September 15, 2021
Despite what it might seem if you listen to a lot of pop music, guitars are still central to a vast majority of music styles. So, if guitar has anything to do with your music, getting the most out of your sessions is crucial to getting the mix right in the end.
Here, we’ll cover a few of the easiest ways you can maximize your guitar session.
Having a good source is always the first step, although many players neglect simple maintenance. Before a session, make sure your guitar has new strings (broken in enough to be comfortable and reliable), all buzzes and odd noises are sussed out and intonation sounds right across all strings. And of course, bring a tuner to the session and check tuning regularly.
It may seem obvious but practicing licks before a session is crucial to efficiency and getting what you need. Many players value practice for live gigs, but neglect this kind of preparation for sessions, especially when the songs are new. Even if you’ve been playing the tunes out for a while, it pays to take a little time before the session to make sure you’ve got everything down.
Before the session, make sure all cables are good, amps are well maintained and clean, and any pedals are effects are sounding right (without crackles, buzzes, or noise).
It’s good policy to split your guitar’s signal with a direct box and record a direct signal on a separate track alongside any miked amps. You may want to grab the pedalboard sound before it hits the amp as well, but definitely get the guitar’s direct signal before any pedals as well. This signal may come in handy for re-amping or using amp modeling plugins later. Some guitarists even skip the pedals and amps all together and just record direct, but hearing the sound of effects and distortions especially can really affect playing, so bear that in mind.
Quite often, it’s not necessary to bring your big behemoth stage amp and cabinet to the studio. Many times, a smaller cabinet such as Carvin Audio's V112E yields a better recording tone anyway. Some great recordings have even been made with tiny practice amps.
A common technique when recording guitar is to get the cabinet off the floor. Guitar cabinets often resonate with the floor, creating low end mud that’s hard to deal with in a recording. Decoupling the cabinet from the floor reduces or eliminates this problem.
There’s no one way to mic a guitar cab, but you’ll almost never go wrong with a dynamic microphone such as the Carvin Audio M68 placed about an inch away from the grille, halfway between the edge of the speaker and the center. When in doubt, you can start with this arrangement and experiment. Moving the mic further toward the cone edge will darken the sound a bit. Moving it more center will make it brighter and more aggressive.
A large diaphragm condenser can also be quite effective on a cabinet, just remember that these mics are more sensitive. Traditional ribbon mics are very delicate, so be careful using ribbons on loud cabinets, but you may be able to find a great sound as long as you keep the amp turned down a bit, and perhaps place ribbons further back as room mics.
If you plan ahead, you’ll know just which effects from your pedalboard you’ll actually need. To eliminate extra noise, physically take any unused pedals out of the chain. If you’re wondering whether to even use a pedal, don’t. Many of the greatest tracks come from keeping it simple.
Reverb is pretty much impossible to remove from a track and easy to add. Even if you plan to have the track swimming in verb later, it pays to record dry, especially if you end up stacking tracks. So, it’s best to remove reverb pedals and turn down the spring reverb on the amp, unless there’s a particularly unique sound you have set up that bears recording (you can be sure to record a dry direct track simultaneously in this case).
Rhythm guitars and chorus parts are especially ripe for doing two or more takes as a stack or stereo spread. Try changing up the tone a bit on each pass so there’s a little more variance to work with. You can also double, manipulate, and add chorus to tracks in the mix, but there’s no substitute for the slight variations in playing that come from recording more than once.
Especially once you’ve laid down those meat and potatoes tracks that you know you’ll need, nobody’s stopping you from going nuts and trying something offbeat. Break all the rules – add a tone of verb and compression, distort the delay, use two simultaneous amps in different rooms, reverse the pedal order – just get weird and creative for a bit. You never know what you’ll find.
When it comes to getting a great guitar recording, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. We’ve gone over some basic tips to get you going, and the rest is up to your imagination. Above all, have fun with it!
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