How to Record Electric Guitar

Thinking of finally recording that sick guitar line you came up with last weekend? You may be surprised to learn how challenging it can be to create a great quality recording of your guitar. 

Fear not, this guide will show you how to create semi-professional sounding recordings from the comfort of your home. We will discuss the benefits of recording at home, the various types of equipment you will need, and the different techniques for how to record electric guitar tracks that sound semi-professional. 

Benefits of Recording Your Guitar at Home

More and more people have begun creating musical recordings at home. This is due to the many advantages and benefits it offers. This includes:

Recording When You Feel Like It

Musicians in the 21st century have many advantages over musicians from earlier generations. Those musicians had no choice but to rely on studios if they wished to create high quality recordings. This generally involved booking a studio for a specified amount of time and attempting to complete their recording before studio time ran out. 

Musicians who did not want to use a studio were forced to rely on four-track recorders that recorded their guitar tracks directly onto a tape. However, this method produced low-quality recordings that paled in comparison to studio-quality recordings.

If you choose to record your guitar at home in the current year, you will have the freedom to record whenever you feel like it. If inspiration strikes you at 2am, you can plug your equipment in and create a solid-sounding recording within a matter of minutes. You won’t have to worry about running out of studio time or rushing the recording process until you are satisfied with the end product.

Saving Costs

It’s no secret that recording studios can be expensive to book. Studio fees often range from $50 to $500 per hour. This means creating a single recording in the studio could cost you greatly, especially if you are attempting to create recordings on a budget.

Recording your electric guitar at home is virtually free, assuming you already own the equipment you will be using to create your recordings. This makes it a more budget-friendly option.

Making Changes Afterwards

Many professional musicians who rely on studios to finish their tracks are often dissatisfied with the end product. Such recordings may sound high-quality but they may not convey the type of sound the artist is looking for. In this scenario, the musician would need to go back to the studio and get the producer or engineer to alter the recording to their liking. This can be difficult to do given the time and costs associated with using a studio.

Musicians who record at home don’t need to worry about such issues. They can keep tweaking a recording to their liking until they find a sound they are satisfied with. 

Recording at home also gives you the freedom to re-record certain parts containing mistakes. You can continue recording multiple takes until you find one that works well for your mix.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Before starting the recording process, you will need to acquire various pieces of equipment. Depending on your chosen recording technique, you may need to purchase:

  • An audio interface
  • Microphones (with stands and cables)
  • An amplifier
  • Computer
  • Speakers or headphones

This above list assumes you already have a working electric guitar along with the appropriate cables to connect it to an amp or interface.

Recording Using an Audio Interface

The most straightforward way to record an electric guitar is by using an audio interface. This is a device that runs audio in and out of your computer. It allows you to connect your guitar directly to your computer so that it can be recorded using a DAW or recording software. This device also allows you to connect external microphones so that you can capture the sound in a more raw manner.

Types of Audio Interfaces

There are many different types of audio interfaces available on the market. One of the most popular choices is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface. This device features two inputs, allowing you to plug in your guitar and one other instrument or microphone simultaneously.

If you want a device with more inputs and control options, you may be interested in getting a USB mixer such as the Alesis MultiMix 4 USB FX. USB mixers are similar to the ordinary mixers you see at live sound events. You can plug multiple instruments into the device and control each one’s levels or EQ independently. However, the USB functionality also allows you to direct the audio output directly into your computer for recording.

How to Record With an Audio Interface

As mentioned earlier, recording using an audio interface is a relatively straightforward process. If you have purchased a brand new audio interface, your first step should be to connect it to your computer. After turning it on, you may need to download specific sound drivers to get the device ready to use.

Next, you should plug your electric guitar into the audio interface’s main input channel using an appropriate cable. You should then be able to hear your guitar’s dry signal as you strum the strings. 

Some audio interfaces feature lights that indicate the signal input level. If this level is too high, your recording will clip and start to sound bad. Therefore, you should lower the gain on the audio interface until you can freely play without sound clipping occurring.

The above technique works well for guitarists who simply want to record the dry signal from their guitar. If you are interested in running your guitar through effects pedals and an amplifier before recording the output signal, you can do this using the audio interface.

Simply plug your guitar into your chosen effects pedals and run the output from the last pedal in your chain into your amplifier. Next, you can connect the amplifier’s line-out or headphone-out to the interface’s input. This method is great if you want to include your amplifier’s distinct sound in your recordings.

