Guitar Recording Secrets!

Posted: July 4, 2010 by Paul H in Tips & Tricks

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Okay, we guitarists always talk about amp tone, effects pedals, guitar pickups etc. But what about after you’ve gotten your tone, how do you capture it on a recording?

I heard world famous engineer Eddie Kramer say something like, “If the guitar tone in the room sounds good, then you just have to set the mics in the right place and capture it.” This principle is true, but here are some more in-depth tips on recording guitar that I’ve picked up over the years.

In a perfect world you’ll have a good sounding room to put your amp in. I used to own a studio in LA with a live room and a control room. Not any more, so I’ve had good luck recording a loud amp in my master bedroom’s walk-in closet with lots of hanging clothes! The hanging clothes work very well at stopping the sound from bouncing around.

Here’s another idea. I once built an amp box in my garage that I could put a speaker cabinet and mic inside. The box frame was made out of 2x4s and it was just big enough to fit a speaker cabinet in. Then I screwed layers of drywall and sound deadening board to the frame, leaving the top open. I bought a solid core, wood door, cut it in half and glued the two halfs together so it became a really thick, heavy piece of wood. I used this for the top of the box. I put rubber around top of the frame so the top would make a good seal on the box. Inside the box I added insulation around the amp to limit the sound from bouncing around. This amp box created a slightly different tone than the amp in a room but it worked great. Here are some secrets about recording gear:

  1. You need the right mic. I’ve recorded with expensive NeumannsRoyer ribbon mics, Sennheiser 421s and these are great. But for me I like the low priced Shure SM-57. A ’57 costs around $99 and Ted Templeman, Van Halen’s producer captured Eddie’s tone with one. Ted often added a distant room mic and blended that mic in, but most of Eddie’s tone was captured with a ’57. The ’57 is an industry standard, everybody uses this mic, it’s also great for drums and live vocals! 
  2. Now find the best spot to put the mic. If you are mic-ing a guitar cab there are all kinds of spaces in front and around the speaker that you can position the mic. What I recommend is cover one ear, then put your other ear in front of the speaker cabinet and move around until you find the sweet spot. If you are playing pretty loud this can be painful, maybe have a friend do it. Once you’ve found the sweet spot, put the mic right there. I usually close-mic less than 6 inches from the grill cloth. For rhythms I usually like the mic pointed straight at the speaker. If I’m recording a solo, I’ll sometimes angle the mic, this will take a bit of the edge off the tone and make it warmer.
  3. The next thing, and it’s very important, is the mic pre-amp. A mic-pre will color your tone. I use old Neve 1272 mic pre’s, cannibalized out of old Neve consoles by BAE. Brent Averill Enterprises. Now it’s called British Audio Engineering. But those BAEs are expensive. You can get a good mic pre with a 12AX7 pre-amp tube inside for under $200 or so. I own a bunch of the inexpensive ART mic pres and they are pretty good, but the BAE smokes them. The mic pre is really important, don’t skimp, especially if you can afford a good one. 
  4. After the mic-pre next in the recording chain could be some EQ and compression or limiting. I prefer not to EQ at this point. I do recommend some compression though. I use the DBX-160X with it’s over easy setting just to make sure that I don’t hit my audio interface too loud on peaks. Compression is especially important with clean sounds. After this point usually your tone enters a computer and that’s where it will live until you mix. Some people spend a lot of money on their analog to digital converters but I think as long as you have a pretty good name brand audio interface you’ll be okay. I use a Roland Octa Capture, It sounds great. 
  5. At a mix-down in top studios, for processing rock guitar tone, engineers use expensive Neve, SSL, Pultec or API EQ’s along with a Urei 1176 or a Universal Audio LA-2 compressor. You also see modern versions of these classics made by Tube Tech, Manley, Avalon, Focusrite, the new Rupert Neve designs and others. These do a killer job! I remember having a out of body experience mixing with an Avalon 737, it made my guitar sound so good! If I had a spare $2500 I would buy a 737 today! Some of these EQs I’ve listed like the 737 also have built in mic pre-amps, and compressors too!

Here’s the cool thing about the age of computer technology. You can buy computer plug-ins that mimic these expensive compressors and EQ’s! I use Wave’s SSL channel strip along with Chris Lord Alge’s presets. These have compression and EQ. EQ is necessary for today’s rock and metal guitar tones. Pultec EQP-1A’s and Neve 1073′s are standard guitar EQs and you can find inexpensive plug-ins that mimic these really well too. I find, on my guitars, I’m always boosting around 3K Hz and sometimes higher, along with rolling out some of the muddy bottom around 100-700 Hz to make room for the kick drum and bass.

I used my SM-57, BAE mic-pre, DBX compressor, and Wavs plug-ins to record all the guitar tones at this Boss webpage: Tone Index. Check it out, I think there are 350 or more guitar examples demo-ing Boss pedals. Although these pedals sound great the tones still needed to be captured properly. As I recall, I recorded these examples over a three year period with a 4×12 cab in that walk-in closet I mentioned, along with a Peavey 5150 head set clean. 

My bottom line for recording guitars. A $99, SM-57 is great, but do spend some dough on a good mic-pre. If you’re recording vocals then you’ll have to spend dough on the mic too, but that’s another subject. One more recording tip. Set a tuner next to you when recording and obsessively tune! Sometimes I tune for the chords I am playing. Then when I go to a different part of the song, I’ll tune for those chords. You are working so hard it’s a shame to have your work ruined by being out of tune. Good luck, Rock on!



  1. Exceedingly beneficial cheers, I do think your current followers could possibly want a great deal more reviews along these lines continue the excellent content.

  2. Rich5150 says:

    Great stuff Paul , I ‘m with you on the 5150 front – particularly with JJ tubes/valves – gives it a little more warmth ( i was looking for the feature you wrote on speakers & the 5150 cab …that too is a superb article … just can’t find it on your page now ?? doh !!) .

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