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Here in Santa Fe, NM its nearly Thanksgiving (US that is) and it has been snowing a little. I am getting excited to get up to the local mountain and go Telemarking.
Recently someone asked me how I record electric guitar. Here are some thoughts on three basic ways:
1) Direct – plug the 1/4″ cable from the guitar directly into the direct in on your interface (which will also be a 1/4″ jack). Then you will need an amp simulator in your workstation so it sounds like an amplified guitar as the direct tone is usually pretty unusable. So this way you don’t use your amp at all. Quality of your resulting tone is directly related to what amp sim you use and your skill at tweaking it.
Some amp sims to check out: IK Multimedia Amplitube, Overloud TH2, Native Instruments Guitar Rig, Waves GTR3, UAD, Positive Grid BIAS, Peavey ReValver, Scuffham S-Gear, Brainworx BX Rock Rack, Softtube Amp Room etc.
Your DAW workstation likely has at least one built in as well. Some are pretty full featured like the ones in Logic.
One positive thing about recording direct – you can later “re-amp” the direct signal through an actual amplifier(s) to get a “better” / different sound.
2) Mic the amp – plug your guitar into your amp as normal. Get a microphone and put it on the grill cloth close to the speaker cone. Pointed directly at the middle will be brighter. turn it so its pointing at the edge of the cone and it will be a little warmer sounding. Plug the mic into your interface and record that into your workstation.
Some of the “usual suspects” for recording electric guitar:
Dynamic Mics – Shure SM57, Shure SM7 or SM7B, the Electrovoice e609 (handy because its a “side address” mic and you can thread the mic cable though the carrying handle of your amp and hang the mic in front of the speaker which is handy for live recordings of an entire band) etc.
Ribbon Mics – the Royer R121 etc.
Condenser Mics – Whatever you have that sounds good.
Often you can use a multi-mic setup to capture the speaker sound of the amp plus the room ambience. That might be an R121 or SM57 and a condenser.
You can also have an SM57 and an R121 close on the speaker and mix the two in proportion to get the sound that is most flattering in your mix.
Many amp sims enable multi-mic setups to replicate this idea.
3) Using the Direct Output of the Amp – If you amp has a “direct recording output” as some like the old Fender G-dec, a number of different models of Mesa Boogie (I have an F-30 and it has this function), some Egnater amps, some Line 6 amps etc. – plug a 1/4″ cable from the direct recording output of the amp and plug it into the 1/4″ direct input of your interface – or if the direct recording output is an XLR, connect XLR from amp to interface. Note that some direct outputs that have 1/4″ jacks will hum badly if you use a TRS cable but will sound great if you use a TR (standard guitar) cable.
Follow the directions of the amp manual as to whether to leave the speaker engaged (often there will be a switch that enables the direct recording out and mutes the speaker simultaneously which is handy if you want to record late at night and not wake people up).
Often the tone will be a little clanky and sterile and you might need ambiance, cabinet modeling, eq etc. to make the guitar sound like you want. Or if you are doing 80’s pop / R&B recreations this might be exactly the way you want to hear it!
Take note that you don’t want to ever disconnect the speaker of the amp and plug the output of the amp directly into your interface (unless it tells you to do this specifically in the amps operation manual). This can damage the amp or your interface or worse – especially if you have a tube amplifier.
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Take care and happy producing!