When you can’t crank up the amp and mic it up, what’s the best way to record electric guitar?
Like many readers, I’m a ‘recording guitarist’ — I play both the instrument and the role of engineer/producer on my projects. Space is at a premium in most home studios, which limits the number of amps one can have access to when recording, and there are times when you want to record while keeping the noise levels to a minimum. Thus, many of us turn to digital amp modelling of some sort, whether in the form of sophisticated hardware boxes or software. But despite the enormous progress in the last decade or so in amp- and speaker-modelling and the vast array of tools available, I still usually feel most comfortable miking a real guitar amp.
It’s important to understand that even the best DI-based solution (when used without an amp) compromises the interaction between player and amplifier. Pretty much all guitarists acknowledge this interaction as being important, because it influences the way the guitar feels when you play, and that affects the performance you’re trying to capture in the first place.
You can get some of that feel back by listening to your performance over the studio’s monitor speakers, using realistic amp and speaker simulation while playing. But even if an amp emulation is sonically perfect, playing while sitting in front of speakers in the control room just isn’t the same experience as standing in front of an amp. It might work for some, but if possible I’d rather play through an amp.
While miking is my preference, the circumstances I’ve just explained mean that’s not always viable, and that begs the question of how you can strike the most acceptable compromise: just how can you record DI guitar in a way that allows the best possible results from you as both player and engineer?
You can simply plug your guitar into your audio interface’s instrument input, run the signal through a nice virtual amp, set your speakers or headphones to a tolerable level and hope for the best — but I find there’s a little more to achieving the best results.
In this article, then, I’ll explain my most effective strategies for capturing great-sounding DI’d guitar parts. While shaping the guitar sound will obviously be very important, before we turn our attention to things like amp sims and speaker/cabinet emulation, I want to draw your attention to how your guitar interacts with what it’s plugged into — be that a pedal, an amp, a DI box or your audio interface. Once we’ve established the best way of getting the signal into your computer, I’ll consider how best you can shape that sound.
Perhaps the most obvious solution is to do all your processing in a dedicated...
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