10 Practical Tips For Recording Amazing Guitars

Guitars1. Set Up Your Guitar
Amazing guitar tones start with the player. Recording a great song with a good player is always key. Beyond the player, the instrument must be in top shape as well. Sending your guitar to be professionally set up is a great way to ensure your guitar tracks are properly in tune and there are no buzzes, squeaks, or hums coming from the instrument. A professional set up will also allow the guitar to play easier and feel better, which will help to create a better performance.

2. Isolate The Amp From The Floor
When recording guitars in small spaces, such as a bedroom or a project studio, the physical connection between the amp and the floor can cause the amp to sympathetically vibrate with the floor. This creates an artificial sense of low end that is often hard to equalize out and can make your recording sound muddy. By isolating the amp from the floor with dense insulation or a product such as the Auralex Gamma Pad, the amp can accurately reproduce the low end without vibrating with the room. This can be very useful with dense guitar arrangements where layered guitars can stack up to create a muddy mess in the mix.

3. Understand The Room
The sound of the amp is largely impacted by the room that is exists in. Standing waves are created when a loud guitar amp is played in a small space. To minimize the impact of standing waves, angle the guitar amp at 45 degrees to parallel walls. This will help to keep prominent frequencies from building up in the room.

For more control of the room sound, try draping a heavy blanket over the speaker cabinet. This will eliminate the room sound for microphones close to the cabinet. A second room mic can then be added for control of the room sound in the mix. This creates the possibility for all types of sonic experimentation when it comes time for mix. For example, the room mic can be panned opposite of the close mic. A delay can be added to the room mic for even more spatial distinction.

4. EQ With Mic Placement
There are tone knobs on a guitar, and often EQ and tone knobs on a guitar amp. Although these knobs are easy to use and tempting to play with, drastic EQ-ing on an amp can sound harsh or push the amp to distortion in unpleasant ways. A less conventional, but equally as effective method of EQ can be accomplished through microphone placement at the speaker cone.

The closer the microphone is to the center of the speaker, the more low end and high end will be picked up. As the microphone is moved to the outside of the cone, the midrange becomes clearer in comparison. In conjunction with this, the angle of the microphone in relation to the cone can also change the tone of the guitar sound. Angling the microphone 45 degrees outward will reduce the upper midrange frequencies. Angling the microphone 45 degrees inward will increase low midrange frequencies.

5. Pick A Pick
Although you probably have a favorite guitar pick that works well with your playing style, there are guitar pick options that can drastically alter the tone of your guitar. For more attack on leads and solos, a metal pick can brighten up the guitar tone without having to resort to EQ at the amp. In contrast, a felt pick can be the perfect choice for soft rhythm guitar that needs to sit well with keyboards and piano. Before spending lots of money on a new amp or effects pedal, a trip to the music store for a new guitar pick might be all you need.

6. Types Of Guitar Doubles
A straight double of rhythm guitar might be all a song needs to thicken up the guitars, but often doubling guitars in a dense arrangement leads to trouble when it comes time to mix. Doubling just the root note of a chord progression is a great way to thicken a guitar track without adding too much information. A second double an octave above the root can also work well if it is panned in opposition to the original root note double.

For a lift in the chorus of a song, whole note doubles work well to emphasize the chord changes. On a heavy rock song, whole note doubles with less distortion often work really well to add clarity and harmonic distinction to the chord progression. On less heavy pop or country songs, whole note doubles with different chord voicings can add a sense of spaciousness and fullness to a chorus without adding another part to distract from the vocal.

7. To EQ At The Amp Or In The Mix
It is often a studio rule of thumb that great sounds should be achieved at the source as opposed to fixing things in the mix. As true as this is, there are always exceptions to the rule. One exception is when to EQ a guitar amp. If EQ is added on the amp itself, the resulting guitar sound usually changes the way the guitar part relates to the rest of the mix. EQing at the amp can be thought of as adding an effect and changing the purpose of the guitar part. EQing in mix can be much more subtle. I often save EQing the low end of guitars for mix, but add boosts to the high end of guitars at the amp while tracking. This ensures that I don’t over EQ the low end and muddy up the track before mixing, but still allows me to subtly distort the top end at the amp while tracking.

