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Most musicians get the urge to start recording their music after only a few weeks of picking up the instrument. Whether you want to make recordings so you can listen to yourself and improve, or you want to share your music with others, it’s easier than you think to start recording.
How you record your guitar will largely depend on two factors—what type of sound do you want to record (isolated instrument vs. what you hear from your amp), and what your budget is.
In this rundown we’re going to cover the absolute basics of recording your instrument including:
- How to record electric guitars
- How to record guitar amp
- How to plug guitar into computer
- How to record acoustic guitar and vocals
- How to get rid of hissing noise when recording
- How to mic acoustic guitar
- How to record bass guitar
Now that we’ve got that squared away, let’s dive right in.
How to plug guitar into computer
There are three ways you can plug a guitar into a computer:
- Direct audio-in connection – most computers have an audio-in port, and it’s usually located right next to the headphone jack. You can either purchase a special guitar cable with a ¼” phone jack and a 1/8” stereo plug on the other end, or you can buy a 1/8” stereo plug adapter to use with your standard ¼” guitar cord.
- Powered audio-in connection – if you’re unhappy with the signal quality from directly plugging your guitar into your computer, you may want to try using a powered connection with a preamp. It’s usually best to use a preamp that’s engineered specifically for guitars, but if you’re looking to save money you can go with an accessory that has a built-in preamp (like effects pedals). With this type of connection, you’ll plug your guitar into the preamp, then you’ll connect the preamp to your computer using the 1/8” stereo audio-in port.
- Powered digital-in connection – if you’re looking for the best signal quality, this is the way to go. Look for a preamp that has a USB or Firewire digital output instead of the traditional 1/8” analog stereo output. The preamp will give you the signal amplification you need for quality sound, and the digital connection will keep the signal clean.
How to record electric guitars
There are two ways to record electric guitars:
- Mic recording – this is the traditional recording method used in professional studios. The benefit of mic recording is that you can record your music with effects, exactly how you hear it from your amp. The downside is that if you want good quality, mic recording is expensive. You’ll need a soundproof room, a professional-grade microphone, a high-quality amp, and all of the necessary effects pedals to create the sound you’re looking for.
- Direct box (DI) – a direct box allows you to plug your guitar directly into your computer. You’ll connect your ¼” guitar cord to the direct box, then you’ll connect the direct box to your computer with either a 1/8” stereo jack or a digital connection (USB/Firewire). While you lose the ability to pick up your effects and speaker distortion, this method definitely results in a much cleaner guitar recording.
How to record guitar amp
Here are seven simple steps to record your guitar amp with a microphone:
- Prep your studio – the microphone will pick up any sound, so unless you’re in a professional sound-proof studio you’ll need to try to limit outside disturbances the best you can. Pin up thick blankets on the walls, lock the door so nobody walks in during recording, and make sure nobody is about to turn on the blender in the kitchen or crank the volume on the TV (the mic will definitely pick up loud sounds like that).
- Place your microphone – you’ll get a slightly different effect/sound depending on where you place the mic. Most guitarists like to put the mic directly against the amp slightly off-center to get an in-your-face sound. Record a few test-runs with the mic in different positions to see what sounds best to you.
- Warm up your amp – turn on your amp and give it 2 – 3 minutes to warm up before you connect your guitar.
- Do a sound check – Once everything is plugged in and ready, connect a pair of headphones to your amp and do a sound check for quality.
- Record your music – when you’re ready, fire up your digital audio workstation, hit record, and play your music.
- Apply filters with your DAW – when you’re done recording, try adding filters with your DAW to improve your sound quality.
How to record acoustic guitar and vocals
While recording the guitar and vocals separately will give you cleaner sound, there are situations where recording both at the same time is better. Here are three ways you can record your acoustic guitar and vocals simultaneously:
- Single mono microphone – this is the traditional recording method, so it’ll produce the most traditional sound. The trick is to place the mic in the right spot. Most musicians who use this setup put the mic closer to their mouth, but you’ll want to make adjustments to match your style.
- Dual mono microphones – using dual microphones gives you more control over each sound source. You can use a dynamic mic for vocals and a condenser mic for the guitar; you can use two cardioid or hyper-cardioid condensers; or you can use two mics with figure-eight pickup patterns.
- Single vocal microphone & stereo pair on guitar – this is the best setup if you want your guitar to fill up more space than your vocals.
How to get rid of hissing noise when recording
A little bit of background noise is inevitable with just about any non-studio recording, but there are plenty of things you can do to take care of that:
- Lower the microphone boost on your computer and raise the microphone volume
- Make sure the noise suppression, acoustic echo cancellation, and ambient noise reduction boxes are checked in your computer’s sound settings
- Check for any nearby devices that might cause interference, and make sure all the doors/windows are closed in the room
- Speak directly into the microphone
- Use a DAW to add filters and clean up the sound
- Use a preamp
- Make sure none of your main power cords are crossing with connection cords
- If you’re using a laptop, try unplugging the power and running on battery
- Use shock mounts for the mic
- Use a wind shield
- Use a quality mic that filters out plosive and sibilant sounds
How to mic acoustic guitar
Here are a few tips on how to effectively use a mic with an acoustic guitar:
- Use a condenser mic instead of a dynamic mic
- Use a small-diaphragm condenser mic for true guitar sound, and a large-diaphragm condenser mic for more expressive, textured sound
- Never place the mic directly in front of the sound hole
- For balanced sound that picks up the high-end register, position the mic about a foot away from the 12th fret
- For balanced sound with more bass, position the mic above the sound hole or below the bridge
How to record bass guitar
There are two ways to record bass guitars—you can directly connect your guitar to your computer with a direct box (DI), or you can record music from your amp with a microphone. Using a DI will always give you the cleanest sound as it isolates the signal coming from your guitar, and it eliminates the spill you can sometimes get from other instruments in the room.
The downside to a DI is that you can’t record any of the effects or speaker distortion that usually come with live performances. If you want to record exactly what’s coming out of your amp, you’ll want to place a mic on the amp and record to your computer with your DAW.