In this post, I'll to go over the two ways to record guitars in your home studio. If you want the most professional sounding mixes, micing your guitar amp is generally the best way to go, but amp sims are a much cheaper solution that still produce good results. Whether you decide to record your guitars by micing an amp or using amp sims really just depends on how much $ you're willing to spend, as going the microphone route can get a bit spendy.
Amp sims are awesome. A lot of people use them because they are affordable, easy to use, and don't require very much setup. Basically, an amp sim is a piece of software that simulates the sound of a real amp. Nowadays, you can find an amp sim for almost any real amp that's out there. I've used a handful of amp sim programs since I've gotten into recording. I started with Podfarm, which is a great program for starting out with recording guitar. It lets you choose from a decent selection of amps, pedals, and cabinets. I used this program for 3 or 4 years and loved it. If you want to kill two birds with one stone, you can buy the Line 6 UX2 DI box, which comes with the Podfarm software. After that, I used EZ Mix 2 by Toontrack, which is even better in some ways. Not only can you find a ton of different tones for recording, but it also comes with a huge bundle of presets for basic mixing. This program is full of guitar tone presets for pretty much any tone you could be looking for. Each preset has two parameters that can be adjusted, like reverb and distortion for example. It also has presets for bass, drums, keyboards, strings, and vocals. I used this one for two or three years for all my mixes. Here's a couple examples of what you can expect from EZ Mix 2 when recording guitar tracks with it:
The last amp sim program I used was Bias FX, and it was by far the best one. It works similarly to Podfarm in that you can choose an amp, adjust all the settings manually, and can rearrange the signal chain however you see fit. Even after you've recorded your guitar track, you can go back and adjust the setting on the amp and/or the pedals you used. You can pick out a cabinet, microphone, and even adjust where the mic is placed on the speaker. Another great thing about Bias is that there are endless presets designed by other users of the program that you can download from within the app. It is also available on mobile. Here's a couple examples of what you can expect from Bias FX when recording guitar tracks with it:
Micing An Amp
Micing an amp is the best way to get a good tone if you have a good amp and cabinet (or combo amp). You only need a few things:
- Cabinet (unless you have a combo amp)
- DI Box
There's a ton of microphones out there for recording guitars. The industry standard is the Shure SM57. Because of it's versatility, every sound engineer and recording studio has at least one of these mics. It's a great dynamic mic and has a low-end rolloff at 200Hz, which makes it great for recording electric guitar. It's the one I use and it does an awesome job.
A good alternative is the Sennheiser E609. This mic is unique because it was designed specifically for recording guitars. Because of the way it's designed, you don't even need a mic stand; you can just hang it by the mic cable right in front of the speaker. It also compensates for hums, which is great for recording guitar cabs.
These are just 2 mics out of many that you could possibly use, but they are a great place to start if you're looking to record your guitar. Ok, so let's move on to micing your amp. If you only have one speaker, this will be a bit quicker for you. Also, check online which cabinet speakers are the best for the style of music you play (If you play metal, you might want to look into getting a Celestion Vintage 30 speaker, for example). Start by dialing in a tone on your amp. You'll want to sit down with your guitar right in front of the speaker, so that the speaker itself is at ear-level. Start playing some riffs and adjust the amp settings until you find a tone you like. If you are using a 2x12 or 4x12 cabinet, you'll want to try recording your guitar with every speaker to see which one sounds the best. To do this, start by placing your mic at a 90 degree angle to the speaker, and make sure you can fit two fingers in between the mic and the grill. The first position you will want to try is probably right in the center of the speaker cone. Save that recording, then start moving the mic to the right (towards the outside of the cone). Move it about 2-3 inches for each recording. Repeat this for every speaker that you have in your cabinet, then listen to the recordings back to back until you find the tone that sounds the best to you. Here are some examples of the different tones you can get just by moving the microphone to a different part of the speaker.
As you can see, moving the mic just a little bit can make a drastic difference in your tone.
The last thing you need is a DI box, which is a box that plugs into your computer via USB, so you can get the signal from the microphone into your recording software. I have been using the Line 6 UX2 for several years, and it works great. It has two guitar inputs and two XLR mic inputs. If you only need to record one guitar track at a time, there's plenty of options out there for simple DI boxes. Find one with low latency and you'll be fine. Both the UX1 and the UX2 come with the Podfarm software.
That's basically it. It's a little time consuming, but if you do it with a decent amp, it will absolutely sound better than almost every amp sim. Don't forget to write down everything about the mic position when you find the perfect spot for your tone. You'll want to remember exactly where it was, what mic you used, and which speaker it was recording. Even with one amp and one cabinet speaker, there's a TON of different tones you can get just by changing mic position, or even using a different mic all together. So start experimenting with it, and happy tone hunting! \m/