How to Record Amazing Guitar Tracks
Click on the "Buy" button for more info & pics on an item.
Overview: Digital recording can be broken into 2 categories: stand-alone recording units and computer-based DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation). Computer-based systems offer more flexability on the number of tracks you can record and effects that you can plug in. In my opinion, for a professional-quality recording, you'll be better off with a DAW. For either setup, you will need microphones, and with a DAW you'll need preamps to get the signal loud enough. Quality tube preamps greatly improve the quality of any recording regardless of the type of system.
List of required equipment for each setup:
Direct Injection via POD XT:
1. Pod XT; it can connect directly to your computer with its USB cable.
2. Multi-Tracking Software (Sonar, Pro Tools, Cubase)
Direct Injection via anything else:
1. Direct Injection Unit (Demonizer, Womanizer, Prophesy II)
2. Sound Card / Interface (RME, Delta)
3. Multi-Tracking Software (Sonar, Pro Tools, Cubase)
4. Microphone Preamp
Micing An Amplifier into a DAW (computer):
2. Sound Card / Interface (RME, Delta)
3. Multitracking Software
4. Microphone Preamp
Micing An Amplifier into a Stand-Alone Recording Unit:
2. Stand-Alone Recording Unit (Fostex, Tascam)
Direct Injection / Amp Emulators:
This is by far the easiest way to get a professional-quality recording without breaking the bank and acquiring YEARS of recording/engineering practice. I've been working on various types of recordings for years, and getting a great, distorted guitar tone is very challenging; you need to be in a great-sounding room, with great-sounding microphones, with great guitars and amplifiers, and the microphones have to be positioned perfectly to not cause phase cancellation and achieve the proper tone. However, DI's avoid all of these problems. You plug your guitar into the DI, the DI into your computer (or other recording device), and you're done. Quite honestly, it takes a heck of a professional engineer to beat the sounds coming out of today's DI's. Check out the PODXT, which is a digital emulation, and the Womanizer and the Demonizer which are tube-based analog DIs. Use the POD for all styles of music, the Demonizer for Metal, and the Womanizer for Rock.
Microphones for Recording Guitar
The microphones that you use to mic your amp make a WORLD of difference on the sound quality. Sm57s are standard and highly useful, but a 57 alone will probably not give you the ultimate tone that you're looking for. Traditionally pairing a ribbon mic and a 57 will give a much better tone than either by itself. Pairing a 57 with a Sennheiser 421 is another classic combination. Combining a ribbon, a 57, and a 421 seems to be the ultimate combination. Having a friend around to position the microphone(s) around the speaker while you are in the control room (maybe this is outside the bedroom) and listening to what is coming through the computer/recorder through headphones is necessary to achieve the best sound from your amp. When you hear the perfect spot, tell them to stop the mic there. Try all of the speakers in your cab; they do not sound exactly alike. Make sure the friend has ear protection or he may suffer damage. Don't forget mic stands and goosenecks to position the mic perfectly.
Microphone preamps will be necessary to boost the input signal from your microphone to an appropriate recording level. One complaint about digital recording is that it lacks "warmth." Well, recording with tube preamps certainly helps restore warmth and life to your tracks. Tube Preamps range in price from under $50 a channel to well over $1000 a channel. Below you will find several tube preamps that I have worked with and think they are a great deal in their price range. If you're looking for a pro studio quality recording, i.e. you want your song to sound like one on the radio, I would buy a more expensive tube preamp as it will help you get there (Universal Audio, Focusrite).
DAW Recording Systems
To record on any computer in a professional manner, you will need an aftermarket soundcard--one specifically designed for recording audio. The RME Fireface 800 is the top of the line with excellent, full-sounding analog-digital converters, a perfect word clock, and ease of use. The Delta 1010 is at the top of the more affordable sound cards, but it's Analog-Digital converters are lacking in fullness and its word clock is less consistent than the RME. I've owned both, and I could honestly hear the difference on the same mix with the RME sounding better. The Delta 1010 is a great card for the money, and I'd recommend to anyone wanting a quality soundcard at an affordable price. I'd recommend the RME to the person who is trying to compete with professional studios--it is that good of an input device. Jitter is the enemy in digital recording; it is a noise/glitch that results from a soundcard's wordclock not performing properly. Nearly all soundcards on the market do not have a wordclock that is smooth enough for professional recordings. Wordclocks are sold separately, but the RME Fireface 800 has an amazingly accurate clock inside already--it has no need for an external clock. The Delta and nearly every other card on the market could benefit from an external word clock. Having externally mounted A/D Converters results in more noise-free recordings; both the Delta 1010 and the RME's converters are externally mounted. For the cheapest card that will result in a high quality, but not quite pro level, recording is the Delta 44.
- RME Fireface 800: use to sound like the pros.
- Delta 1010: use in a semi-pro home studio; quality will be better than most, but will not sound like what you'll hear on the radio.
- Delta 44: use to record a decent demo. It will still sound lightyears better than a tape 4 or 8 track.
To make multitrack recordings on a computer, software will be needed. The most popular three multitrack softwares are Sonar, Cubase, and Protools. All three work equally well; it is simply a matter of which one seems easier to use for you. I personally have used Sonar Producer Edition since 2002. Recording at 24bit 96khz is recommended--audiophiles are currently arguing over if there is any advantage at all in boosting the rate to 24bit 192khz. For informational purposes, standard CDs are 16bit 44.1khz, and DVD audio is 24bit 96khz. Try it for yourself, but 192khz is going to top out your machine's resources very quickly.
Plug-Ins (Computer Effects)
These effects are run through your recording software (Sonar, Cubase, Protools) to add effects to your guitar tracks, to emulate amplifiers, and generally enhance your recorded guitar tone. Why use these effects? Why should I doctor up my amp's sound when I already love it? No microphone or combination of microphones on earth will ever sound EXACTLY like your amp does in real space. If there were a perfect microphone, then everyone would be using the same mic, and there would be no need for a recording engineer at all. Using some of these effects, esp. reverb, makes the recorded sound much more like what you hear in the room when you're playing. The Waves Platinum Bundle includes effects that are useful for all instruments and vocals.
Stand-Alone Hard Disk Recorders: No Computer Necessary (some may require an external cd burner)