8. Easy On The Reverb
Generally, less reverb on guitars is a smart choice while tracking. Unless you are striving for a Dick Dale drenched guitar sound, most reverb can be added in mix. The reverb might sound great on the first rhythm guitar while tracking, but once three or four guitars are stacked on top of the initial rhythm guitar, that reverb sounds distracting and amateur.

9. Linking Effects
The pedal board you use for live shows might be efficient and stocked with cool noise makers, but that doesn’t make it the best idea for recording. Generally using the least amount of effects to achieve the desired guitar tone is the best plan. If there are effects pedals in the signal chain that aren’t being used, they may be degrading the signal and causing excess noise. Take any pedal out of the chain that is not being used. It is common sense, but try to use the highest quality and shortest cables between guitar pedals.

Think critically and creatively about which pedals you use and in what order. Although a heavy distortion pedal might sound fun on its own, it might not be the best choice for the song. Using a gain boost pedal to push the amp harder might be the most natural and best distortion sound for the song. A more creative use for that wild distortion pedal might be after your delay and reverb pedal. Crazy spaced out sounds from delay and reverb can become even more psychedelic with a distortion and an EQ pedal after them.

10. Take A DI
When recording guitars, I always record a DI signal directly from the guitar before it hits any effects or an amp. I do this for two reasons. If the performance was perfect, but I want to change the guitar sound in the mix, I can use the DI signal to re record through different amps later. This is a good practice, but can also lead to creative uses of amplifiers that would not be possible while tracking the original guitar. One example is swinging a microphone around a vertically placed speaker as the prerecorded signal plays through the amp. This creates a swirling phaser sound that is unlike any phaser pedal.

Secondly, the DI signal can occasionally be used in the mix as a way to beef up the low end of a guitar take without doubling the part. This is specifically useful with heavy detuned guitars. The DI adds clarity to the low end, but does not alter the rhythmic tightness of the original performance.

Shane O’Connor is a producer and recording engineer from New York City. Shane has worked with artists such as Madi Diaz, Tab The Band, and Blackbutton. Currently, he worked out of Skyline Recording Studio. You can find more information on Shane O’Connor as well as more recording tips at www.shaneoconnorrecording.com.

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28 thoughts on “10 Practical Tips For Recording Amazing Guitars

  1. Great points! This is how I interpret the whole note doubles :

    Guitar 1- plays a regular strumming/riffing part, perhaps with lots of beat subdivisions.

    Guitar 2- picks/strums ONLY one note or chord and allows it to sustain for 4 beats, which is the duration of a “whole note” in 4/4 time.

    Both guitars are of course playing together at the same time. Note- this approach assumes that in your song, the chords change every 4 beats.

  2. Hello Diskmakers,

    I really appreciate your website. I have a mystery that I hope you can help me solve.

    My home studio consists of a Dell desktop computer, Cakewalk Sonar DAW, a new Behringer 2 channel audio interface 24/196 ($99), a new Behringer stereo mic preamp ($99), and new Behringer matched pair condenser microphones ($69).

    I do not use an outboard mixer.

    I am a professional multi-instrument musician. When I plug my bass guitar into the audio interface and record a track, I must play softly and perfect like a robot. If I play lively like when I play with a band, the recorded track will sound horrible. When I play softly and perfectly — like a robot — the recorded track has many many bass notes that must have the volume individually reduced or increased. Each note has a bit of distortion, also. My recording levels never peak.
    My vocals and acoustic guitar record much better because I use the new Behringer mics, but I still need to increase/decrease the volume of many vocal parts of the track.
    Also, the bass guitar never sounds deep and rich. The acoustic guitar doesn’t sound rich no matter where the mics are positioned in stereo (X/Y, 12th fret/under soundhole, etc).
    In the past I used a Focusrite Scarlett interface, but I experienced the same problems. I have used an AKG $500 small diaphram mic for guitar, but I experienced the same problem of no depth and richness. I admit that I was recording in a small room, but if I play the guitar lively with the Focusrite interface and AKG $500 mic, I get an non-appealing recording.
    Whatever I record just doesn’t sound studio broadcast quality, no matter how much time I spend with Sonar eq, compression, reverb, etc. The problem is definitely not my musical skills.
    Interestingly, when my bass guitar was recorded by my friend through his mixer straight to a dedicated cd burner, it sounded very good.
    Could the problem be the cheap Behringer interface? But even the Focusrite sounds the same as the Behringer. I have tried the smallest Mackie mixer and a larger Behringer mixer. Same problem. My bass must be played very, very softly and like a robot. And even then I must increase and decrease many, many notes individually with Sonar Envelope.
    I am considering a Yamaha MGP mixer. But before I try that, perhaps a $700 Crimson audio interface will solve the problem because it has high end converters and preamps.
    Can you please help me solve this mystery? No musician should have to play a bass guitar softly and like a robot …. and still have to edit the volume of each note. I tried another bass guitar and instrument cable, no change. Every setting inside my computer and Sonar is correct. Flawless recording, exporting, and cd burning.

