Bob Dreher and I've
been recording at home for about 15 years now. I started out with a
Tascam 246 4 track cassette
recorder which I still use to this day when I'm not recording on my
I would like to go over some fundamentals about recording guitar in
general, and go into detail about the setup I use. I am in no way an
expert, and I'm always looking for new things to learn.
I'm going to assume that you are using a 4
track cassette machine, which is the most common machine in
home recording today. But the fundamentals are still the same with
whatever format you use, with a few minor exceptions.
First things first...what you have to do is make the best possible
sounds with the setup that you have. Like anything else, if you have a
cheap, noisy amp and a cheesy out of tune guitar, thats exactly what
it's going to sound like. You get what you play for, in other words.
The tape is going to record exactly what you input onto it.
First, we gotta get it quiet...I'm
talking about hums, buzzes, clicks and such. When you plug your axe in
and turn your amp on, does all hell break loose? You must isolate the
causes of your noise and correct it. Flourescent lights are a major
cause of 60 cycle AC hum. If you have them
in your recording room/studio, shut them off.
Dimmer switches are notorious for causing noise also. Any power cables running close to your
input/output cables are usual culprits too. Recording too close to
your computer monitor will ugly things up a
bit too.I have resorted to burning candles for light to get it quiet
in my garage before. If you have looked into all these items and
you're still getting a loud buzz, you may need to have a guitar
technician make sure that your guitar doesn't have a loose ground, or a bad pickup or jack.
Once you have it quiet, you must choose the way you are going to
input your guitar signal into the recorder. You will want to
experiment, but I usually use a direct output on the back of my amp
for recording. This is ideal for recording in the house and not
bothering anybody else. If your amp doesn't have one, you will need to
mic your amp. If you must mic your amp, I suggest that you invest in a
good mic, the Shure SM57. They are only
about $89 new, and this is absolutely the best all around microphone
Thousands of hits have had 57's put to work on them. It will work
excellently for your vocals too. I use it for every need, it always
comes through. You will never go wrong investing in a 57. If your
recorder does not have a 3-pin XLR input,
you will have to spend another $20 and get a Low/Hi
impedance adapter. Experiment with mic placement in relation to
your speakers. You will be surprised at the difference in sound by
moving it around until you get a sound that you like. One word here,
I'm gonna step up on my soapbox for a moment.
A GOOD SOUND IS ANY SOUND THAT SOUNDS GOOD TO
Music is subjective, so for you to be satisfied, YOU have to like
it. Don't let anyone tell you that a certain sound is not good. If YOU
like it, then it's cool.
These are the basics to getting your best signal to tape. Now, once
it reaches the tape, we have to make sure that the input levels are
correct. You should have either a VU meter
or an LED meter that tells you what level
your input signal is on your machine. You need to record as close to
the red (clipping) lights as possible, without keeping the red lights
lit all the time. A blink of red here and there is OK, but if they are
constantly in the red, you need to reduce your input level. You will
do this by adjusting your mic/line input knob on your recorder. Make
sure that you are playing as loud as you will get during your song to
set your levels. If you set your levels while you're playing a soft
part, and then play louder during the song, you will have distortion. DISTORTION IS FOR GUITAR AMPLIFIERS, NOT RECORDING
Digital recording, (such as into your computer) is a different
You don't want ANY
flashing when your recording in digital, because once you see red, you
have a nasty distorted signal. We won't go into detail with digital in
this article...in fact, I already know what my next one will be :-)
A small bit here about the recording setup I use. I have an amp
that computer models some of the greatest amps ever made. Mine is the Line6 AX2.
If there was ever a amp that you could say " did it all", this is
surely it. Computer modelling is where all of the nuances of a
particular amp, say a VOX AC30 , are sampled into a very powerful computer and processed to
replicate that amp and it's characteristics very accurately. ALMOST
The advantage of an amp like this are many. First, just about any
amp you've ever heard of is modelled in the AX2.
Second, it has built in noise reduction
circuitry that keeps it quiet as a mouse. 3rd, it has a line output that is perfectly adapted for
recording, and the sound out of it directly into a tape machine is
awesome. The AX2 not only has many amps
built into it, but it has an effects section with everything from
digital delays, chorus, reverb, wah-wah (will make you sound like Mick
Box, or better yet, Dave White!), distortion boxes, and just about
anything else you can think of.
It also has computer models of different speaker cabinets, so you
can mix and match amps with different speakers, from 4x12 Marshall cabs, to
Peaveys and Fender Tweeds, the list
is almost endless. The amp is a guitar players dream. One catch, it
costs a grand.....still not bad when you think of duplicating all it's
All the amps modelled, speaker cabs, and effects would cost well
past $30,000 to buy separate, and you still wouldn't have the
flexibility of this amp. It is, at this point in time, the Holy Grail
of amps. But the news gets even better.... Line6
now makes a unit called the "POD"
that has many of the AX2's features, in a
line output only version ( read that...no amp and speakers) for a
little over $300.
Fantastic sound right to tape for the cost of a cheapo amp. Mick Box already has one, he told me! You
could spend around $400 and have the best mic made, the SM57, and the most awesome recording unit
out right now, the "POD" and you will be
well on your way to making awesome sounds. With the
"POD". you don't even need the SM57
unless you still want a good vocal mic.
Of course, you don't need either of these, but they will go a long
way towards making your life easier, more enjoyable, and bypass a lot
of the hassles involved in recording your guitar to tape. Shop around
and see whats out there. OK, now we have a clean, undistorted signal
getting to tape.
I think you know what to do now, Rock On!