Stellar Guitar Recordings
It seems as if recording electric guitar Likewise, I’ll take a direct feed off the amp if
should be so easy: just crank up your amp, it offers one. Though a direct amp feed gen-stick a mic in front of it, and hit the record erally won’t sound as “real” as a mic’d amp,
button. Sometimes it works out that way, it does provide a complementary color that
but often, it’s not so simple to capture the can be blended with the mic’d track.
thick, punchy, sparkling tone your amp creates. Here are easy tips for improving your
electric guitar recordings, none of which
require any additional gear (which means
more dollars left over for buying guitars,
pedals and amps).
answer depends on the situation. First of all,
remember, if you record a track with effects,
there’s no way to change those effects later—
so if you’re using a delay, make sure you have
the parameters set well, because you can’t
modify them later.
Watch Out for Resonance
Even if you’re using a close mic on your amp,
the room it’s in will influence the final sound,
especially if the microphone you have isn’t
strictly directional. Rooms have all sorts of
resonances that result from sound bouncing around. Take the time to move the amp
around the room to find the best spot to
record. Consider surrounding the amp with
acoustic foam or panels to cut down on room
reflections. Lift the amp or cabinet up on a
chair or stand to cut down on floor reflections.
Go the Distance
Many people record guitar amps by jamming the microphone as tight up against the
speaker as possible—and that can work for
many situations. But I’ve been pulling the mic
back just a bit, from a few inches to a foot
or so, to let the sound develop and breathe.
After all, we don’t usually hear an amp with
our ear crammed into the speaker.
Tune your ears
in on the overall
great basic tracks,
assemble and mix
them with care, and
your projects will
come out sounding
Ultimately, it depends on the function of
the effects. If the effects are integral to the
performance, then record with them. For
example, if you’re using a particular rhythmic
delay that’s essential to playing a part, then
record with the delay. Likewise, if the effects
are part of the tone, then record with them.
An example might be a modulation effect,
such as tremolo, that affects how the amp
distorts during a passage—putting tremolo
on the recorded track after the fact just won’t
sound the same.
However, where the effects are used to
enhance the guitar part, such as a subtle
delay used to enhance the stereo spread of
the guitar, add the processing after the track
is recorded, during mixdown.
Use the Room
In addition to mic’ing the amp with a microphone that’s up close, I’ll also record a mic
that’s back in the room five or six feet, set up
at ear level. You have to watch out for phase
problems, and it helps to have a nice sounding room, but real room ambience blended
into the mix can bring an otherwise dry,
brittle track to life.
Small = Big
I was digging back through my archived
recordings and came across recordings I
made back in college using a little amp that
had a 6” speaker. I was stunned to hear that
they were some of the biggest tones I’ve
ever captured! Tracks made with a small amp
often come through the recording process
sounding much bigger than they were in real
life, and they generally sit well in a finished
mix. Another bonus is that the volume level is
more controllable during tracking.
In the end, the one thing you can do to
make your guitar recordings sound great
is to listen. But the listening required to
make a great recording is not the same sort
of listening required of a player. Above all,
objectivity is required—it’s easy to get so
caught up in what you’re playing that you
miss how the sound works in the overall
mix. Tune your ears in on the overall project, record great basic tracks, assemble and
mix them with care, and your projects will
come out sounding spectacular!
Record it Direct
Though I prefer to track guitars mic’d up
through an amp, I’ll also record a dry output
from the guitar through a direct box that can
be reamped later if necessary. This way, I’ve
got a “safety” I can fall back on if, for some
reason, the amp tone just isn’t working out.
With or Without Effects?
Should electric guitar be recorded with or
without stompboxes or other effects? The
Mitch Gallagher is the former Editor in Chief of EQ
magazine, and is the author of six books and over 1,000
articles on recording and music technology. He has
played guitar—from metal to country to big band to
classical—for more years than he cares to remember.
He is the Editorial Director for Sweetwater in Fort
Wayne, Indiana. You can reach him at mitch_gallagher@
sweetwater.com or at mitchgallagher.com.