Referencing Greatness

If we were all fearless individualists, any guitar tone we conceived would be designated as “good,” and any critics would be dispatched with total disregard. However, a fair percentage of recording guitarists seeks to craft fabulous guitar tones that other people—band mates, peers, spouses, the nominating committee for the Grammys—will enthusiastically accept as superb. Of course, subjectivity is a major hurdle in this endeavor, but more daunting than trying to get six or seven guitar experts to agree on a kick-ass tone is the fact that so many certifiably bad guitar tones are being documented. I mean, with all the incredible tools available to today’s guitarists and home-studio musicians, why do pencil thin, muddy, over-reverbed, indistinct, and noisy-in-a-something’s-broken-kind-of-way guitar sounds keep showing up on demos and indie releases? We are embarrassing technology! And we are not listening.
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Avoiding crap guitar tones is often as easy as critically referencing your tracks to an “infallible source.” Those sources are the coolest clean, distorted, processed, and acoustic guitar sounds on your favorite albums. Simply dump the desired cut to an open track on your recording system so you can easily switch back-and-forth between your guitar sound and the reference guitar. Listen carefully to the reference to determine how it compares to your guitar sound. Check every element from tone to ambience to processing: Is your guitar track too bassy or too thin, too spiky or not punchy enough, is there too much or too little reverb? With an exceptional reference right in front of your ears, you should be able to work your sound until it approximates greatness.