How to Get a Great Guitar Tone When Recording at Home on a Budget
Not so long ago you could only dream of recording actual music at home. However, these days we have both the necessary hardware and software readily available. The question is, are these tools enough? How to get a great guitar tone when recording at home on a budget, is it even possible?
The answer to this question is a solid yes and today we are going to show you how you can do it on your own. We will cover some essential tools you’ll need as well as a few tips and tricks to help you along the way.
Two Ways of Getting It Done
Recording guitars can be done in two different ways. You can choose to feed the signal straight into a DAW using a USB audio interface of some sort, or you record the amp. Former is easier and definitely cheaper to do. But the latter is how the pros have been doing it forever, and how they still do.
We will discuss both as there are budget options for each. Ultimately it comes down to your personal taste and how much you are willing to mess with your equipment. First up is the USB interface into the DAW route.
USB Interface Route
USB interfaces perform more or less the same task old school pro audio cards used to do. An interface is basically a standalone audio card with a few more cool features attached to it. The market is full of them at the moment, so you won’t have trouble finding one that fits your needs.
We suggest that you go with something that features a single mic line and a single instrument line.
Devices that fit that description are usually affordable. Besides, they make a great choice for beginners who are just getting into music production and recording.
Now that you have your USB interface, you will need a DAW. DAW stands for Digital Audio Interface and represents an essential piece of software. There are professional DAWs out there that cost quite a bit, but there are also free DAWs like Reaper that will get the job done.
Your signal chain should look something like this:
Guitar > USB Interface > DAW
Nailing The Tone
So far, we’ve established the framework for you to record your guitar at home. Now it’s time to figure out how to get a good guitar tone. In this particular combination, you will need some sort VSTi plugin. VSTi is a virtual instrument often times designed to emulate real-world equipment. In our case, they emulate amplifiers and effects pedals.
These also come in both paid and free versions. Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 is one of the more popular paid choices. Free options are more limited but available nonetheless. Poulin Amp Pack is one of the best free VSTi choices right now. This pack offers emulators that are modeled after legendary amps such as the Peavey 5150 or the Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier.
Once you load these plugins into your DAW, all you need to do is set up your tone as you would on your real amplifier. Controls are the same and so are the results often times. Just keep in mind that Poulin’s pack loads in as a channel effect rather than a standard VSTi.
The Old School Way
The other way of recording guitar is the old school way. For this, you will need a microphone, an amp, and the USB audio interface. The benefits of taking this route are numerous. For starters, you are recording your actual amp, which will sound better than the emulated in most cases. Additionally, you get to experiment and learn microphone positioning, which is an important skill to have as a producer.
Microphones can affect the way your guitar sounds. The traditional choice for this particular application would be a decent dynamic mic such as the Shure SM57. However, since you are mostly going to be working with low powered amplifiers, a good condenser might be a better choice. If you decide to go for the latter, just make sure that it comes with decent attenuation and that it can handle higher SPL.
Mic placement is an art. With that said, there are some basic rules of thumb that will set you on the right path. To properly mic an amp you will need a stand and a flashlight. The first step is to find that speaker cone. If your amp has a grille that’s hard to see through, get that flashlight out and find the cone.
What you will want to do now is position the microphone so that the capsule is perpendicular to the cone. If you are using the SM57, that will mean that the whole mic is perpendicular to the speaker.
This perpendicular placement is what you call an on-axis mic position. The mic should be around an inch away from the grille. Positioned this way, your microphone will get you the most neutral sound.
As a rule of thumb, the more you move away from the dust cap of the driver, i.e. the center of the speaker, the more lows you’ll pick up.
Once you’ve figured this out, you can take it to a whole new level by adding another mic into the equation. Your options are endless. Either way, it is important to keep experimenting with mic positions in order to find that perfect sweet spot. As for the rest of the signal chain, all you really have to do is press record in your DAW of choice. Mastering and EQ work is a whole different topic.
Recording the guitar at home is pretty easy these days. You can get it done on a budget and still enjoy great results. All you need is a little bit of skill and the will to experiment with your gear. Sooner or later, you will find what works best for your setup.