Getting a good guitar tone in the studio can be a different beast than dialing in your tone in a live setting. While some guitarists use the same amp setup for the studio and stage without issue, some prefer to switch it up and record with different gear.
There are many reasons for this. First, when you're tracking guitar in the studio, you don't always need the same output volume that you use live. If the recording process involves all instruments being tracked individually, most engineers will mic up your amp, hit record, and have you record your guitar along to the recorded rhythm section track. Since you’re not competing for space in a live mix like you are onstage, you can record at a much lower volume.
If you are using a tube amp and going for a classic “cranked tube amp” guitar tone in the studio, turning up your 100 watter to stage volume will likely be overkill. A lower wattage combo like the 16-watt Carvin Audio Vintage16 1x12 combo or an amp with switchable wattage like the Carvin Audio V3M, which can be switched from 50 watts to 22 or 7 watts, will be an ideal selection for a studio amp. There are also numerous studio tools and techniques to crank a tube amp and get that tone without the overall volume being blisteringly loud. A device called an output attenuator can be used to absorb some of the amp’s wattage. In addition, the amplifier can be placed in an isolation cabinet, similar to a vocal booth, to remove excess volume.
While reliability and portability are often a crucial factor in which amp you use live, a studio environment allows you to use amps that you wouldn’t gig or tour with. You can bring numerous amplifiers (even if they’re heavy!) and use them to get a wide variety of tones, which is not quite possible or practical live, aside from using an A/B/Y switch with a two-amplifier setup. The sky is the limit in the studio amp-wise, so feel free to really let loose and experiment.
In the next article, we’ll discuss additional ways you can prepare your instruments for the studio.