How to record your electric guitar at home
It’s time to take your guitar playing to the next level and record your music. We’re here to help.
You’ve practiced, you’ve improved, you’ve jammed, you’ve perfected your playing? Now it’s time to take it to the next level and record your music.
That’s the first step on your way to becoming a rock god. We’re here to help you on your way.
If you're interested in recording acoustic guitar as well, check out this article "How to record acoustic guitar".
Let’s get started and record some music!
Since a computer or laptop has become a household item, we can produce high-level guitar recordings at home.
Of course, infinite power is always the gateway to an endless history of tinkering and tweaking around, mostly at the expense of the time one should spend on performing or practicing our riffs.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, good for you.
So, let me share with you my most important lesson learned. No matter if you're recording a demo, a pre-production, or your album:
Make a schedule for yourself and try to meet your deadlines.
Restrict yourself in some way. It's no problem not to keep every single deadline, but without a schedule you run the risk of never getting done.
This often comes at the expense of your creative flow, and that leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering, and suddenly you are stuck in a black suit and are damned to drop awesome movie lines.
In other words: creative power grows from limitation.
What is the best way to record electric guitar?
You don’t need a ton of equipment to get started, although you might have seen pictures of professional recording studios with a sheerly endless amount of recording equipment. Don’t be intimidated; they also brew their beer with (dirty) water.
Professionalism is not necessarily about having the most expensive equipment at hand, but rather, it is the mindset of making every detail count with the means you have at hand.
Let’s get started with the most basic recording chain to record your guitar amplifier.
Guitar – Cable – Amp – Microphone – Cable – Interface – Computer
Set up your recording chain
Connect your guitar to your amplifier via ¼” instrument cable.
Use a (short) mic stand and position the microphone in front of your amplifier.
Connect the microphone to your audio interface via XLR cable.
Make sure your audio interface is hooked up to your computer via USB/Thunderbolt/Firewire.
Open a new project in your DAW (Garageband or Audacity for example) and create an audio track with the correct input (the one where your microphone is connected to).
Your recording chain in detail
Choosing the right guitar
First of all, Play the guitar you love! If you own various guitars, try what guitar fits the track best. Experiment until you’re happy with the sound.
There is a lot that you can adjust after recording, but the tone of your guitar is not one of them. Make sure that you’re 100% happy with your guitar choice.
Second, do yourself a favor and use new strings. Tune your guitar regularly in-between your takes.
Pro-tip: If you are into all-fuzzed out garage rock, maybe don’t use new strings or/and don’t tune your guitar (properly). The sound has to fit the track. As always, experiment until you're happy.
Buy a quality instrument cable
1x Instrument cable, 1/4" TS-1/4" TS
Buy decent cables with quality connectors. A good quality cable easily lasts a decade. Typical instrument cable features two ¼" male connectors.
Warming up the amplifier
Low-wattage tube amplifiers are ideal for home recording.
An isolation cab allows you to record your amp at any daytime.
You can mic any amplifier cabinet regardless of its size, and if you are using a single mic, you can only record one speaker anyways.
It makes no difference if it’s a 1x10” or a 4x12” cabinet. It does make a difference in tone, though.
A closed-back cabinet will give you very direct sound. An open-back cabinet is a bit trickier as its natural sound lives from “being in a room”, a sound characteristic you eliminate when close-miking your amp.
Take your time adjusting the tone of your amp. You want to make sure that the sound of your amp is as close to how you like it as possible.
Also, record a few takes and listen to the recordings. Make adjustments if you’re not 100% happy.
If you have different amps, pedals, cabinets, etc., give them all a try. Be creative and don’t stop until you’ve got the tone you’re looking for.
Get the tone right, and you’ll be much happier with the recording!
Pro-tip: Put the amp on a carpet, or put some other soft material underneath it to avoid rattling noises, etc.
Choosing the right microphone.
The microphone is key! One of the essential parts of your recording chain is the microphone. There are many good choices and which mic you pick depends on what you’re trying to record.
Are you recording a subtle song with a lot of soft sounds and feeling? Or are you recording some progressive metal extravaganza?
You’ll want different mics for different sounds.
