Whether you're recording yourself at home or you're in a top recording studio, these 5 simple steps will ensure your electric guitar recordings kick arse!
1. 'The Hendrix Principle' - get your sound right before you record
Sure, it sounds pretty obvious, but take it from an experienced recording engineer, this is the number one fundamental to a great guitar recording, and it's so often overlooked. Remember: the essence of recording is capturing a sound. So you need to make the sound you want, then capture it.
I like to call it The Hendrix Principle, because he's the perfect example. If you want your guitar to sound like Jimi Hendrix, you'll need the kind of guitar he used, the kind of amp he used, and the kinds of FX pedals he used. Then you're ready to record.
Remember: Hendrix (or whoever) didn't play any old crappy instrument and then expect the engineer to wave a magic wand to give him his sound.
2. Microphone Matters
When you go to record your electric guitar, you need to mic-up the amplifier with an appropriate microphone. Microphones fall into a number of basic categories: Dynamic, Condenser and Ribbon are the main 3. Dynamic microphones are an ideal choice for close-miking a loud guitar amp. If you're going to use a condenser or a ribbon microphone, be sure not to overload them with a too-powerful amp.
A Shure SM57 is the ideal microphone for recording Guitar Amps. They're virtually indestructible and have been a studio standard for decades. Even better, they're one of the most affordable dynamic microphones around!
3. Microphone placement matters even more!
While choosing the right microphone is important, how you place the microphone can make or break the sound. In a nutshell, if you close-mic your amp, pointing the microphone right in the centre of the speaker cone will produce a bright sound. Aiming the microphone at the edge of the speaker cone will give a darker sound, and somewhere in between will give a more balanced sound.
4. Capture more sound with more mics.
To get even more out of your electric guitar recording, Try using multiple microphones. There are 2 standard placement setups for this:
Technique 1: Front and back of cab
Having a microphone behind the guitar amp as well as in front helps to capture more of the sound. The 'back mic' should ideally be the same model as the front mic, and should be exactly the same distance from the speaker cone as the front mic. The polarity of this microphone must be inverted, generally at the microphone pre-amp, though this can be done in your recording software.
Combining the 2 mic signals together gives a fuller, richer sound than using just the front microphone. (This is the same principle as top and bottom snare drum miking.)
Technique 2: Close / Distant
Besides having the amp close-mic'd, add another microphone a few feet back from the amp. This microphone will pick up a different sound to the close mic, and when you blend the two signals together, you get a full, rich sound.
5. Natural ambience – Room mic
Instead of just using acoustically 'dead' rooms to record Guitar Amplifiers, let's take it one step further and do what they did back in the good old days of recording in the mid twentieth century. Find a nice sounding space, set the amp up there, and capture some of the natural ambience of the space together with the amp sound. But be careful not to over-do natural ambience, because once it's in your recording, there's no way of getting it out again.
The Bathroom Amp Sound!
One of the best guitar sounds I ever pulled was when I set up a little 1963Gibson Skylark amp in a tiled bathroom. With a close mic and one a couple of feet back, I captured just the right amount of the guitar amp reverberating around the tiled room together with the relatively dry close-mic. Putting the 2 signals together and blending them just right, the sound was phenomenal!
There you go, 5 easy steps to follow for amazing electric guitar recordings, every time. And as a bonus, my special 'Bathroom Amp Sound' explained!