Whether you are recording in a home studio, professional studio, or playing to a live audience, electric guitar recording techniques can become somewhat confusing. The tone that comes out of your favorite amp will not always be the same tone that comes out in the mix, which is where reamping comes in as a lifesaver.
- If you’re an acoustic guitar player, please visit this article: Acoustic Guitar Recording Techniques.
Electric Guitar Recording Techniques | Simple Guide
How to properly mic your amps?
Although some amplifiers come with a line out on the rear, most amplifiers will need to be set up with a microphone to record the output. However, recording your electric guitar amplifier with a microphone is the best technique to capture the sound coming out from your amp, with room for influence from your acoustic environment.
The microphone should be secured with a stand, such as this weighted stand from Gator. Aim the microphone at the speaker, with room to fit your pinky finger between the mic and amp grill. Though where you place the microphone is dependent on the sound desired, there are guidelines. Small changes in microphone placement will have an effect on the sound created.
The recommended placement is halfway between the center and the edge of the speaker cone. Although, you can move the microphone around to find what works best for the mix. As a rule of thumb, the closer to the center of the cone, the more midrange emphasis. The closer to the edge of the speaker, the more mid and upper-midrange frequencies. Though, the microphone itself will have a slight coloration on the recording, depending on the model. Some popular microphones include Shure SM57 and Sennheiser e906. These are well known for micing guitar amps, and will have a minimal footprint in the recording.
Audio recordings are only as high quality as your weakest link. Therefore if your cables aren’t up to par, your microphone, amp, or effects won’t be at their best quality. If you want only the best cables, Mogami currently makes the best XLR cables available. For high-quality cables on a budget, Cable Matters is a good alternative.
Using Digital Amplifiers
DAW’s such as Ableton, Pro Tools, or GarageBand come stock with multiple amps of different genres. Using a digital amp simulation allows for minute changes or huge creations. Digital amplifiers usually model different genres of music or famous amplifiers. Although Different plugins allow for extraordinary sounds using your guitar, and individual tone in the mix. With amplifiers being digital, the effects, as well as signal freedom, is unparalleled. However, unlike normal amplifiers, you must first plug into a digital audio interface to input your signal to the digital amp. Digital audio interfaces can have a footprint in the mix as well, and the preamps can change the brightness. Find articles on Digital Audio Interfaces here.
Digital effects are much more complex and give the ability to put filters, studio-level compression, and many other possibilities. Rather than having to buy lots of individual effects, you can use stock effects, or purchase plug-ins for cheaper than analog gear.
Reamping explained: How to get the most out of your recordings
Reamping is a slightly complicated topic for beginners. Electric guitar recording techniques usually omit this helpful studio process. It is the process of recording a clean track, and then later sending the same track through your amplifier and effects for your final product. Reamping your guitar allows for lots of new tone possibilities, without having to record the same track over and over. Rather than plug your guitar straight into the amplifier, instead, the signal first goes through a reamping box. Then, you can output your signal to your amplifier and your recording interface. The amplifier will still let you monitor your tone, and you will be recording at the same time. Although, the importance of reamping lies in the recording track made from the interface. Instead of the recording sounding like what was coming out of your amplifier, the track will be a clean recording of your guitar’s signal.
With this track recorded, you can go back afterwards and use the reamping box to change your tone to whatever suits the track. Using the output of the recorder, you can plug into the reamping box and send the signal through any amplifiers or effects you like. With the audio prerecorded, you don’t need a guitarist to replay the same track until you find the sound you want. Reamping boxes allow for minute changes to be made using analog gear, and minimize the time spent re-recording tracks. Although, as with almost all equipment they can provide slight coloration to the audio. Some popular reamping boxes include Radial Engineering’s models with and without a preamp.
Recording Environment | Electric Guitar Recording Techniques
Depending on your equipment, the recording environment is likely to influence your final recording. A perfect acoustic environment is nearly impossible to create, because of the drastic measures seen inside of professional studios. The room inside of a room soundproofing technique is unattainable for most home studios, though there are other more affordable measures for improved acoustics. Acoustic foam or other treatments are well-known options for home studios. Although, small items such as the speaker placement, to the number of items in the room, can affect the recording quality. Little changes can make a difference in the quality of your recording. In particular, recording electric guitar requires attention in TRS cables, pickups, and speakers.
As stated previously, cables can not be overlooked and in particular for electric guitar. The quality can not only deteriorate based on quality but additionally if they are simply too long. If you must run longer than normal cables, I suggest buying higher quality to offset the possible quality issues. Popular cables include: Livewire and higher quality Mogami cables. Depending on your guitar model, the proximity to your amp or other electronics can add low buzzing to the recording. This issue is most common with single-coil pickups found on vintage style guitars, although some other pickup models can encounter this problem.
Finally, your electric guitar recording techniques are not complete without setting up your amp correctly. If you are using a solid-state amp, proximity to other electronics as well as clean power is important to reduce the low hum that can occur. As for tube amplifiers, the age of the tubes used, as well as the brand can influence the tone of your guitar.