    Please help me solve this mystery so I can get a quality CD for you to master.

    Randy in Texas

  3. The statement in point 3 about standing waves in a small room is wrong.

    You get standing waves in any room that has parallel surfaces, whether the room is small or large

  4. I like the doubling suggestions, esp panning double notes and rhythm guitar. Can anyone explain the diff between doubling the root note and doing a whole note double? Thanks

  5. most people know every thing already dont you know that already man peace they are the smartest people around and need not told how to do anything at all cause they know it all already so they think i know a bunch of people like that almost everyone they do not have time to be told anything peace

  6. Dave, good advice for turning the gain down. However there is an art to recording a high gain guitar. just ask Ted templeman and Andy Johns.. they sure as hell didn’t tell Eddie and Jimmy to turn the gain down!!!! Yahoo!

  7. And when recording rock guitars, TURN DOWN THE GAIN!!! Live guitar amps are amazing, wonderful-sounding things, but they sound great because you’re hooking up powerful, efficient speakers to superb tube amps at high volumes. You aren’t going to get that wall of sound out of a pair of iPod earbuds. Distorted amps compress the tone a lot, which is great when the sound is loose and loud from the amp, but it makes everything buzzy and thin when played back on cheap, underpowered playback like car stereos and what not. Less gain means more dynamics – it may not sound as cool live in the tracking room, but it will sound better on playback.

  8. Setup is critical. Thats what everybody needs to know first. Changing strings can change the intonation and that is the #1 issue with a bad track.
    Always video tape yourself, if you nail it, and the record becomes a hit… you’ll have Behind The Music footage… It also allows you to see what you did right or wrong.
    You can squeeze out a tighter note with a compressor on a very low setup, even squash a bit of buzz out… this is a standard practice for some country pickers like myself.
    I’ve tracked with everything from a Pod to direct, and I have an assortment of amps, AC30 for mid tones, preamp cranked for natural overdrive, play a G chordand the amp starts singing… I use a 71 Princeton hotrodded with a 12″ speaker for the real twangy stuff, and I use a Bugera 333XL for hard rock and metal sessions.

    Since I build my own guitars I know how to do a setup, but if you dont know how… pay the extra money and have the BEST guy in town do it. Not just your buddy who can intonate and lower strings, but someone with the correct tools to level frets, crown and polish them. once the neck is setup the rest is easy.
    Another rule of thumb is to bring an assortment of guitars, because inevitably one track will need that certain tone… a Gretsch and an AC 30… Beatles, A Tele and an AC 30… Zeppelin (with the mid cut and cranked all the way up)

    I generally use an Audio Tecnica 408ND, a Shure 57, or a 58 for mic’ing amps, but there are many choices. I cant stand some of the standard mics some of the studios here in Nashville want to put on my amps… so I bring the mics that I like for each amp with me, and if the producer wants to change the tone, he can do it after I leave (with the DI track). But find the mic that best suits your guitar and amp combination, and write it down so you’ll have all the info available later.

    Take notes of every setting on all the equipment, because later down the road, you may want to recreate that sound live, or in another session, and it will save time.

