As you’ve probably figured, “mastering” guitar doesn’t involve you learning and improving your skills, rather it means “mixing” in the music editing world. The process is quite plain, as far as the basics are concerned, but, if you want to get the job done correctly and accurately, there’s a lot of work ahead of you.
Before we begin with the tips & tricks, you should know that mastering the guitar tracks is substantially different when compared to mastering other instruments, voices, and such. Each pluck brings some resonance aboard, and there’s a huge difference between recording and mixing tracks of “acoustic” guitars and “electric” guitars. Some things are in common between these two, however, so let’s get down to it:
Step 1 – Get Familiar with the entire arrangement
Each song, be it a random jam or a purposefully organized arrangement features “parts” that aren’t played in the same way, and it’s not the volume or note sequence we’re talking about. Certain parts are heavily accentuated, while some are supposed to feel a bit “down”. You’ll have to memorize the length and accentuation of each part before you proceed any further.
Normally, you’ll want to record each guitar section into different tracks for easier editing later on, so let’s give you an example, so as to avoid potential problems:
- The “Solo” sections should be taken last, as they require a lot of work, and are the most difficult to record, especially with dry tracks.
- “Rhythm” sections should be recorded first, as they will give you a good heads-up about the entire perspective. Don’t take the word “rhythm” too plastic, though, even if you want to master a casual jamming session, you still need something to follow other than the metronome.
- The “Fillers” are pretty important, but the only work that lies ahead of you is properly attuning the “pan” and “volume”. Other than that, all should go smooth enough.
Step 2 – Level and Tone
The “level” is sometimes labeled as “master” or “volume”, depending on the mixing console you’re using, and it always indicates the same thing – the loudness of your guitars. Regardless of how loud you’ve recorded your guitar tracks, you can always crank up the volume using this setting.
However, know that you can go overboard, which will result in a disbalance, even feedback, and potential buzzing or worse.
Essentially, playing around with the level should be interesting, as it opens up a plethora of options. You can play as loud as you want, knowing that you can reduce the total volume output at a later point, or you could deliberately play your sections smooth and quiet, picking up the volume as you see fit. Just remember this –as long as you don’t go into the extremes, you’ll be fine.
Now, the “Tone” is something different entirely. The tone usually represents the “warmth”, or the “quality of sound” of your guitar. It’s not uncommon that musicians use low-end guitars while recording their pilot versions, using various preset “tones” to get the best quality sound.
Depending on the console you’re using, the tone presets can be scarce, aplenty, or even non-existent altogether. For as long as you have options, you have nothing to fret about, but the issue of having a great, big zero in your tone databank might give you a hard time.
Nevertheless, you can always purchase, download, or import your own templates. A good example of tonal databank is “Guitar Rig” software, which can be used to simulate different guitar sounds, preamps, and effects, even during the recording stage.
Step 3 – Adjust the “pan” properly
The “Pan” is vital for the mastering of any track, and it’s one of the best inventions ever incorporated since the introduction of stereo editing (whereas the “mono” implied that all sounds came through as a singularity).
Most of the time, the panning process should be pretty straightforward – a single guitar group should go “left” while the other group goes “right”, but that’s not always so simple. The best-case scenario involves two guitars, where the first should be dominant, thus louder by a bit, and the other, accompanying section should be leveled a bit below the first.
However, should you want to mix an arrangement of several guitars, determining which sub-group of tracks is dominant could be tricky. This situation gets worse if the number of tracks is odd – one group is bound to have at least one track panned above the other.
However, this is where your skills are to be tested. If you’ve made the arrangement yourself, you should already have the idea which guitar tracks should be played louder than the others. On top of that, it all falls down to balance – panning the loudest sub-group of tracks either way could easily snuff out the other group, so you can always consider “not panning” a certain group at all (mono panning – everything goes out through “all” speaker outputs).
Step 4 – Finish your mastering with the Equalizer
The hardest part of mixing your guitar tracks is tweaking around with the equalizer. The “EQ” is often comprised of several knobs, although different consoles come outfitted with different settings and features. Some of the most generalized features of EQ section are “gain”, “reverb”, “lows”, “mids”, “highs”, and so on.
The “lows-mids-highs” regard the “frequencies”, and playing around with them will yield various results. Ranging from muddy, sluggish sounds once the lows are accentuated, over chilly, balanced sounds, to crispy, sharp notes with the high ones being dominant.
Turning these knobs even by just a bit might mean a world of difference, so you should pay much attention to what you do, even before you’ve done it. Most professionals recommend “taking a picture” of your EQ board before proceeding to the main mix, so that you can always return the settings to their former values if you happen to dislike the outcome.
Mastering your guitar tracks always takes time, but the patience is well worth it. Don’t expect to learn the ropes overnight, as there’s always much to learn, even after you’ve mastered thousands of arrangements.
Whenever you’re feeling insecure, feel free to consult our step-by-step guide to the basics of guitar track mastering. We hope we’ve been of help, and we wish you all the luck.
I’m Alex Frank who has worked sound technology industry for 10 years now. Today, I am an affiliate blogger who likes to educate my audience more about sound technology. Visit to Music Instruments Center to find all information about music that you need.