+ Great for close-miking
+ Detail-rich sound
Since dynamic mics are not as sensitive to sound as condenser mics, it is easier to record in a home-recording setup, when there is a bit of noise around.
When you position the microphone very close to the amplifier, you should have no problems achieving great sounding recordings and the room you play in will not affect your sound quality.
1x microphone cable, XLR Female-XLR Male
Your standard microphone cable features one male XLR connector on the one side of the cable and a female XLR connector on the other side.
Again, avoid buying cheap or you are going to buy twice.
Audio interface with integrated preamps
Minimal requirements for your audio interface
Hi-Z instrument input
Built-in headphone amplifier
At least 24 bit/44.1 kHz
Connect your microphone to the XLR input. (Or use the instrument input jack (Hi-Z), to connect your guitar directly to your interface.)
While browsing for an interface, search for “2 in 2 out interface” and you should be fine.
The different price points come from the different qualities of AD/DA converters used, connectors, other hardware components, or accompanying software packages.
For CD-quality recordings, your audio interface needs to be able to record 24bit/44.1Khz.
I suggest recording at 48 kHz for the higher dynamic range.
Pro-tip: If your audio interface features a direct monitoring function, use it to record with zero-latency. The preamp signal is sent directly to your headphones.
Computer / PC / Mac
Connect your audio interface to a computer.
Use your current computer or set yourself a budget for a new one. Invest in CPU-power and RAM.
Better performance is even more relevant when it comes to mixing several audio tracks or when using plugins. Reverb, delay, synthesizers, etc. are CPU-intense applications.
You don’t have to go crazy though, your current computer will most likely work just fine, and you can spend your money elsewhere to get a better sound out of your recordings.
Software: DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation
There are many different options available, with a varying extent of professional functionalities. They all feature different user interfaces, although the essential functions often remain identical.
If you are an absolute beginner, you should find a helpful video tutorial online for the basics and use the one that this person is using.
There are some really good free DAWs, and I would suggest that you start with a free one. It will most likely take you some time until you feel like you need more functionality. A free DAW is a perfect place to start your recording career!
The easiest way to judge the sound quality of your recordings is by using a good set of studio headphones.
It’s also good to have those for mixing, recording, and so on. Especially in an acoustically untreated room, which most of us have at home, headphones are recommended.
Pro-tip: Try to avoid using open headphones when recording. Otherwise, the sound from your headphones may bleed into the recording.
Starting the recording process and setup your equipment
Connect your guitar with your amp and your mic with your audio interface. Setup the stand and mount your mic onto the stand.
Create a new project in your DAW (or use an existing one) and create an audio track. Don’t forget to assign the correct input channel.
Always check and recheck your levels. There is nothing worse than the perfect take, but when you listen back, the recording clipped and your excellent solo has to be redone.
Make sure that your levels are right from the start!
The Kama Sutra of microphones:
Get your mic as close as possible to your speaker cone, if your room is not acoustically treated. Set the input gain on your audio interface, depending on the output level of your amplifier. Check the mixer in your DAW and aim for a maximum input level of -12dBFS.
When using a single microphone in an acoustically untreated room, the best thing you can do is getting the mic as close as possible to the source for a safe and clean recording.
Adjust the gain of the preamp of your audio interface. Start by pointing the mic directly towards the center of the speaker cone. This delivers your speaker’s brightest sound. Now move the mic slightly off-axis, and the sound will change drastically by losing brightness.
Pro-tip: If you found the right spot, mark it with some tape, in case you bump against the mic-stand or your cat wants to participate in your session.
Use the direct monitoring function of your audio interface to directly listen to your microphone signal without recording. This helps to find the right sound quickly. Find your preferred balance between center and off-axis sound. Record a short riff and listen to it.
Pro-tip: If you have two microphones, you can try recording with two mics. Put the second mic a few cm behind the first to try and capture some of the room.
When mixing, you can then blend the two recordings and try to get different sounds that way!
Check your recording for noise
Scan your recording for humming, buzzing, noise from the background, etc. and any factors that “harm” your recording.
If your computer produces audible noise from its heating system, try to increase the distance between mic and computer.
Check your mix
Of course, you should aim for the sound you like most. But be aware; what sounds great soloed does not necessarily sound as good in the mix.