Hello, and welcome back! Today I would love to go over one of the trickiest topics, and also one of the most important ones, as far as rock and roll recording goes anyway.
Electric guitar tone to be exact!
First of all, the recorder that you use is not important. For sake of today's topic lets say it does not matter. What I mean is that if you use a DAW, or even an older four track tape machine to record your music this will be of little importance. This blog is all about "before", or before it gets to the recorder.
With the capturing the tone of your electric guitar comes many questions. Should one use a DI box in? "D.I. box" is direct in box, which acts like a load that a Chanel strip or an amp might add to a sound. We use these when we do not want to use an amp and speaker cabinet combo, with a microphone. One plus of using a D.I. box when recording guitar is that you can do this anywhere. A lap top and your guitar plugged into a D.I. box can be done on the bus, to take the idea to an extreme. Some D.I. boxes give a great tube sound to a guitar on a recorded track. This is done allot even in expensive recording studios since it is all about tone, right?
A different technique is to place a small condenser mic in front of your guitar amp, and play away. If your band has a particular sound, and you want to capture that sound, then this is for you! Whatever gear you have in your signal chain gets set up in the studio, and then mics do the rest! A Shure SM57 will do you proud, in front of any speaker, as this is the most used mic for electric guitars.
Placing a mic in front of your amps speaker is the time tested classic approach. A different sound comes from simply pointing the mic off axis, or to one side by turning it ever so slightly at an angle. This removes just a touch of the higher frequencies, and gives the amp a smoother vibe.
Placing a second and a third mic into the picture can breathe life to a guitar mix! Using multiple mics to recording all at once is the ideal practice, verses recording separate tracks with the same mic, by the way. Where you put the mics is what makes all of the difference. Most studio engineers like to place a second mic behind the speaker (or amp) itself. A stereo feel happens when one does this. A mello sound is captured with a mic behind the amp or the speaker cab, as the lows and the lower mids are prominent here. This mic mixed in with the main mic track can make musical magic!
On the topic of magic, lets make some more, with adding yet another mic in the room. A room mic, correctly placed, will add a great roominess much like a reverb that you cant find anywhere else. This mic is most often placed a short distance (perhaps at least ten feet) in order to grab both the guitar speaker and the rooms' feel as well. This can also give the recording a live feel too. Try putting the drums in the same room and then you will have a live take that feels or sounds as if it was recorded at your last concert!
Recording electric guitars is limited to your imagination. There are no right ways and no wrong ways. The idea is to try things until you match the sound that you have in your head. Take an hour, and a friend to move mics for you (as you listen with headphones) and listen for yourself how much difference mic placement can be. A foot of distance can add a delay or a reverb, that will make or break the recording.
Mic choice is as important as mic placement. Often times an amp sounds best when it is cranked. This is not a myth. Be sure to place mics that are capable of handling the higher SPL's of your cranked amps. SPL's are Sound Pressure Levels, which is volume in plain English. Mics will distort if they cant take the powerful levels of sound that you put into them with your Marshall stack and Les Paul combo. You will find that most studios choose a small diaphragm condenser mic for in front of the cabs. The room mic most often is a large diaphragm condenser mic.
You do not have to spend tons of cash to get a great sound. Shure Sm57's have recorded the loudest amps for years, and they can be found for under 100 bucks. Two of these babies sent into a four input mixer , then mixed together into a stereo out, or a mono out into your recorder is all you will ever need. Less can be more.
One more note about your tone... My last blog entry dealt with compression. First of all, put one in your signal chain, before the tape machine. If you are in pro tools, put one at the insert stage. This will eliminate all of the unwanted hums and pops, and it will control the wild, out of character notes. Taming the loudness, or the dynamics of the guitar itself is the point, not removing any tone or guitar sound.
The bottom line here is that a few well picked out mics, placed in the best location will give you that perfect tone for all of your electric guitars, for all of your albums for decades to come!
Now GO! Play with this stuff, and get that tone that the pros have, for pennies on the dollar. One song that has a good tone is "Best friends girl" at http://kern.fuzz.com/ . The song is not the best in the world, but it is all about the tone. One Sure SM57, placed in front of the amps' grill, at a slight angle, did it all. Enjoy, and thanks for listening!