Regarding fuzz tones vs. saturation

As someone who loves fuzzy/psychadelic guitar/bass tones i’m having some difficulty deciding how much to saturate them and which plugins to use, specifically.

I’ve found that using the typical workflow on these types of sounds creates a lot of extra, non-useful frequency.

I guess the heart of the question is… when these types of tones ,whether modelled or recorded traditionally are so saturated to begin with , is further saturation really necessary? This question also applies to select VST instruments that are often heavily processed upon input.

Furthermore, when tracking, what tips can i use to make sure these elements aren’t a nightmare to process and be prominent in the mix without robbing other frequencies?

Should i be tracking these tones at a lower initial volume? higher?

Many thanks!

Hey Calvin,
In my experience, when given a track with lots of saturation already applied upon input, I take that into account when further processing in the mix. The only reason I add saturation is to beef up and/or warm up the material that’s there but if it’s already working ok then I go in with a light touch if even at all. The end result is all that’s important.
I use the same approach with compression and reverb. The more that’s there then the less that needs to be applied. I’m assuming the effects the performer or recording engineer added were part of the sound they were looking for in the end. The only problem I’ve run into is when too much compression has been applied in recording or compression wasn’t handled very well as I don’t know of any way to really “fix” that.
However even with a saturated guitar I’ll play with a little saturation and sending to an amp modeling just to see how it sounds. My philosophy in everything is to try to enhance material in the direction the client is looking for rather than “change” or “alter” it. Instead of making something sound a certain way I try to highlight what the artist is looking for and bring out the inherent sound in the track.

HTH. Ask me further if you have any questions, only too happy to help!

Hey Kevin,

Great advice, i will definitely keep that in mind upon composition. To that point - what level do you generally track instruments at ie. guitar, bass from an external unit/amp? -14? I’m trying to figure out the best target DB when tracking so i don’t have a ton of reductive or additive work in the mixing stage.

I generally keep about headroom at about -6dB (no less than -3dB at peak) on input for most material. For electric guitars I usually take in a DI feed post-pedals and a separate mic’d amp as separate tracks then bounce the tracks into a single blend at mix time prior to adding an insert chain and sends instead of mixing them separately.
For acoustic guitars I set up a stereo pair of small condensers one point at the body the other pointed at the 12th fret and will take in a DI if the guitar has a 1/4" output.
For bass I’ll take in DI (post-pedal if applicable) and DI from an amp head. Depending upon what kind of space we’re recording in, I may mic the cabinet. Generally in smaller places I won’t use a cabinet as it doesn’t work out too well with the low frequencies.
Depending on the player I might add just a touch of compression on input to prevent clipping without putting that in the mind of the player. It’s up to the recording engineer to get a good performance from the artist and making sure the signal doesn’t clip but to also not affect the sound of the instrument on input.

I wrote an entire essay here on an experience I had with the band I was working with a couple of years ago if you want to check it out: Recording, Mixing, Mastering live instruments for an album in a home studio

This is super useful man, thank you. I had a lot of numbers flying around my head in terms of thresholds, levels etc… and trying to make sense of everything. I’ll definitely have more questions for you as i work through some projects.

One more for you Kev…

When you are balancing your elements against the kick drum, do you keep everything centred for an initial balance and then pan? or do you pan your side elements (guitars/synth/cymbals/etc.) and balance them once they are already placed in their stereo filed destination? This mostly applies to multiple guitar tracks/parts/layers…