Why settle for the same familiar sounds with guitar reverb in a mix? With a few simple concepts and some creativity, you can customize your guitar reverb treatments for the song and take them to the next level.
By Mike Levine
Reverb has been a staple of guitar tone since spring reverbs were first included in guitar amplifiers way back in the early 1960s. Nowadays, recording guitarists, engineers and producers have a vast selection of reverb types available to apply to guitar tracks.
In this article, we'll offer general guitar reverb advice and some specific examples of guitar reverb in different situations, using a variety of Waves plugins.
1. Know When to Get Wet
Whether you’re tracking a guitar with a DI or through an amp, you’ll have the most flexibility if you print it dry and wait to add reverb until the mix. That will give you the flexibility to add a reverb treatment that works best with the mix as a whole.
Of course, you can be bold and ‘print’ with reverb if you already know exactly what you want in the mix, and if it helps your performance. But if you’re unsure, record dry, then get it wet.
Just like with vocals, you should almost always add reverb to your guitar tracks using an aux send, rather than inserting it directly on the guitar channel. It will allow you to insert additional effects, like EQ, compression and even modulation to modify the reverb, without them affecting the dry guitar sound. This gives you a lot more creative flexibility.
2. Get Comfortable with Decays, Tails and EQ Settings
When you're adding reverb in a mix, it's helpful to feel comfortable enough with the key parameters to go beyond presets, and even to create your own sounds from scratch. Whether you're using algorithmic reverbs like Abbey Road Reverb Plates, Abbey Road Chambers or Manny Marroquin Reverb, a hybrid reverb like H-Reverb or a convolution plugin like IR-1 Convolution Reverb, there's a lot more you can do in addition to just choosing a hall, plate, room or chamber.
The decay time (aka "reverb time") is the primary parameter that defines the size of the simulated space in a reverb plugin. Deciding how long to make it depends on what you're trying to do, the type of song, and the tempo. One area to be careful of is too much reverb wash: long reverb tails that overlap and take away from the clarity of the mix.
Especially when mixing a full band or ensemble, you may have a lot of reverbs going at once, and you need to pay attention to how much the reverb tails are overlapping both within a track and between tracks. A general rule of thumb is that the faster the tempo of the song, the shorter the decay time should be to avoid muddying up the mix.
The EQ controls on reverb plugins can help with the clarity issue, allowing you to cut out unneeded frequencies in the reverberated signal, which can clutter up your mix. Most important is to cut out some of the lows and lower-midrange frequencies.
You'll probably want to do this on almost every reverb you use. You don't necessarily have to cut as extremely as in the "Abbey Road reverb trick," which uses a high-pass filter rolling off frequencies below 600Hz and a low-pass filter doing the same to everything above 10kHz, but at a minimum, you'll probably want to set the high-pass on the reverb to at least 200Hz.
The pre-delay parameter is more critical for reverbs applied to vocals, but it's also useful for guitars. It delays the onset of the reverb reflections, and it can allow the transient of a note to get through before the reverb starts, which can make your guitar part feel more forward in the mix, even with a long decay time.
The other effect of adding pre-delay is to make the room feel larger because the reflections take longer to reach your ears. Pre-delay is definitely a parameter to experiment with.
Obvious as it seems, the send knob on the guitar channel that's feeding the reverb is a hugely important one. You need to find the sweet spot on it for your song where you're getting enough reverb without making it so wet that it loses punch and realism.
3. Try Spring
You might make an exception to the “track it dry” rule if you’re going for a classic spring reverb sound on the guitar and you’re recording a miked amp that has one. A classic example of spring reverb can be found on the guitar sound in the 1963 instrumental “Surf Rider” by The Lively Ones.
But if you’d rather leave your options open, you can use a plugin to get some pretty authentic sounding spring reverb. Waves IR-1 Convolution Reverb is a great way to go because you can load an impulse response from an actual spring reverb unit. In the downloadable library of impulse responses available for IR-1, there’s a spring reverb impulse response that works nicely.
