Two electric guitars playing power chords are layered in the top two tracks, and panned opposite each other. The doubled acoustic guitar part (bottom track) adds a bright, percussive quality on top of the power chords.
Overdubbing multiple rhythm
guitars—called layering—is a common
technique for producing a bigger sound.
But is that invariably the case? There’s
more than one way to layer guitars, and
these tips will help you choose the right
1 Do No Harm
Some guitarists reflexively layer
guitars, but don’t ask themselves
whether it’s really necessary. A
friend, Avid’s Mark Williams, once said,
“As soon as you put on that second guitar
part, you’re going in the wrong direction.”
That’s not always true, but I know what
he means. A single guitar part has definition,
and can stand out in a track as
a distinct sound. Layers are more indistinct,
as the additional parts can “step
on” each other. Sure, there are situations
where layering is great, but Jimi Hendrix
almost never layered—except for doing
overdubs as a sort of counterpoint lines.
One guitar part said what needed to be
said. So if a part doesn’t need to be layered,
2 Go Small
Paradoxically, layering can actually
provide “smaller” sounds
that sit better in the background—
particularly with power chords.
To do this, layer by overdubbing the same
sound, using the same guitar, and panned
to the same position. The parts will tend
to blur into more of a texture, and, if
mixed at moderate levels, that texture
will sit in a track as a more background
than foreground part. To place the part
even further back, roll off the highs a bit
for warmth, and pull back a little on the
low end to leave more room for the bass
and kick drum to give the textured part
its own sonic space.
3 Churn It Up
Taking the aforementioned
“small” approach, you can mix
the guitar tracks up, and not roll
back highs and lows, if there aren’t a lot of
other instruments playing. This gives you
a full, churning sound. Check out Never
Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols for
a great example of how this kind of layering
can drive a song when mixed high.
4 Go Big
For this, set up different layered
sounds—like splitting a guitar
into two cabs, miking each one
separately, and then panning them opposite
of each other (of course, this is very
easy to do in the virtual world with amp
sims). Layering in this manner preserves
the distinct nature of each sound, and lets
them stand on their own—yet the two
parts will multiply into something bigger.
Often, when mixing with other instruments—
such as piano—I’ll pan one amp
cab left and the other to center, with the
left piano panned center and right piano
panned right. This makes for a big, distinct
If you really want to push a
chorus, don’t reach for another
overdub of fuzzed-out power chords.
Instead, grab an acoustic guitar and layer
it instead (see screen shot above). The
percussive, bright nature of the acoustic
will serve as a perfect complement to the
distorted power chord sludge. Combining
clean acoustic and distorted electric
guitars worked for Led Zeppelin, and it
can work for you, too.
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