Studio: Recording Electric Guitars
An electric guitar is capable of a wide range of sounds and
is unique in that the amplification used adds to the texture of the sound. The single most
important detail in getting great electric guitar sounds is that the sound coming out of
the amp should be great. This is determined by the guitar, the amp & speakers and the
person playing it. It is much easier to get a good recorded sound if the guitar/amp setup
is a good sounding one. Making sure that the guitar sounds good first can save you a lot
of time later.
Make sure the guitar is free from buzzes and rattles, the strings are relatively
new and the intonation is set properly. See some of the guitar maintenance articles on this site, or take the instrument to a professional
It is important to remember that from a recording viewpoint, the amp and speakers
are part of the instrument and should be treated as such. Open backed guitar cabinets emit
sound from both the front and the rear of the cabinet, and you must often capture both to
reproduce the real sound of the amp. The key to getting a great guitar sound is to
constantly experiment and apply some basic physics.
Usually a guitar amp is miced both close and with a distant
room mic or two. This gives you a range of sounds to play with. In the smaller home
studio, or those with an unflattering room sound, you may want to omit using the room mic.
If you are going to use a room mic, take time to find a spot in the room where the amp
sounds good and a spot distant from the amp which sounds good. Use the most sophisticated
measuring instruments you own (called ears) and walk around the room looking for sweet
spots - you'll know them when you find them. Try different mics, try moving them closer
and farther, try different angles, try putting the amp in a corner, try putting the amp on
a concrete floor, try it on a wood floor, try it on a floor with carpeting, just try
Close Mic - The close mic will usually be a
dynamic mic such as a Shure SM57 or a Sennheiser MD421. They can handle the volume levels
and have enough frequency range to cope with the limited response of an electric guitar.
Set up the mic right against the amp's grill cloth, pointing it at a slight angle from the
outer rim of the speaker toward the center. Moving the mic towards the side will result in
a mellower sound, as will moving the mic away from the cloth. The close mic gives a dry,
ballsy, detailed sound.
Multi-speaker Cabinets - If your guitarist
has a multi-speaker guitar cabinet, ask him which of the speakers has the better sound -
(he should know) and close mic that one. There is nothing to gain by micing more than one
Room Mic: For the room mic, place a
condenser mic anywhere from half a metre to two metres in front of the amp (at the same
height as the amp) and point the mic at one of the speakers. The further the mic is from
the amp, the more bass and less midrange it will have. More room sound will be picked up -
making the sound bigger.
If you have enough tracks on your recorder, print the two
mics to seperate tracks to be able to decide the balance between them later, otherwise mix
them to the desired balance when recording to a single track - just be careful not too add
in too much room mic.
Use compression on the close mic. Set the compressor at a 3:1 ratio and adjust the
threshold so that the compressor is usually working, but not squashing the signal too
The Electric guitar is not a natural instrument, so the only EQ rule is: Get the
sound you want!
Adding 100-250Hz will give you more bottom, rolling off 300
to 500Hz will eliminate some of the nasal quality, adding a touch of 700Hz will create a
throaty or woodsy sound, adding a pinch of 1K will give the guitar more edge, adding 3K
will give the guitar more bite, and adding 5, 8, or 10K will make it brighter.
Doubling Guitar Parts
Doubling a rhythm guitar and panning the two tracks hard left and right can make
the guitars sound huge. But consider what works best for the song. Is the rhythm guitar
the featured instrument, or will there be several other guitars competing for space in the
stereo spread? Sometimes less is more.
If you do decide to double the guitar, think about altering
the sound on the double track to give you more thickness. You can change guitars and keep
the amp the same, or vice versa. Change pickup settings if using the same guitar on the
second track. EQ the two tracks differently (scoop mids out from one and boost the bass
and treble, and do the inverse for the second guitar). Make sure the performance is really
tight though, matching the first track's phrasing. Otherwise you might end up with a
cluttered mix that would be better off with only one track of guitar.
Start with the close mic - this should comprise the bulk of your guitar sound. If
it sounds good as it is, stop and don't add any room mic. For a slightly more distant, but
fuller sound, bring up the fader on the room mic. Slowly add that signal to the close
sound. You'll have the detail of the close mic, but with the fullness that comes with
adding some "room" sound to it.
You don't need to mix the guitar much louder than the other
instruments to make it sound big. It's all about how well you record it to begin with. If
you've done that right you'll be in great shape for the mix.