6 Tricks for Home Guitar Recording

Oct 14, 2015

guitar recording blog

As we promised at the end of last week’s “5 Tips for Recording Vocals,” this week we’re going to turn our focus to recording guitar tracks. Recording guitar can be a difficult and extremely time consuming task. Because of the trouble involved, it can be easy to be put off by disappointing result early on, but don’t give up too soon! It’s much easier for professional producers in state-of-the-art recording studios to get great sound on tape, but that doesn’t mean you can’t in a small studio, or even at home. All that you require for big studio quality is proper knowledge, patience, and acceptable equipment.

Working under the assumption that most of our readers are “bedroom musicians,” today’s tips and tricks will concentrate on recording guitar in a home-studio environment using a personal computer. If you’re looking to graduate to a more professional setting, congratulations! But first keep in mind that many pros are moving back toward producing in home-studios (albeit, more expensive ones) because of the ease, expense, and time saved.

#1 S.W.A.G.

Sure, “swag” has come to mean a lot of different things over the years, but in this case we’re referring to the way radio stations used to use it; “Stuff We All Get.” Free stuff is great, and although you often get what you pay for, you can actually set yourself with some pretty decent recording software without spending any money. But if you really want to spend the money and get good quality software be sure to look for free trials. Recording software can get pretty expensive, so make sure you give them a try before committing to the bill.

There are also a number of free options for plugins and virtual amps, many of which offer a paid “pro” version if you want to upgrade. Combined with the seemingly never ending flow of free amps and effects, you should be careful; some aren’t very good, and others don’t work at all. However, they’re free, so experiment away!

The bottom line is that you want to find something that is easy for you to use, and works well on your computer. If you can fulfill these two requirements, you can cut down on recording stress, and focus on playing.

#2. Get your guitar ready.

You can have the best, most expensive recording software created by man, but it will all be meaningless if your guitar is not set up properly. Make sure you have tuned your guitar to the best of your ability, making sure it is at least in tune with itself. You might want to consider allowing a professional to set up your guitar for you. This will ensure your tracks will be free of buzzes, squeaks, and hums coming from your guitar. While not imperative, a professional set up can help free your mind of worries about the instrument itself, allowing you to concentrate on your performance.

#3. Get your amp off the floor.

This is less of an issue if you are recording in a somewhat larger space, but if you are recording in a small space like a bedroom or project studio, it is important to isolate your amp from the floor. In a small space the physical connection between the amp and the floor can cause a “sympathetic vibration” between the two. In practical terms, this creates an artificial low end that is a headache to equalize out, and can make your recording sound poor. By picking the amp up off the floor, and setting it on something that will insulate the vibration, like a blanket or a special built product, you allow the amp to do its job without vibrating with the rest of the room. This is especially important when you are laying down multiple guitar tracks.

#4. Know the room

Now that you’ve got your amp off the floor, it is important to understand the rest of the room that it is in. When playing in a small space, a loud guitar amp can create “standing waves,” which can build up in a room, ruining an otherwise good recording. To combat the impact of standing waves, try angling the amp at 45 degrees in relation to the walls.

For even more control of room sounds, drape a thick blanket over your speaker cabinet. The blanket will absorb excess sound, eliminating room sound for any microphones close to the cabinet. You can then add a second room mic to control the room sound in the mix. With this trick you create the possibility for all kinds of experiments when it comes time for mix.

#5. Equalize with the mic.

With all the knobs on your guitar, and often EQ and tone knobs on the amp, you might be tempted to attempt to equalize with them. Although these knobs look fun, playing with them too much, especially on the amp, can cause harsh sounds, or make the amp distort sounds in an unexpected and unpleasant way. A different, somewhat more novel method of EQ is through the placement of your microphone.

In general, the closer the microphone is the center of the speaker cone, the more low and high end will be picked up. Predictably, as you move the mic to the edge of the cone, the midrange becomes clearer. You can also use the angle of the microphone to your advantage. Angling the mic out 45 degrees will reduce the upper midrange, while angling it in 45 degrees will increase the low midrange frequencies.

#6. Your pick matters.

Like most guitarists, you probably have a favourite pick to play with. However, though this one pick might compliment your playing style, consider mixing it up a bit; there are pick options that can dramatically change the tone of your guitar. If you’re looking for a nice attack on leads and solos, try using a metal pick. This can brighten the tone without needing to touch the EQ on the amp. In comparison, using a felt pick can help soften a rhythm guitar that needs to sound good next to a piano. A simple trip to the music store to scope out picks can save you a lot of money on new amps and effect pedals.

This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive lists of ways to make your home recording a success. Recording, especially for the guitar, can be a tricky, pulling-your-hair-out stress inducing activity, but following these few tips, as well as countless others a simple internet search will reveal, can bring all the confusion, difficulty, and frustration down to acceptable levels, allowing you to put your time and effort into your performance.