Looking to add some sonic distinction to your recordings? Try doubling your guitar!
Written by Nick Krill
When recording, double tracking a guitar part can be a great way to give it a sense of thickness or width. The natural chorusing and phasing sounds that a double track creates are something that pedals and studio effects boxes rarely match. From an arrangement standpoint, doubling can also be a great way to accent a part and draw a little extra attention to specific moments in a song. When I’m thinking of doubling a guitar part, there are a handful of recording motives, and techniques that I like to consider. While this article is guitar focused, these general principles can be applied to many other types of instruments. Here are a few ideas that will hopefully help inform your next adventure in double tracking!
Why You Should Double Your Guitar
One concept to keep in mind is that a doubled guitar tends to highlight the production choices surrounding a part. When I hear a double, it always gives me the feeling that the part is more studied or deliberate. For example, if you are recording a song where you want to express a casual feeling, or you want a riff to feel spontaneous, a double might be counterproductive to the emotion you are going for. On the other hand, if you want to distinguish your recording with some classic record production wizardry, doubling should be a top tool in your arsenal.
Should Your Double be Tight or Loose?
Take a moment to think about if the double sounds better played spot on tight as a tick, or played a little looser. A tight double can really accentuate the natural chorusing and phasey sounds that are a distinct characteristic of a double. This effect can be particularly cool sounding on lead parts. On an emotional level, a very tight double tends to accentuate the deliberate and produced feel that I mentioned above. Alternatively, a loose double can impart an informal feel. For example, a loose doubled acoustic guitar playing big open chords might express a relaxed feeling, almost like a campfire sing along. Sonically, I sometimes like loose doubles on fast staccato parts as it can add a cool fluttery percolating energy to a tune. Keep your ear tuned in to the different sounds and feelings created by loose or tight doubles, and try to choose a performance that best fits each individual song.
Changing Your Guitar or Amp to Vary Your Double
If your goal for the double is to add a sense of width to a sound, consider changing to a different guitar or amp when you record the double and then pan the tracks to opposite sides. Recording the same part through the same guitar and the same amp can sometimes lead to a “big mono” sound when panned. This is due to the fact that both the original guitar and the double will share much of the same sonic information, and that information will appear as if it comes from the center rather than the right or left. Finding a way to change the tone will help distinguish the original and the double in the mix, and the end result can be a bigger sounding part. There are countless ways to change tone in the studio, but in this case, I like to try broad strokes first rather than subtle changes. For example, if you recorded the original part using a guitar with a humbucker pick up, maybe a guitar with a single coil would be a cool compliment for the double. Similarly, swapping to a different amp can help give differences in tone between the two parts. For example using a Fender amp for one part, and a VOX amp for the double. Another fun, and affordable way to throw a wild card into your amp setup is to experiment with portable mini amps, such as the Danelectro Hodad, or the mini Smokey Amps.
The Danelectro Hodad Mini Amp is an affordable amp that is a great choice for when you need something a little bit different.
Chord Inversions and Octaves for Distinction
When doubling chords, one great way to give each track some distinction is by using different chord inversions. Try throwing a capo on for the double and playing the chords in a different position on the neck. Also, you could try playing one pass using open chords and another playing barre chords. For Lead lines, it can be useful to experiment with different octaves. A baritone guitar, the Danelectro 56 Baritone, for example, or a guitar set up in “Nashville” or “high strung” tuning can be useful tools with this technique. Or you might try having the bass guitar accent specific riffs.
Change Your Tone with a Room Microphone
Another great way to change tone for the double is to pull the mic off the instrument and move it into a room mic position. A close room mic can help if you are going for a thicker sound, while a far room mic can add a cool sense of ambiance to the double. It is a lot of fun to experiment with different mic polar patterns here too. If, for example, you used a cardioid mic close to the amp for the first track, an omnidirectional mic or bi-directional mic can be cool for the double track in order to pick up more of the room ambiance. Setting up a room mic is also a good time to experiment with the tonal differences between dynamic, condenser and ribbon mics. Let your ear be the guide and see which mic type best compliments the sound of your room and of your original guitar track.
The AKG C414 XLII is a multi-pattern microphone with plenty sonic flexibility.
Putting Effects on the Doubled Track
Adding an effect to just the double can be a fun way to distinguish the two parts. I love trying super slow modulation effects like phasers or flangers on a double. Slow modulation rates can make the effect feel less like a special effect but instead give the sound a strange sense of movement. For spacey sounding songs this can set the perfect mood. Also, be sure to try the effected double idea in combination with the room mic double! A separate effect only coming through the room mic can be really ear catching.
Using effects sends in Pro Tools to create a double.
Using Contrasting Tones for Accents
Finally, sometimes the goal of a double might not be to make something sound huge or wide, but simply to give the part a sonic accent. In this case, think about sounds that could be opposites of each other like doubling a beefy riff with a really tinny fuzz sound, or doubling a muted staccato lead riff with a legato slide guitar to contrast two different envelopes against each other. One of these sonic juxtapositions that I used recently in a mix was to use the double guitar track only as the send to a phaser and reverb effects chain. This is almost a more extreme version of the “effect on only the double” technique mentioned above. In this case the original guitar stayed dry and sounded close, while the double was heard only 100% wet, after it was sent through the phaser and reverb. The ambient effects pushed the sound of the double into the background of the mix, creating a new artificial spatial contrast.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you next time you record, and ideally they will be springboards for brand new ideas or techniques. If they are, I’d love to hear what concepts you come up with, and what gear you are using. Stay in touch and leave any recording revelations you might have about doubling in the comments below.
Nick Krill is a producer, recording engineer and mix engineer who has worked for bands such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The War On Drugs, The Dove and the Wolf, The Teeth, Jesse Hale Moore, Nightlands and Eliza Hardy Jones.