Audio example 1: Here’s a guitar going through Waves PRS Dallas amp modeling plugin from the Waves PRS SuperModels collection. The reverb is coming from an aux track with IR-1 inserted and its Spring Reverb IR loaded.
4. Use Reverb as Glue
In a band or ensemble mix, you can use reverb as a unifying element on some or all of the guitars (and other instruments, if you want), by giving them the same reverb treatment. That will make them sound like they’re together in the same room.
In conjunction with delay, this technique can work really well on doubled rhythm guitars that are spread out in the stereo spectrum. The basic idea is to send the left guitar into a mono delay panned right, and the right guitar into a mono delay panned left. The delays should be set to between 25-40ms and 100% wet.
A stereo reverb, relatively short, is fed by the output of both delays, via a bus. Electric rhythm guitars have a lot of midrange energy, so you need to keep the decay time relatively short to avoid mud.
The result of this setting is that both guitars sound like they’re coming from the same room, with the sound of each bouncing off the opposite wall.
The following example, created in Logic Pro, uses two instances of Waves H-Delay, each set at 30ms, for the mono delays. The stereo reverb is Waves H-Reverb, set to a plate with a short, 0.81 second decay time.
Audio example 2: The rhythm guitars start out soloed and dry. On bar 3, the delays and reverb are added. The rest of the instruments come in at bar 5.
5. Add Effects to the Reverb
Effects like compression, saturation and even modulation that are inserted after the reverb allow you to alter its character in creative ways. Both compression and saturation can add texture and richness to the reverb sound.
Audio example 3: This features a lead guitar with a “stadium” vibe that was created by the reverb treatment. The guitar signal was sent from its channel to an aux with a Waves IR-1 set to its basic Plate setting, featuring a 2.2s decay time. Waves Scheps Omni Channel is inserted in the aux track directly after the reverb—so it’s affecting only the reverberated signal. Its high-pass filter is set to 291Hz, removing a decent amount of low end.
The plugin’s preamp section has a saturation circuit that’s adding even harmonics for tube-like distortion. Its compressor is set to VCA, providing gain reduction of about -1dB, and more importantly, adding texture.
The next insert in the reverb aux channel is a Waves H-Delay. In the previous example, we saw delay used before the reverb, directly on the guitar signal. Here it’s set to an eighth-note delay (300ms) and is adding quite a bit of space, helping to achieve that big sound.
You’ll first hear the lead guitar soloed and dry. Then the reverb comes in at measure 3. The compression, saturation and high-pass filtering from the Scheps Omni channel come in at bar 5, and the H-Delay at bar 7.
Use the Space You’re Given
If you’ve got a guitar that’s playing a slow, rubato part, you have more freedom in terms of reverb. An example would be “Where Were You” by Jeff Beck, which has a reverb with a long decay on his guitar. You probably would never use a setting like that when mixing a guitar in a song with a full band because it would create too much wash. In a solo track though, combine a long reverb with a delay and you can achieve a really atmospheric sound.
Audio example 4: Here’s an example using the Waves PRS V9 amp model, and its signal is being sent to two sends. The first one features H-Reverb with an 8.5 second decay time with a 148ms predelay. As in the previous example, Scheps Omni Channel was inserted after the reverb and provided saturation, compression and EQ to the sound.
The other send sports a stereo instance of Manny Marroquin Delay. The delay has its link mode off, and is set to different decay times for left and right, 330ms on the left and 660 on the right. That creates a ping pong effect. The example was played freely, without a click. Two other Waves processors were inserted in the guitar channel after the PRS V9: The CLA-2A Compressor/Limiter (in compressor mode) and J37 Tape, an analog tape emulation.
6. Rev it Up
We've only scratched the surface in this article but as you've seen, there are so many different options for guitar reverb treatments, especially when you process the reverberated sound with other effects. Guitar reverb in the studio has come a long way since the days that spring was king, and if you're creative, the sky's the limit.
Want to learn more about modifying reverb with other effects? Get tips on enhancing reverb with delay, compression and EQ.
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