An electric guitar may be the easiest musical instrument to record – much easier than drums or vocals. That being said, there are some important steps to follow to achieve that perfect sound when recording in the studio. Follow these seven simple steps, and you’ll easily achieve the sound you seek.
1. Have a Professional Setup
Getting incredible sound from your guitar begins with a good song and a good player. . In addition, your instrument should be in top shape.
If you have your guitar set up properly, you can be sure your guitar tracks will be in tune, and there’ll be no hums, squeaks or buzzing from the instrument. A professional setup allows you to play the guitar with ease, which will improve your performance.
2. Invest in the Perfect Pick
Although you probably have a favorite pick that fits your playing style well, there are plenty of different picks that can dramatically change the sound of your guitar. For example, if you want to get more attack for your lead parts or solos, a metal pick can brighten the sound of the guitar without changing the amp settings.
In contrast, a felt pick may be the perfect choice for the soft-rhythm guitar, which needs to fit well with keyboards and piano parts. Before you spend a lot of money on a new amp or pedal effects, try a visit to the music store for a new pick–that may be all you need.
3. Make Sure Your Strings are Fresh
It’s very important to have a fresh set of strings on your guitar before starting a recording session. If your strings sound dull, you’ll have problems throughout the mixing process.
If you don’t record on your guitar very often, you can use guitar strings with a special coating that will keep them fresh for a longer period. They’re a little pricey, but they’ll do the job perfectly.
4. Choose the Right Microphone
Three types of microphones are most commonly used for recording guitar amplifiers:
- Dynamic microphones can easily withstand the high output levels of a guitar amp. They’re perfect for close-mic techniques and are the industry’s workhorse.
- Condenser microphones are large-diaphragm microphones that use 48 volts of external power to amplify the sensitivity of the diaphragm. Condenser microphones produce a higher level of output and are more sensitive to high-output sources.
- Ribbon microphones are known for their ability to capture sound as we hear it. They’re very brittle, and a good one can be very expensive.
If you’re just starting, my advice is to go with a good dynamic microphone such as the Shure SM57 or the Audix i5; both are the industry standard and won’t break the bank.
5. Equalize Your Sound through Microphone Placement
There are tone knobs on your guitar, and there are often equalizer and tone knobs on a guitar amplifier too. Although they’re tempting to mess with, drastic equalization on an amplifier can sound harsh or cause unpleasant distortion. A less conventional but equally effective method is to position the microphone at the speaker cone.
The closer the microphone is to the center of the speaker, the more low and high-end sound will be picked up by the mic. As the microphone is moved to the outside of the cone, the midrange becomes much clearer.
The microphone angle in relation to the cone can also change the tone of the guitar sound. Angling the microphone 45 degrees outward reduces the high- to mid-frequencies. Tilting it inward 45 degrees drastically increases the mid-frequencies.
6. Try Double Tracking
A simple double track of rhythm guitar can be all a song needs to make the guitar sound thick and big, but doubling the guitars in a complex arrangement often makes mixing difficult. Duplicating the root note of a chord progression is an excellent way to thicken a guitar track without adding too much information. A second double an octave above the root can work perfectly as well.
- For the chorus lift of a song, whole note doubles are sufficient to emphasize chord change.
- In a heavy rock song, whole note doubles with less distortion often sound great and also add clarity and harmonic distinction to the progression of the chords.
- On less heavy pop or country tracks, whole note doubles with slightly different chord voicings can add a feeling of spaciousness and fullness to the chorus without distracting from the vocals.
7. Improve Your Preamplifier
The purpose of a preamplifier is to amplify the low-level signals at the standard operating level of the recorder.
Most audio interfaces already have built-in preamps, most of which are good enough to start with. Slightly more expensive audio interfaces are equipped with much better preamps than entry-level audio interfaces, however.
An external preamp can dramatically improve sound quality when working with low-output dynamic microphones, including ribbons. For high-output condenser microphones, an external preamp makes less of a difference.
An external preamp is an excellent second step to improve your sound quality or to get a wider variety of sounds. But don’t take the second step before you take the first one.
Getting the guitar sound you’ve imagined in your head can take a little time, effort, and investment. But if you follow these seven simple steps, you’re sure to get closer to – and eventually achieve – the sound you seek. Guitar sound is a very personal thing, so remember, if it sounds right to you, then IT IS RIGHT.