Recording particular instruments requires different rules, no matter if we’re talking about professional studio or amateurish workshop. Each instrument demands individual method and good knowledge about elementary techniques of registration and having appropriate recording tools for the realization of the purpose. Today we’re going to discuss a recording of one of the most popular instruments in the world – electric guitar. It is fascinating not only because of richness of the sound but also thanks for the adaptability to every type of music – from metal, trough rock, funk, rap up to every type of electric music.
- As in registration every type of music, the most important and pivotal thing is musician’s talent. I don’t matter if we record ourselves, familiar music band or unknown artist – the first condition for good recording realization is what the player can create with an electric guitar. It can be boring but the fact is always true: the result of recording of weak musician with the best instrument will be always worse than the result of a really good player who has only usual, cheap equipment. The key is hidden in musician’s fingers and it will never change. The technological progress and development of studio recording techniques don’t have a real importance.
- Secondly, the instrument has a significant influence on the quality of a record. No one needs to have explained that well done guitar without any problems, which is perfectly shaped and comfortable to play and which has satisfactory quality of electric components can give the highest quality of a sound.
It means that if someone doesn’t have Gibson, Fender or PRS should put away his instrument, sell everything and then spend all the money on the best guitar? It’s overstatement! There is enormous amount of great guitars which are much more cheaper, but you have to try some of them firstly to find the best instrument for you and for the type of music that you are interested in.
The sound of different models and types of guitars can greatly differ from each other. That’s why good matching for the type of music is as important as the quality of an instrument. Imagine death-metal musicians playing on white Falcons (from Gretsch) – two different worlds, at least it would be hilarious.
- Every guitar player, who is working on his own playing style, knows that the well fitted guitar is only one half of his success. It should be paired with corresponding amplifier and speakers. The number of possibilities is so big that I wouldn’t even try to mention all of them. It’s the same thing in pairing a microphone with preamp or passive monitors with suitable amplifier. It takes long time to choose a good combination…
The recording conditions.
Now we can say that we meet three conditions – we’ve got a talented musician (or we’re talented musicians), our instrument is more than „quite good” and the sound of the amplifier can annoy all neighborhood – we can say that we’re prepared from the musician’s side.
The only thing left is to turn on our equipment, but before we have to check some things:
- Make sure that the accommodation is suitable. No one wants to destroy elaborated sound because of noises, rubling, reflection, resonance, standing waves, echoes and other terrible, unpredictable obstacles. Every time good adaptation of accommodations is a very important step to get professional recordings. Of course, it doesn’t have a meaning during recording directly „trough the Line” (hiZ on the interface), but I’ll talk about it in the next article.
- Use good quality cables. I’m not talking about products with crazy and irrational for typical user prices. The offer from Sommer Cables, Monstre Cables, Klotz should be enough, we just shouldn’t the cheapest “no-names” with meager plugs which will break down very fast – it’s not worth double investing…
- Ask guitar player to try different picks during rehearsals (I’m not talking about stomps and effect, but about little plastic triangle held in fingers). I am very serious – the thickness of a pick can have an important influence on a character of the sound and then on mixing process. The differences between a thick pick and a thin pick is unbelievably large – you should to try to record the same part with both and you we’ll see the difference (it will be deeper when it will be recorded on “clear channel”.
Techniques of registration
Sometimes it is impossible to use all power of our amplifier – especially if you live in a high-rise. Then I suggest to displace the studio for the guitar recording time. It’s important because some amplifiers work best only on „11″.
It means that we need 100-Watt amplifier and 4×12 pack to get a resplendent sound? No! It is possible to get massive sound from very small, but nice sounding amplifiers – size isn’t the most important…
We assume that we have no restrictions caused by an accommodation and now we’re moving to the next step.
Which microphone will be the best?
Veeery long topic… There are some standard procedures, which can be similar, but we should be prepared for everything. The most common for electric guitar registration with an amplifier is dynamic Shure SM57 – indestructible, durable, and reliable. It is excellent for overdriven guitars but not only. Sennheiser MD 421, 441 or e906 are also often used. Lately, I’ve tried Electrovoice RE-20 and I’ve been very positively surprised. I can add that it is used by Thom Yorke from Radiohead – the world of sound is really unpredictable.
Is a dynamic microphone indispensable?
Of course not! There is also the second type of microphones which are returning – Ribbon microphones. Royer Labs R-121, AEA R84 or Coles 4038 are legendary for recording, but even the cheaper – R-101, sE or very cheap Fat Cascade II can work well. Remember that they sound dark, murky, gloomy and that’s why we have to think about using it when we’ve got rough and harsh guitar sound.
What’s about condenser microphones?
They’re not so popular but it doesn’t mean that no one use them. The one who deserves a particular attention is AKG C414 – it’s not the cheapest one but it works well with big SPL and can imitate well the sound of equipment. I’m very curious about its new cheaper version C214 – I didn’t have an opportunity to try it but I would like to do it.
If we’re talking about recording guitars without any distortion, overdrive, fuzz, here we’re having some tools which can be really brilliant. Their ability of catching details can give us exactly what we need or even more!
Where a microphone should be?
Of course, it depends on sound which we are interested in! When we set the microphone, we should look at three things:
- Distance from the amplifier
- Distance from the center of a speaker
- Angle of the microphone
1. The closer to the amplifier we set the microphone, the more bass sound we’ll get. This is a prove for „proximity effect” which we can see in this situation. The distance helps in setting balance of the amount of bass in a recording.
2. The closer to the center of a speaker we set the microphone, the lighter and clearer will be the sound. The setup directly on the center may cause that sound will be exaggerated and devoid of perfect balance and weight – tiring after a while. The further from the center of speaker we’ll set the microphone, the heavier is sound, and it also loses its extremeness. At the edges of the speaker the sound will become more matt.
3. Setting the microphone an angle also change a character of the sound because the microphone reacts in different ways. If a response on the sound is „off-axis response” and it’s quite good, then we can change the angle ex. to the center of amplifier – sound effects will be clearer, brighter and also without an excessive contour and with perfect weight.
Finding the best position of a microphone is quite time consuming and it requires some tries – it is something like later correction in mix. It is still much easier to find a satisfactory balance of a periodicity at source by setting the microphone, than trying to fix it later, in a EQ setup.
If you work on good sound and microphone setup, the second microphone and stereo recording won’t be necessary. It would be better to record something twice with some changes, than using two microphones from the beginning. If you don’t get satisfactory results with one microphone, the second will probably harm the recording worse.
No one will forbid trying, but it’s important to remember about phases – omission this issue can causes unpredictable problems.
If you really want to registrate on two microphones, you should better set then separately – ex. One near the amplifier and the second further (if the accommodation is suitable). Signals will be different and they will allow to create interesting effects by balance manipulation.