    My 2 cents… btw my “Telethon” CD was all done with a POD, and Alder Tele with a Seymour Duncan Alnico 2 bridge pickup, and I recreated that sound with a Peavey Classic 50 410 live. A CS2 compressor and a Blues Driver pedal.
    Google that video and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIzFo_UrD64

  9. Great advice, thanks! One more word about a professional set-up (since no one else commented on that)…. After playing a Les Paul for 5 “beginner” years, I finally realized my aspiring jazz-guitarist dream of owning a hollow-body (an ES-175) at the still-green age of 21. But I was disappointed to find that the action was almost completely unplayable for me. (In retrospect, it probably had 12 or 13 gauge strings and the action was way too high. It was like playing an acoustic steel-string.) My first thought was “This is how it must be, so deal with it!” I told another guitar player, and his immediate suggestion was to get it professionally adjusted. I balked at the thought of paying $40 for someone to tweak my guitar and put strings on it, but his response is worth living by: “It doesn’t make sense to spend a grand or more on a guitar and then worry about an extra $40 to make it play right.” Let that sink in. If your guitar isn’t feeling right, stop “living with it” and get the set-up. You’ll be glad, and kicking yourself for not doing it sooner.

  10. I def recommend experimenting with different placings of a room Mic and tracking that in addition to your mics on the amp.. it can yield excellent results when mixed in underneath ur close cab mics..

  11. “Isolate The Amp From The Floor”
    Great advice!
    Much of the rest I knew from experience but I never thought about the sympathetic vibrations!
    Thanks!

  12. thanks for all of the comments.

    as for amp simulators, that is the future in a way… but I haven’t been able to get the same results that I can with an arsenal of boutique amps.

  13. In the past I have always been a purist, but I no longer use amps at all for recording guitar (or bass) The Tech 21 Sans Amps directly into the board sound better than any amp I have every used. For guitar I use the sans amp GT2 > Holy Grail reverb > Instrument Input. I add EQ and compression (if needed) digitally. For Bass I use the Sans Amp Bass Driver DI into an xlr input (mic in) and add eq and compression digitally. My tones have never sounded better, especially with hollow-body guitars and basses. It’s easy to write down your setting and do a punch-in three weeks later. No amp means I can keep a low volume in the studio as well.

    Recently tracked live drums, sans amp guitar and vocals at once (onto three tracks – I record mono drums) and then overdubbed bass, acoustic guitar and back up vocals. The results were amazing.

  14. Conveniently, I just set up some more studio time. Granted, it’s for November, but I’ll definitely keep those ideas in mind when figuring out what all I’ll be recording.

    As was mentioned, I’d definitely reinforce recording with as few effects as possible. It’s way easier to cut and paste things without tons of verb, phasers, and flangers. Usually the tones from your pedals can be emulated pretty well in mixing too. However, if you find yourself not used to as cleaned up a sound as what you then end up with, it may throw you off a bit (it could be as much as just not “feeling” the music as much without your effects). A simple solution: make a separate loop that feeds your effects through a pair of headphones. That way you’re recording through the amp clean, but hearing your usual sound while you play. It works great and yields great recordings.

    Also, for anyone who’s recording any percussive fingerstyle sorta stuff (Andy McKee, Guitar Republic, etc.) keep in mind that percussive hits are really hard to get good recordings of. Depending on how you’re being mic’d, you can almost lose them completely (if this happens, keep playing around with it, you shouldn’t be losing everything). I found that if I reinforced the hits a second time through, it helped fill out the sound better. Also, I’ve done all of my acoustic recordings just mic’d, not through an amp, and have been very pleased with how that sounded as well.

  15. This information is good, but I’m getting a severe case of Deja Vu. I know I’ve heard these hints elsewhere or perhaps this is a replay of a previous article from DiscMakers? Especially twirling a mic over a vertical amp. And the pick picking… 😉 Oh, and there’s no way I’d bring a metal pick anywhere near my Taylor…

    Finger-picking rather than using a pick can soften the guitar sound too. Also, I’ve gotten a fuller sound using a 12-string, but doubling the guitars is a trick I’ve tried before and it DID drown out most everything else. I had to back the guitars down and they were still muddy. I like the hint about just strumming the whole-note chords. Gotta try that out.

    Most everything I do is a DI. I don’t own pedals but recording mic from my amp would probably improve my sound dramatically – Voice and guitar through my Fender amp is sweet, compared to the DI recordings I’ve done. Gotta try that too.

    Thanks for the help, Shane. You’re going to help me improve my next recording.

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