Recording guitars is not as complicated as it once was. These days, you can have your home studio setup ready to start recording an acoustic or electric guitar in quick time. The best part is it won’t break the bank. With the pandemic running rampant for the last two years, recording studios had no choice but to close. As a consequence, there have been no studio work or live shows.
Therefore, as a session musician, most of my work had to be done remotely from home. However, remote sessions were nothing new; they were happening way before the pandemic began.
Working remotely from home in the past couple of years has helped me hone my skills with the latest technology and general no-how. However, my experience recording my guitars remotely in the previous years proved very fruitful. I will share my thoughts about recording guitars at home with you.
What gear do you need to record guitars at home? Your Laptop or PC is at the heart of your home recording rig. No matter how good your guitars or amps are, your efforts will fail if your computer is not up to the task.
First things first
Daws (digital audio workstations) are computer resource intensive. In particular, the CPU. ( central processing units). If your computer is showing age, check the specs and check that its CPU can run a DAW with multiple tracks and effects.
If you are not computer savvy, get advice from someone qualified to advise you if you have an old steam-driven computer that’s a museum relic. It will not run a DAW.
Depending on how much mixing and mastering you want to do, you might get by with an average price Laptop. From experience, I rarely have projects that use more than five tracks simultaneously: any Core i5 and equivalent CPU should get the job done.
Headphones and studio monitors
Once you are convinced that your laptop or desktop computer is up for the task, studio monitors or good headphones are next in line. These are critical components, they are as crucial to your home recording rig as is your amp’s cabinet or PA system is to your guitar.
If you can’t hear what you are playing correctly, it will translate poorly when played on other speakers. Ideally, you would be best served by buying the best headphones and studio monitors you can afford.
Good quality listening devices will not change the original sound by adding or subtracting low-end, mid-range, and high-end sounds. That’s precisely the same ideal that Hi-fi enthusiasts have always strived for. Ask me how I know.
Of course, once you are at the mixing stage, you will be changing the sound as desired. But you want the original sound to be an accurate copy of the original where possible.
Another essential component is an interface that will allow you to connect various components to your computer. A high-quilty interface will enable you to connect a guitar (electric) and microphones. A decent interface will allow you to connect at least two devices. Cheap interfaces can prove to be a false economy; they can also, in some cases, make the guitar’s dry tone overly bright or muddy.
You can buy an affordable interface from most guitar stores or any number of stores online. We recommend sticking with a major brand like Focusrite, for example. Ensure your interface has at least two inputs; one XLR for a mic and one standard jack for the guitar.
If you want to mic your amplifier or acoustic guitars, I suggest an SM-57 industry-standard or an equivalent mic and a mic stand. We highly recommend learning how to record your acoustic guitar by using a microphone.
What software do you need?
You are going to need a DAW (Digital audio workstation). Choosing the right DAW is critical. The DAW is the software that needs to be loaded into your desktop computer or laptop.
The DAW is used for recording all your audio. Once the audio is recorded, you can perform your magic by editing and enhancing the sound. Your DAW will allow you to edit MIDI, sound mixing, and mastering, among other functions. The DAW is very powerful software, and most have a significant learning curve.
Choose a DAW that you like; you want it to be easy to use and is lightweight for your computer. I use the very popular DAW called Reaper. You can trial It for free, it’s customizable, and makes recording live instruments easy.
The interface is intuitive and resembles an analog mixing board. Because it’s free, you can try it for as long as you like; if you decide it’s not for you, try something else.
Other software like Logic Pro or Ableton Live is more oriented towards loop-based music and modern music production. It doesn’t matter what DAW you use as long as you feel comfortable with it.
VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology and includes all the different effects or emulation of physical gear you use to record, mix and master music.
My approach to deciding what VSTs I need is the same as determining what pedals to use for my pedalboard. The logic is similar, and sometimes, the interface of guitar VSTs emulates a live guitar rig.
The effects are displayed on your computer’s screen, and they look like the real deal, just like the actual analog pedals. The knobs and switches can be turned and switched, allowing you to get the sound your after.
Digital amp sims
Amp simulators have come a long way and sound pretty, very close to accurate. I’m a supporter of analog gear; however, most of my session work at home is done using plugins.
Every modern plugin has its strength and weakness, and from experience, I can assure you that even the cheap ones often offer authentic sounds.
Best practices of recording a guitar at home.
After you have all set up, the real work starts. I can remember when I started; I spent at least two weeks playing around with my DAW to memorize where the commands were located. I say, yes, a learning curve, but well worth learning. Know that the rewards are worthwhile.
What’s great is that you don’t need to know how to use the DAW inside out. Recording guitars and basic mixing only need a few commands and a set of good ears.
Recording best practices
My best practices for recording guitars at home for beginners are as follows;
- Set a fixed volume on your recording sound card and stick to it. Constantly tweaking the volume knob can cause you to lose perspective on whether or not it’s your guitar or the speakers that are too loud?.
- Set the gain level of the guitar to the point it barely goes to yellow. The WAV form of your guitar doesn’t need to fill all the tracks. You can use a compressor to make up for that.
- Don’t use too much gain before making sure that you need to raise the volume of the guitars first.
- Place your speakers preferably in the middle of the room and at the height of your ears when seated.
- Try hard panning guitars left and right if you are recording more than one track.
When recording acoustic guitars, try to stand at the corner of the room with your back against the wall. That is the best position to hear the acoustic guitars sound when playing it back.
Final thoughts of recording a guitar at home.
It does not take long to have everything ready to record your first guitar tracks. You can buy what you need and have your rig setup in less than a day. You should be able to purchase everything you need for less than $1000 if you’re aiming to build an affordable setup.
However, if you intend to have the best setup right off the bat, I strongly suggest spending your hard-earned cash on the best studio monitors and or headphones.
Recording your guitar can be very rewarding and lots of fun. Furthermore, recording your guitar can help improve your overall playing. Enjoy!
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