Get a free year on Tuts+ this month when you purchase a Siteground hosting plan from $3.95/mo
If you play guitar—or know someone who does—and want to learn how to record it, then this tutorial is for you. I'll show you how to record and mix your guitar, and teach you a few tricks to make it sound better. I'll be using Cubase, though you you should be able to follow along using your own DAW. Let’s get started.
Before you start recording, you need to setup your DAW to accept the tracks and inputs. You need to setup the output from the guitar to go into your DAW.
Since this tutorial is aimed at beginners, I won't assume that you've purchased any recording gear (like microphones and an audio interface) yet. If that's true:
- Your guitar must have an internal pickup in it, so that the output from the guitar can be easily recorded.
- You'll need to plug the guitar lead into the mic input of your computer's built-in sound card. You may need a 6.5-3.5 mm adaptor to achieve this.
Once everything is connected, add an audio track from the Add Track submenu onto your project.
Switch on monitoring on that audio track to hear what you are playing on the guitar. Listen to the track and make sure there is no disturbance coming from the inputs.
If you have studio monitors, use them. Otherwise I recommend that you have headphones connected so that you can hear clearly and mix properly.
Recording Your Guitar
If you followed the above steps correctly, you will be now ready to record you guitar. This is similar to recording any other track: you need to set up the tempo, timing and metronome, and arm the track to record.
It’s always better to get the right tone for your guitar at the recording stage. So if your guitar has built-in EQ controllers, adjust it to find your tone. If you are not sure about what you want, you can always record a clean guitar tone with no EQ and later adjust it with EQ plugins.
Here is a sample of a guitar recorded this way.
1. Dealing With Noise
One of the main problems that you face while recording audio is noise. If the level of noise is very low or unnoticeable, you can choose to leave it like that, but if you feel that it is affecting your recording, you will have to take care of it.
The best way to solve this is by making the signal chain noise free. Noises may occur because of unearthed connections, or signals interfering with the audio signal. Make sure that the cables that you use and the connections are all clear and clean. Remove any obstacles that might interfere with the signal.
Another way to solve this is by using a noise gate plug-in on your track. The noise-gate plugin will help you reduce the noise level coming from the input and give you a cleaner and less noisy sound.
In Cubase, this plugin can be found under the Dynamics submenu of the plugin list. Select the Gate plugin and adjust the threshold and attack release settings to reduce the noise level without affecting the quality of the guitar tone.
There are other plugins such as the Waves X-Noise or Z-Noise which will help in this process. You can set it to learn the frequency of the noise and then reduce that frequency from the track. This will be covered in another tutorial.
2. Applying EQ
The guitar produces a large variety of frequencies. Therefore, finding the right frequency and remove the problem making frequency is very important for the overall mix.
Depending upon the other instruments, you have to adjust the EQ of the guitars so that they all sound good together. If you feel that there is too much bass in the guitar, reduce the lows or add a high-pass filter to the track. If you find that the high frequencies are a bit too much, apply an EQ cutting the high frequencies.
If you listen to the above track, you will notice that the low frequencies are a little louder than they need to be. Adding a high-pass filter will reduce the lows and clean up the bass. You can also increase the highs a little bit to give more brightness to the guitar. You can really feel the difference if you boost a little in the 10K range.
Listen to the recording below to see the difference an EQ can make to your track.
Widening The Image
1. Delay Technique
If you record your guitar in mono, sometimes the depth of the guitar will be lost. In order to increase the depth of the guitar, you can always do this simple, yet effective trick.
Duplicate the mono track and pan one track to the left and the other to the right. Now add a mono delay from the Delay plugins list, to both the tracks and adjust the settings for a good stereo effect.
Here are the settings you can use on the MonoDelay plugin:
Now listen to the track without the delay effect and the track with the effect. You can clearly notice the width of the track increasing, giving the mix better effects and making it sound a little fuller.
2. Double Take
This trick requires a little more effort, but is completely worthwhile: record the guitar twice, on two different tracks.
Since a human player cannot be always in perfect time, there will be small differences in timing on the two tracks. If you pan these two tracks hard left and right, you can instantly feel the stereo image get bigger and better.
Recording guitar is a fun and easy process if you take some things into consideration, and keep in mind tricks we covered that will help you get a better recording, and make better music. Spending a little more time in getting a cleaner sound and proper EQ will help you improve your recordings. Try it in your next project.
What techniques and tricks do you use while recording guitar? Fire away in the comments section below.