All these years that I've been playing guitar and I've been going to live concerts, I see the same mistakes being made over and over again, not only by newcomers but also by experienced people.
Are you wondering why your $3,000 amp sounds muddy and harsh? Well there's a series of posts starting here that will guide you through understanding and tweaking your sound down in detail, but If you're looking for some ultra quick fix-ups, here's my list:
1. Your strings are as old as your white hairDon't be afraid to change your strings, they won't bite. There are countless walkthrough videos on YouTube that will guide you to accomplish this, so buy a pack and change them! Strings are the first thing your sound begins with, so be sure they are branded and of good quality. Also verify that they are in a good condition. If you play 10 hours a day and your strings are on the guitar after 3 months you must start considering this right away. And don't forget to remove the dirt with a cloth after every time you practice.
2. The amp has more intelligence than a microwave ovenThings are simple but not SO simple. Don't expect plugging in your cable and start playing immediately. OK, you will need 2 minutes more but that's all: Set the volume to 0%, the frequency pots to 50% (bass/middle/treble), the "gain" to 40-50% and the presence down to 0%. Disengage any other settings: turn off any button that mentions "Reverb," "Effects" and If your amp has a "Scoop" pot, set it to 50%. Now you're starting with a basis. The most of the guitarists I've played in studio with or seen in small venues, just crank up all pots except mids without a reason, just wanting to be heard over other instruments and do their thing. The "presence" knob does as it says: helps you stand out of the other instruments. This should be a low-highs scoop around 5khz; +3db will give you a significant amount of overall clearness above others in the studio, but use it with care as usually makes the guitar sound too harsh and pierces your ear drums.
3. Start with a planSetup things as you do in the mix: First go the drums, then bass, guitars and finally the vocals. Spend a few minutes building the sound that will be heard for the next hours. Tune your axe, let the drummer prepare his set, then work on combining the bass guitar with the drum beats, especially the kick. Set your knobs as I've already told you and gradually increase your volume. Keep in mind that the guitar overall volume will be doubled as there are two guitars in the mix, one drums, one bass and one vocalist. Let the other guitarist do the same and then tweak your levels again.
4. Protect your earsIt's the most important instrument that will… last forever so be careful with them. I wear earplugs most of the time, which not only protect my ears but also filter all the top levels of the sounds so I am listening everything quite clear as in a mix.
5. Respect your buddiesDon't crank up the volume If you haven't inform everyone in the band: the others will turn it up also and then you'll leave after 2 or 3 hours with ear ache that will last for days and will damage your ears over time.
6. Think as a wholeThe kick sound should be tight with the bass guitar which will support your guitar riffs on the low end. This is why it's called a "band." If you're using a multi-effects, tweak the volume of your sounds (possibly clean, rhythm, solo) so they blend smoothly in the mix. You might want to show off your solos in front of everyone but you probably won't because you're too loud and not listening to the bass/rhythm guitar, so you'll eventually make mistakes.
7. To tame your soundA nice hint I've been using through all these years is to use a bit of EQ before the amp on the signal chain. Nothing extreme, just create a low-pass on 5khz and a high-pass on the 100Hz. This is the most usable range on the distorted guitar and will remove enough of the low frequency dampness and the high frequency harshness. It depends though, on the quality of your instrument, your multi-effects and the acoustic architecture of the room. But most of the times it's a "quick-fix" that won't do any harm to your sound and filter out unwanted frequencies.
8. Decrease the distortionThis is another great thing to do because the lowest the distortion is in the mix, the fatter it will sound! Turning up the gain of the amp will have a stronger impact on the sound of the guitar because of the pressure and the dynamics of the sound itself. It will definitely be different than your home studio and by decreasing the distortion a little, will do a great change. Just play for a few minutes and you'll get used to it.
Just go on and try some or all of my advice in the studio when rehearsing and let me know. I am looking forward to listening to your feedback!
By Chris Veleris