Making the most of what you’ve got
Making the leap from just playing the guitar to actually writing your own songs with it is a fantastic experience. You never forget the buzz of writing your first riff, or composing your first full track. Better than the writing stage, however, is when you actually come to start recording your music and playing it to others. For anyone starting out though, or even more experienced players, nailing a decent guitar sound on record isn’t quite as easy as it would seem.
Perhaps you’re used to playing at full volume in a rehearsal space, and are then finding your recorded guitars lack a bit of oomph. Or maybe you have a very specific guitar sound in mind, but then struggle to properly dial it in during recording. Hopefully we can help. Thankfully there are some things you can affect before you run out and splash a load of cash on newer, better gear. Here’s a list of 7 tips for recording better guitars at home.
1. Setup for success
If you want your guitars to sound as good as they possibly can, then it’s imperative that you put a bit of effort in before even the first note is played. By this we mean making sure your instrument has fresh strings, is fully tuned up (including the intonation and fine-tuning) and any scratchy electrics or wobbly jack plates are tightened and fixed. There are few things more annoying as a musician than nailing the perfect take, only for it to cut out due to a loose connector wire, or to listen back and be a semi-tone out of tune. Take the time to get the guitar in tip-top condition, then at least you’re starting on the front foot.
Sorry if this seems obvious but practice is a key component in sounding good. Make sure you know every hammer-on, every string bend and every tricky chord before you start recording. This way you’ll feel confident and relaxed when it comes to capturing it, and you won’t be relying on luck or fluke. The less you have to think about what you’re playing, the better you’ll be able to play it.
3. Don’t sweat the detail
This is particularly true if you’re using amp simulators to record into. Put simply, don’t worry too much about getting the tone exactly right before you record it. Chances are the sound you’re using will need tweaking after you’ve recorded the other instruments so just concentrate on getting somewhere near where you want to be and you can fine-tune it later. If, on the other hand, you’re recording using an amp, try and make sure you’ve tested the balance between guitar, drums and bass before you record.
4. Concentration and relaxation
With your guitar all set up, and the song structures committed to memory, all that’s left is to play. We’ve all suffered from red light fever before, where you know you can play something under no pressure but when the metronome starts ticking something switches inside us. Don’t worry; it’s completely normal. A big reason guitarists stumble when recording is because of the extra tension we put into our fingers, perhaps subconsciously. Great guitar playing requires dexterity and a deftness of touch, which is nigh-on impossible if you’re all stressed out. Take a few minutes to relax and your recordings will benefit immensely.
5. Signal chain woes
It’s always a good idea before recording to scrutinise your signal chain. Have you got your pedals in the right order? Are the cables all in good condition? If you’re using mains power, are you picking up a hum from nearby electronic devices. Aim to get your signal chain as clean and optimised as you can because it can be hugely frustrating to record a take and find you’ve picked up the 60 cycle hum from anything plugged into the same socket.
For any information on “Building Your Own Pedalboard“, we give you the full rundown and even include a nifty little diagram too.
6. Dial back the gain!
A common mistake, particularly among guitarists playing heavier styles of music, is to think you need to dime the gain all the way to get that dirty sound. That’s fine for playing on your own, or for playing live, but when you’re recording it can quite quickly swamp a mix. A lot of players try to max out the bass sound thinking it’ll give them a heavier tone but all it does really is compete for the same frequencies as the bass. Try instead to find tones that complement, rather than compete with, the other instruments. Knocking the gain back can open up an entirely new level of clarity which lets your playing shine instead of your gear.
7. Enjoy it!
Nice easy one to end with. Put simply, if you’re not enjoying the recording process, stop recording. Or at least take a break. Recording guitars is meant to be the peak of creativity, where you put everything you have practiced down on tape to listen back to later and feel quite proud of yourself. If you’re beating yourself up for recording a bad take, or if you can’t properly relax, put the guitar down and come back when you’re feeling better. Trust us, you’ll get there. And when you do, all those botched takes and incidents of nerd-rage will be forgotten instantly.
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Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.