Get Smart: Fix Before You Mix

With amp simulators, your hard drive records the dry guitar, and the sim does the processing.
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With amp simulators, your hard drive records the dry guitar, and the sim does the processing. Essentially, the sim is always re-amping. So you can process your guitar before it hits the sim, and do anything from cleaning up problems to adding entirely new effects. Such as...


Use a clip envelope to increase level as the note decays (Fig. 1). You won’t hear any of the pumping or breathing effects associated with standard compression, and when the note reaches the end, you can dip the gain real quick to get rid of noise.


With high-gain effects, all that garbage between notes can get annoying. Some DAWs have functions to manage noise (like noise gates). However, this often isn’t nuanced enough to work with guitar. So just cut the sections between notes, then fade in just before the note and fade out just afterward.


The part is perfect—except that cool power chord hit just a bit late. Cut at the beginning and end of the chord, and slide it earlier to hit the beat. If this leaves a gap between the end of the chord and the beginning of the next note, use the host’s time-stretching DSP to lengthen the end. In Steinberg Cubase or Cakewalk Sonar, for example, control+click on the end of the note, and then drag to the right until the end is the correct length.


Your guitar signal’s level is important to some processors, like dynamics and distortion. You usually want to preserve your dynamics, so that digging in to the string gives more crunch, and backing off cleans up the sound. However, if some notes wimp out, select them, and then increase their level using normalization (or a gain change) until all the levels match.


Fig. 2— Note the noise in front of the top waveform’s attack, followed by a sharp transient. The lower waveform cuts out the noise and softens the attack by fading in.

If you hit a note too hard and created a transient that sounds just plain wrong, add an attack time. You can get rid of the attack entirely if you cut up to the beginning of the note, and then begin the fade-in (Fig. 2), or cut further back from the note’s start, and start the fade earlier to preserve some of the attack.


Sony Sound Forge, iZotope RX, and other programs have algorithms that reduce noise by sampling a section of signal that has noise only, and then removing anything with that “noiseprint” from the audio. This works with signals such as hum, hiss, and fan noise, as long as they’re fairly constant.


Fig. 3—“Punctuating” a power chord with slices of silence.

Early Who records had a guitar effect where Townshend toggled his pickup switch rapidly between a pickup with the volume up full, and the other pickup with the volume down, giving a slicing, stuttering effect that remains cool to this day. So, slice up a note into little pieces, and then delete some of them (Fig. 3) to

create the same kind of effect. Using a DAW, you can even make sure the slices hit a rhythm, like every 16th note, and add really short fades to eliminate clicks. Or not. Live dangerously!

Craig Anderton has played on or produced more than 20 major label releases, mastered hundreds of tracks, and written dozens of books. Check out some of his latest music at