Like most live instruments, recording the guitar can be a challenge. Subtle differences in microphone placement, sound-card latency, and backing track can create issues in the final recording. Although there is no foolproof recipe for perfect guitar recordings, the five tips we’ve shared below can help.
1. Do the prep work before you record
When was the last time you changed your guitar strings? Is your guitar perfectly in tune? Have you tried playing the part with a metronome?
These might seem like minor issues, but it’s easy to forget about them on recording day.
“It’s not enough to be ‘good enough’ in any professional recording. Don’t just rely on your ear to see if the guitar is in tune. Add a tuner to your audio track in Ableton to ensure that your guitar is 100% in pitch”, says Ryan Harrell of MIDINation.
The more prep work you put you before you record, the better the final result.
2. Get the best possible equipment
There’s no doubt about it: better equipment results in better recordings.
While buying a new guitar isn’t always feasible (besides, most guitarists have fixed preferences), you should strive to invest in the best guitar cables, microphones, and audio interfaces.
Guitar cables can have a substantially big impact on quality if you’re chaining up multiple effects. A cheap cable can create interference which can result in subtle distortion in the final recording.
Since these problems are easier and cheaper to fix than buying a high-end guitar, we recommend prioritizing them in your guitar recording stack.
3. Record your tracks twice
Most live bands have at least two guitarists. Even when they’re playing the same part, subtle differences in playing styles can create an interesting dynamic to the track.
You can replicate the same in your recordings by playing your parts twice. Use the same notes but switch the effects around slightly to create subtle variations. Your goal is to give the impression that you have two guitarists on the track.
Not only will this make your tracks more dynamic and ‘fuller’, it will also create a nice stereo effect.
4. Switch to digital effects
When it comes to recording electric guitar parts, you have two options:
- Create your effects chain and mic up the amplifier
- Use a digital effects plugin like NI’s Guitar Rig.
Using a microphone before the amplifier helps capture the dynamics that makes recordings feel more “natural”. But it also creates recording artifacts such as clips and unnecessary reverb. The dissonance created by these artifacts can often lead to distortion and poor clarity.
Digital effect plugins are a much better alternative to this approach. You can create the same effects chains as your physical processors, but at a fraction of the cost. And since the entire effects chain exists right in your DAW, recording is much easier and with better clarity.
5. Use bussing
Bussing, for the uninitiated, is when you send all the recordings of a particular instrument (such as a guitar) to a single aux channel. Thus, instead of applying effects to every recording, you can simply apply the effect to the final aux channel.
This offers two benefits:
- Since you’re using effects and plugins just once, you save on CPU (a huge issue when you’re working with 40+ tracks)
- Applying the same effects across all instrument tracks helps them “glue” together more comprehensively.
For instance, if you have 5 different guitar tracks, you can group them together and apply compression and EQ to the grouped track.
Another tactic similar to bussing is to use the same Rever Return tracks for different instruments (such as guitar and drums). This will create a sense that the instruments are being played in the same physical environment.
Recording and mixing guitar tracks is never easy. The dynamics of the instrument can create a lot of issues while recording. These five tips will help you create guitar recordings that sound better no matter the track or genre.