Recording With Microphones

Recording your guitar directly using an interface can produce clean-sounding recordings. However, many musicians prefer recording their tracks using microphones. This is the method that thousands of musicians have used on their albums, and it is still the go-to guitar recording method in most major recording studios.

Using microphones allows you to truly capture your amp’s distinct tone. It also allows you to make use of the “room sound” to achieve a more natural-sounding recording.

Types of Microphones

You can use many different types of microphones to capture the sound from your amplifier and record it. This includes condenser microphones and dynamic microphones. 

You may have already seen vocalists use condenser microphones to record their vocals. Such microphones are incredibly sensitive and offer a bright recording sound. However, many guitarists dislike using these due to their high sensitivity. This sensitivity usually means your recording will contain ambient sounds such as the whirring of an air conditioner or the thump of footsteps in the room.

Dynamic microphones are a better choice for recording guitars at home. These microphones feature lower sensitivity and aren’t likely to pick up on ambient sounds. This sensitivity also means you can crank your amplifier volume up during records. This is an important consideration, as tube amps generally sound best when they are turned up.

There are two primary types of dynamic microphones to consider for your recordings. These are dynamic “moving-coil” microphones, and dynamic “ribbon” microphones. The “moving-coil” variety includes famous microphones such as the Shure SM57 and the AKG P5 S. Such microphones are unidirectional and can be placed very close to your amplifier.

The “ribbon” variety of dynamic microphones do not offer greater sensitivity than their moving-coil counterparts. However, they offer a different polar pattern which may be better suited for certain types of recordings. Such microphones are “bi-directional”, meaning they pick up sounds in front of the microphone as well as behind it.

If you plan to use a dynamic ribbon microphone for your recordings, you may need to worry about it picking up sounds such as your plectrum striking the strings or your fingers sliding across frets. However, it is possible to avoid such problems by placing an object behind the microphone to shield it from unwanted sounds.

Microphone Placement

Once you have connected your microphones to your mixer or audio interface, you will need to adjust the audio level on your amp and interface. You can adjust the volume and gain controls until your mixer or interface is receiving a consistent single without the audio clipping.

It is also vital to consider microphone placement during this stage. Start by setting up your microphones using a stand and placing it a few inches away from your amplifier’s speaker cone. You can always adjust this distance to your liking once you start the recording process. However, you should ensure the microphone tip is located halfway between the speaker cone’s center and its edge.

Once your microphone is in position, you can hit the record button on your audio recording software or DAW and play your guitar. Stop the recording and listen back to it to assess how it sounds. If the recording is too bass-heavy, you should move your microphone farther away from the amp.

You can also introduce more midrange and upper-mid frequencies by moving the microphone sideways towards the center of the cone. If your recording contains harsh high frequencies, you can reduce them by setting the microphone at a 45-degree angle to the amplifier cone.

Editing and Mixing Your Recordings

Once you have recorded your track, you will likely need to edit and mix it properly. Your bare recording may sound raw and energetic, but there are likely many aspects to the sound that prevent it from sounding optimal. This could be noise or muddiness introduced by certain frequencies. There may also be inconsistencies in the loudness of certain parts relative to other sections. You will need to develop a keen ear to understand what is lacking in your recordings.

Depending on your exact needs, you can use your DAW to make changes to your recorded track. You could add a compressor to reduce the volume differences between the loud and quiet sections. You can add reverb to change how spacious your recording sounds. You can also equalize your mix to bring out certain frequencies while reducing others. The possibilities are endless.

You can also make your recordings sound more polished by sending them to an audio engineer. The good news is that you don’t need to hire a professional audio engineer from a recording studio to get great sounding recordings in the 21st century. You can send your recordings to audio engineers on freelance websites such as Fiverr and still get a decent sounding mix for a relatively affordable price.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are plenty of considerations to keep in mind when learning how to record electric guitar tracks. Your first set of recordings may not sound the best. However, it is possible to create fantastic sounding recordings with a bit of practice.

Recording your guitar is only the step in making music. You can look up audio mixing and engineering tutorials and guides to learn how to make your mix really shine. We hope the above guide is helpful in teaching you how to record electric guitar. So plug in and get ready to unleash your musical prowess on the world.