Recording Electric Guitars

I’ll be in session tomorrow tracking electric guitars. I’m not sure what to expect as I suspect the players do not have much recording experience. Studio playing is very different from live playing. And, the producer wants to track both of them at the same time. Which makes it really tough to hear what each player is doing in real time. Should be an interesting session.

My approach to recording electric guitar is pretty straight forward if the following holds true: a great guitarist, using a great instrument and getting great tone from the rig. If I do not start there, there is nothing that I can do in the control room to get a good sound. I can improve upon it, but I will not get a really great guitar sound. If there is an issue with the sound of the guitar, it can usually be traced back to the player, the player’s instrument and the player’s rig.

I generally start with a dynamic mic, a Shure SM-57 or Sennheiser MD421, and experiment with mic placement close to the speaker grill. In some cases, I may decide to get some ambient mics into play and I will use a large diaphragm condenser. For open-backed combo amps I have achieved some interesting results with a dynamic close miked pointing at the rear of the combo and an ambient mic pointing at the front.

There are numerous issues that I see in the studio when tracking guitars. Guitars not set up properly with poor intonation, old strings, buzzing electronics. Big, loud solid state amps that sound terrible. Sloppy technique. Tuning issues. Microphonic tubes (and no spare tubes in the gig bag). Harsh sounding effects.

I will need to remember to be patient tomorrow and I will have some backup plans in case the issues with getting good tone are severe.

4 replies
  1. Rob
    Rob says:

    Richard,

    You raise a good point about the issues that arise when tracking guitars.

    Most of them are contollable – amp choice, string quality and condition, the condition of electronics however the gremlin that continues to surface is that of ‘sloppy technique’. Despite 30 years of playing, the fingers do not always comply with the brain. “Fix it in the mix” only works so far!

    If ever you figure out how to overcome sloppy technique let me know – can you teach an old dog new tricks?

    Best of luck during your session; I trust you will let us know how it turns out. I am interested in any lessons learned.

    Reply
  2. richard cleaver
    richard cleaver says:

    Rob,

    I will highlight the results of the session tomorrow. I have worked with a wide range of talent and I usually find the better the talent, the less engineering work I have to do… particularly in the editing/mixing stage.

    Reply
  3. Andy B.
    Andy B. says:

    Hey Richard

    on “producer wants to track both of them at the same time. Which makes it really tough to hear what each player is doing in real time”:

    If both instruments simultaneously tracking are mic’d properly and thus isolated “to tape,” would it matter if you record each one separately? Can you not solo each one after the fact and isolate issues from there? Could two band members playing simultaneously in the studio create some really great energy on the track? I’ve always wondered…

    Reply
  4. richard cleaver
    richard cleaver says:

    Hey Andy,

    Whenever you get into overdubs, it is always easier to track one up. More focus and less distraction for the player, the producer and the engineer.

    Making a track energetic is the player’s responsibility regardless of solo or group context. I have no scientific data that supports a greater degree of energy either way 😉

    Reply

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