Ever notice how it’s always super hard to find a drummer, but there’s never a shortage of guitar players?
The electric guitar is where all the ego and sex lives in rock music. Without the aggression and buzz of them, rock music would sound silly, wouldn’t it?
So getting your electric guitar recordings right is nothing to take lightly. And if you know any guitarists like I know, they’re very picky about tones.
For the first few years, I would hear the same comment after finishing a project:
“I’m so happy with the record! But I do wish we had spent more time on guitar tones.”
Which was weird, because I never hurried through recording electric guitars.
The first time I heard that, I said, “that’s weird.”
But after the 3rd time, I said “this isn’t good!”
So after many years of testing and refining, I want to share with you my strategies for recording electric guitar.
These strategies will help you get fantastic sounding guitar tracks. Regardless of the mics, preamps, or gear you have.
Part 1 – Recording a Guitar DI
Recording a direct guitar signal has saved me from deep mental anguish in more ways than one.
In fact, if given the choice of recording only the DI or the amp, I’d take the DI.
What is the DI though?
DI stands for Direct Input, which is the clean, unamped sound of your guitar. When you plug your guitar directly into your interface, that’s the DI signal.
Why DI? An unplugged guitar track sounds about as exciting as a pan flute.
Because a DI has a great deal of opportunity that the amp track doesn’t. But the goal isn’t to record only the DI. It’s to record the DI along with the amp track.
DIs For Editing
Nine times out of ten the DI will never be heard by anyone. Even I won’t listen to it. Instead I’ll mute it.
But in the event I need to edit guitars to fix their timing or anything else, they’re a lifesaver.
Let’s take a look at the DI signal as compared to the amp signal:
The difference is this: the amp signal looks like a sausage of noise.
If your guitarist can’t play to save anyone’s life, you’re gonna be miserable.
How the heck do you think you’ll be able to figure out where chords or notes are being played in all that?
But the DI signal shows each strummed note distinctly and easily.
Group your DI track with your amp track and edit away. When you have the DI to identify transients, life is pretty easy.
DIs for Reamping
Reamping is something quite special.
To reamp is to take a recorded guitar signal, and rerecord it through an amp or emulator at a later date.
This is special because you don’t have to commit to a tone if you don’t want to!
Of course, commitment is important in audio. Without commitments, we’d never get anything done.
But just say you record a guitar track. And as time goes by, you or the guitar player begin to like the tone less and less.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Plan B, just in case this amp track might ruin the record?
This is also great if you record in your bedroom or apartment, and don’t wanna upset the neighbors.
Getting great takes can take time. And no doubt your neighbor doesn’t want to listen to loud electric guitars for the next week.
If you record just the DI and use an amp emulator for tone, you can record without annoying anyone. Get those guitar takes perfect, and then send the DI to an amp to record.
Let’s say you have two rhythm guitar tracks and lead for a 4 minute song. Recording an amp should take half an hour, tops.
Everyone’s happy 🙂
How to Record a DI
Recording a DI is pretty simple.
Most likely your recording interface has an instrument input, or Hi-Z input:
For some interfaces you’ll need to turn on the instrument input. For others, you just plug in and play.
You could just plug into a 1/4″ input, even if it doesn’t allow for instruments specifically. But the instrument input sets the volume to the appropriate level for an electric guitar or bass signal.
How to Record DI and Amp Tracks At the Same Time
Here’s where things get only a tiny bit more complicated.
If you’re looking to record both a DI track and amp track, you need some way to split the guitar signal.
But a guitar only has one output, right? How the heck are you gonna do that?
The easiest way to do this is with a DI Box. A DI box allows you the opportunity to split your single guitar signal into two signals:
One for the interface, and one for the amp.
But in the event you’re not looking to shop, I’ve got a hack for you.
In the image above we have the Boss TU-2 Tuner. A classic tuner pedal.
The TU-2 just happens to have two outputs:
The Bypass output bypasses the tuner when you turn the TU-2 on. Allowing you to still hear the guitar signal even when the tuner is on.
This is great because the TU-2 splits the guitar signal for you.
Maybe you have TU-2. Maybe you don’t. But if you do own some guitar pedals, it would wise to see if any of them split signals for you.
How to Reamp
Reamping involves a little more complexity than DIing.
You’ll need two things:
- A 1/4″ output on your interface
- A reamp box
Here’s the deal – you need some way of getting your DI signal out of your computer and into your amp.
So the best way to do that is with a 1/4″ output on your interface:
You send the signal from your DAW to the output on your interface.
Unfortunately, you can’t plug a cable in from your interface into your amp. The signal from your interface isn’t the same as the one from your guitar.
So instead, you need to change the signal from a line level signal into an instrument level one.
And to do this, you’ll need a Reamp box.
Reamp boxes aren’t too expensive. But they afford you some wonderful choices. You can take your time and get that amazing guitar tone that’s in your head 😉
Conclusion – Part 1
In part one, we dug into the beauty of using a DI:
- Easy guitar editing
- Easy guitar recording
- Easy on the neighbors
- Easy reamp options
In part two, we’ll dig into how to mic up your amp and get that killer tone.