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Guitar Recording Guide

Electric guitars are often a huge part of the sound in a rock and metal band. They carry the constant energy underneath the vocals and the power of the drums.


There’s many ways to go about recording them today thanks to how far digital recording has come. You don’t need an amp or speaker cabinet if you have an Axe-Fx, Kemper, or a DI box and some amp and cab sims. Because of this, you can record using headphones and not disturb your neighbors!


So what do you need to keep in mind when recording electric guitars? I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you out with this task. Some of these are more obvious and some are more subtle. But I hope you learn even one new bit of knowledge from this list.

1. The guitar sound is the sum of many parts


The overall sound that comes out of your amp/Axe-Fx/Kemper is the culmination of many small decisions you have made throughout the process. Decisions like what kind of guitar you use, what pickups and strings are on it, what type of pick you use and how you pick the strings, is the guitar in tune and intonated correctly, what pedals you use in front of the amp, what amp you’re using and the tubes inside it, the speaker cabinet you’re using, the mics you’re using to record and their placement, and the quality of the cables throughout the whole chain. Even the length of cables can change the sound if they’re too long (more on this later).


For the majority of these decisions, any change between two or more possibilities for one of these decisions may only yield a very subtle difference in sound. The biggest areas where changing an option creates the most obvious difference would be the choices of guitar and the pickups inside it. But the point of this is that if you aren’t testing out options and making the best choices for all of these questions throughout the chain, you end up with a sub-optimal sound. So it’s best to check all options within these recording points to make sure that you’re getting the best possible sound into your DAW.

Guitar Pedal
stratocaster pickups.JPG

1a. If your guitar has passive pickups, cable length becomes a decision as well


Something else to keep in mind is that if you’re using a guitar with passive pickups, the length of your instrument cables can make a difference in your sound too. Passive pickups don’t have the boost in their signal strength that active pickups have. So the output from these pickups is weaker as a result. And because of that, the signal loses high end the further the signal has to travel. So if you’re using passive pickups, keeping the length of your cables as short as possible or using a signal booster after the output of your guitar is necessary to retaining the high end of your overall sound.

2. Structure your plan for recording guitars


This can be anything you want, but it’s important to figure out how you’re going to go about recording all of the guitar parts both throughout the project and in individual songs. My preferred tracking pattern as a guitarist is to do all rhythm parts on all songs first, then to do any leads and solos after. But I’ve also seen tracking all guitar parts one song at a time too.


If you’re well practiced and have everything written, then this can be an optimal route. If you’re like me and like to tweak solos constantly, then it’ll be more efficient to do all the rhythm parts on all songs first.


Another thing to consider is if you’re looking for the same tones throughout a project, then it’ll benefit you to record one type of guitar part all at once to get that tone throughout the project, then move on to the other types. It can slow you down if you have to try to re-create a tone later after moving away from it, and you may never get it 100% exact either.

3. If you’re recording through an amp or a modeler, record the raw DI signal as a backup as well


I’m sure this has happened to you before, where you get a great guitar tone going through your amp that has you excited and jacked up (pun intended) to record. Then when you get into mixing, that great guitar tone doesn’t end up meshing well with the other instruments and sticks out like a sore thumb. EQ, compression, and saturation or distortion don’t help with getting the tone to sit in the mix at all, no matter how hard you try.


If you didn’t get a DI signal when you were originally tracking the guitar parts, you’re left with trying to get the recorded tone to work or to re-record the guitar parts, neither of which are optimal solutions. But if you have a DI signal of the performance, that can be used to re-amp the signal into a different chain, be it a different amp, speaker cabinet, or pedal chain. You keep the same great performance take from before but can sculpt the tone further if the original tone doesn’t end up working. So no matter if you’re mixing your music yourself or sending it to someone else to mix, having the DIs for your guitars can save so many headaches down the road should they come up.


The Countryman Type 85 FET DI box is a popular DI box for recording guitars and bass


4. Don’t be afraid to try some recording hacks!


Thanks to digital technology, some cool recording hacks have developed that can ease the burden of recording that analog couldn’t do. If you or your guitarist is struggling to nail a part in a song, there are a couple of techniques to try!


First, say you’re recording a rhythm part that is intricate and jumps between different positions around the neck. The guitarist can play it just fine, but there’s the various noises that come from moving around the neck (i.e. string noise, any sliding of notes, etc.). One technique is to record individual parts of the riff and paste those individual parts together to make one or more “master takes” of the whole riff. This helps to get it sounding tight and precise without any noise or performance issues! Depending on the genre of your music, this can be a great way to get your riffs locked in and sounding amazing.

Another technique deals with time stretching. Say you’re recording a part that the guitarist is struggling with because the riff or part itself is a little too fast for him or her to play cleanly. One technique to try to fix that is copying the music around it to another section in your DAW and to slow that part down by a few BPMs. Once the part is recorded at that tempo cleanly, you can copy that back with the rest of the song and stretch the guitar part to fit the original tempo. Barring anything weird happening with the time stretching, you’ll have the guitar part recorded cleanly at the original tempo now!


Keep in mind, this doesn’t always work and that bigger fluctuations in tempo can make it harder to time stretch a part in without artifacts or performance issues. So this is best kept as an emergency technique if you’re running low on time and budget. Being well-practiced beforehand is still the optimal way to record a solid performance.

I hope that these tips help you achieve better sounding guitars in your recordings and mixes! If you have any more questions about recording guitars, feel free to email me at For more information about myself, please visit my website at . You can also follow me on these social media accounts:


FB: @ronanrecordings

IG: @ronanrecordings

Twitter: @ronanrecordings

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