I agree here – committing to a guitar tone is the thing. If you’re not getting it after trying for a while, the idea of DI’ing and coming back is just a security blanket or consolation prize.
Capturing a guitar amp sound is one of those things…if you get 95% of it exactly right, the other 5% can still really get in the way. And there’s not a lot in the mix that can really save it, either. If you get it REALLY right, honestly, you just put the faders up and you don’t have to do a whole lot to get it sounding good – getting it sounding “great” is then the part about managing nuances and working around the edges.
I don’t do as much heavy stuff as I used to, but here’s one (produced/engineered/mixed): https://youtu.be/6JwgKGmdFb8?t=130
It’s a basic SoCal detuned hard rock groove. That sounds like the guitarist’s Dual Rec, although I had a tweed Fender (possibly used for the clean parts) and a 5150 at the time.
So the keys to the sound are the usual stuff: pocket playing, solid intonation, tight doubling, etc.
But the thing no one’s talking about here is the phasing on the mics. Even Ola, who you can tell is getting a good sound in his room, didn’t work out his phasing between the mics. That’s why the low end is bumping in an interesting way but the highs are swirly – the frequency the comb filtering starts is dependent on the differences in mic distance from the source (oversimplifying, of course, since a guitar speaker is not a hypothetical point source), and those low end frequencies are less affected at these distance differences. Did you notice that his mics are both pointed at the center of the cone from roughly the same distance (from the grille cloth)? The sound will definitely begin hitting the Rode before it gets to the 58. With the angle of the speaker in mind, that mic is effectively a few inches closer.
Sound travels roughly 1 ft/ms (1000 ft/s), so the wavelength of 1000 Hz is around a foot. That means that two mics on the same source with one a foot further out will have phase nulls at 1000 Hz, 2000 Hz, 3000 Hz, 4000 Hz, etc. If you plot this on a semilog graph, you get something that immediately reveals how scary it gets as you go up the spectrum. Even differences of a few inches get you nulls in the critical high mids as well as a mess in the highs and presence region.
If your answer here is, “combining mics transparently is a huge PITA,” you are right! Trust me when I say that it’s something that engineers sweat a LOT. Chris Lord-Alge said that the phase reverse button on the SSL is red for a reason (he was talking about drum mixing, which is really a separate issue, since there are inherent compromises).
OK, but if you want to multi-mic, I will give you one of the O.G. tricks of all time for guitar amp recording:
Set up a single close mic and get a decent starting point – something that’s speaking well without any weird artifact resonances.
Set a second close mic up, from the same distance and probably on the same speaker for starters. Then chunk away and match the levels hitting your DAW as closely as you can. Flip the phase ON YOUR PREAMP on one of them – you should be instantly transported to a land of weird, swirly audio, since you are now listening to the DIFFERENCE between the two mics. Whatever you are HEARING here (OUT of phase) is what is CANCELLING when you mix the two IN phase.
I would be really wary of introducing ANY plug-ins yet. Latency differences even on the millisecond level will destroy this process.
Keep the phase flipped on the one. Run the studio signal into a pair of headphones and turn them up so you hear that swirly phased-out amp hiss (don’t play your guitar while doing this!). Now, if you move the second mic, you will hear the swirl change – again, what you are HEARING here is what is CANCELLING when you are phase IN. So the object is to move the mic until the hiss sounds neutral (with no tunnel-y phasey weirdness) and LOW in level. Lock that mic into place and pray that when you let go, the mic stand doesn’t sag half an inch and destroy your beautiful phase-matching.
OK, assuming you still have that neutral, low level phase OUT hiss, turn your headphones off (don’t want to fry them!) and pick up your guitar back in the control room. Play a chord and then flip the phase IN. If you get it right, by the way, the two mics are now mixable, and you can choose the blend (more center= more sizzle, more cone= more grunt).
I know it’s complicated. Acoustics is physics, and we haven’t even covered the electronics part. Believe it or not, this is the “quick and dirty” version. My favorite way to match timing is to record transients and then move a mic so that when you zoom way in on Pro Tools to the sample level (sub-millisecond), the transients line up EXACTLY. By the end, I’ll be nudging the mic a millimeter or two. But it can really get those highs to speak nicely.
The good part here is that if you match some mics on a cab, you can do your whole session with that matching – even switching amp heads out for different tones. Then when you track 2 or 3 mics on each take, you can legitimately work the blend to taste later without taking a sonic “hit” for it (like by reamping or something). Or with the right kind of front end, you can do the blend in the analog domain and run single tracks into Pro Tools. Session guitarists might use something like a Chandler Mini-Mixer for this.
By the way, once you get past this one, I have to mention that those all-in-one preamp+converter USB powered interfaces might not get you all the way there. A/D conversion is a HUGE key to this process.
Sorry for the long post.
Slipperman’s writing on this subject is legendary. Just don’t read it out loud in front of a 5-year-old or anything, with all the curse words…
Also, when you’re working with volume, PLEASE be careful with your ears! I have a Wal-Mart set of ear muffs (like at the shooting range) ready in the studio at all times. I highly recommend this.