heavy rather than completely indecipherable.

1) A guitar is not a bass.

Now don't get me wrong, drop those tunings and have as many strings on a guitar as you want. But treading all over the bass frequencies is rarely advisable. The guitars job in a band is to occupy the mid and treble frequencies and that doesn't change just because your guitar is strung lower than the Mariana Trench. Most sound techs and recording engineers will agree. The key to overcoming a muddling ill defined heavy tone is to accentuate the mid punch, decrease the bass output and sweeten the highs. Doing this at the amp will greatly improve your sound as it sits in the band. 

2) Don't get focused on sounding like your favorite record.

Studio sound and live sound are two very different beasts. I like to describe the studio as the major motion picture release of the live theatre production. The multiple guitar tracks, tone changing drop ins, perfect isolation, mixing/micing options, signal tweaking devices and multiple stages of compression at your disposal in a studio mean you have very little chance of exact replication in a live setting. Many of the sounds you have frothed at the mouth over trying to emulate were the result of multiple cleaner or dirtier tracks mixed together to create an impossibly sculpted vision of a devastating guitar tone. Find your own devastating sound and own it.

3) Is the second guitarist in your bands sound too closely modeled on your own?

For some more of the same is just fine. However it can be a missed opportunity to broaden your sonic impact and create an effective separation between the two instruments, which will be very useful should you be heading in a melodic death direction. The way to create this separation is to get one guitar to focus on lower mid while the other aims at a more high mid treble sound. The easiest way to achieve this is to at low volume find the sweet spot on your amp EQs where both guitars are definable in unison one a little treble the other a little bass then raise to appropriate volume. Another way to maintain separation is simply to use complimentary equipment. Different heads and speakers make a big difference in tone especially speakers. A classic rock example of this would be the AC/DC speaker cabinet choice of Greenbacks for Angus and V30s for Malcolm. They use similar signal chains but the different speaker outputs provide separation as the more compressed treble greenback is wrapped in the broad warmth of the V30s accentuating the best of both worlds and making a classic full rock response.

4) Buy an EQ pedal and noise gate

A lot of the wisdom I'm trying to impart really boils down to use your EQ wisely and try not to scream feedback uncontrollably between songs, and to that end these are two of the most powerful and useful devices you can have at your disposal. A simple Boss 7 band EQ pedal will help you to really sculpt the guitar tone to accomodate a mix and can be found in the rigs of many professional musicians. Every room sounds a bit different and having that EQ there to tweak with is massive boon. 
The noise gate I feel is a bit self explanatory. Yes yes i have heard people bang on about not needing them. But when you're using large amounts of gain in rooms with potentially suspect power supplies or simply getting interference from other large current draws in the room like ohhhhhhh i don't know... The other amps and P.A! It pays to have a little fixer to remove the problematic frequencies (feedback). Most of us that play gigs are faced with the task of 10 min changeovers. Often in performance venues of shall we say questionable maintenance. There is simply no time to spot test every connection to troubleshoot when we encounter some extra noise. That's why taking a noise gate is so important, place the pedal in your signal chain after the point of most gain so after distortion pedals or in the effects loop of the amp. Then turn it on starting with the level at zero then turn it up just till the feedback or hiss stops. A good trick is to put your EQ after it so you can tweak the remaining bandwidth to get a little something back should you feel too compressed.

Well i hope these basic tips answer a problem or two you have encountered whilst attempting to tear a hole in the fabric of existence with the gain on 11.

Till next time Stay safe and riff hard

Chris Reanimator 
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