5 Tips For Stress-Free Home Guitar Recording

5 professional tips to record guitar faster, more accurately and with less stress.

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Recording guitar can be difficult and time-consuming. It's easy to be put off by early disappointing results and give up on it, thinking that only a professional producer in a fancy studio can get a decent sound down on tape. This isn't true, anyone can get the sound of a big studio if they know what they're doing and have acceptable (but not necessarily very expensive) equipment.

What I'll share here are some tips that I've picked up in my years of recording guitar in a home-studio environment. Whilst I am a professional producer, I was a bedroom guitarist for many years, and I still record guitar at home, with a computer, just like you do. Most pros actually record this way these days, even in the biggest bands. It saves money, time and stress, and hopefully some of these tips can help you save those as well and record some great guitar without breaking the bank or pulling out your hair in frustration.

1: Get stuff for free

You can get yourself a pretty good recording setup, especially on the software side of things, without spending any money at all. Recording software can get pretty expensive, so it pays to try before you buy.

Most audio interfaces come with some kind of DAW or multi-tracking software included for free, usually a cut-down version of one of the expensive programs. Other programs, notably the excellent Reaper, have fully-functional free trials. Take advantage of this. Find the DAW that suits your style, the one that has the best interface and works best with the hardware that you have. I trialled Cubase, Protools and Tracktion before settling on Reaper, which was also the cheapest option at fully-featured level. Having software that you find easy to use and doesn't crash on your computer will cut your stress levels and let you concentrate on getting the best out of your setup rather than fighting it.

For plugins and virtual amps, there's plenty of free options, many of which are upgradeable if you want to splash the cash. For example, Native Instruments' excellent Guitar Rig comes in a free Player version that only features one amp, but it's a nice amp and you can learn to get to grips with making it sound good and ensuring that it works ok with your hardware. If you want more sounds, you can purchase more amps. There's also plenty of completely free amps and effects available, freemusicsoftware.org is an excellent resource with hundreds of free plugins and virtual instruments. Of course, some of them aren't very good and some don't work at all, but they're free, so go hog wild until you find something to your liking.

2: Learn your sweet spot

Here's a quick and simple one. I've talked about virtual amps, but nothing beats the sound of a mic'd up amp. The real art to this is finding the right spot on the amp to place the mic. Unfortunately, there is no real way to do this other than trial and error, as every mic and every amp is different, and the acoustics of the room will have an effect too. There are guides available on the internet to help you, such as http://drpeterjones.com/guitar/micamp.php

But once you do find something that sounds good, make sure you record where it is. Don't trust yourself to remember it as every half an inch can make a huge difference to the sound. Get some correction fluid and mark that spot with an X. You'll be glad you did, and you'll have a free ticket to instant audio excellence every time you record.

3: Easy double-tracking

#1 tip here is to make sure your interface and software are capable of recording two sources at once onto different audio tracks. This is in fact important for the next two tips as well, so splash the cash on the right setup and you'll save yourself a lot of pain.

Most guitarists are aware of the need to double-track parts, especially distorted rhythm parts, when recording. However, playing the same parts multiple times can be tricky, especially if they're fast or intricate. Inaccurate double-tracking sounds muddy and sloppy. However, there's an easy way to record exactly the same part twice, but still have a proper stereo, double-tracked sounds. Here's how:

Take the signal from your guitar and split it in two. There's various ways of doing this, I use an old Boss GT6 on bypass mode, which has separate left and right outputs if you're not using any stereo effects (or, in bypass mode, any effects at all) you'll just get two identical signals. This is what you want.

Take one of those signals and put it straight into your interface. Line that track up with a virtual amp (even better, just mute it and add the v-amp later, I'll explain why in the next tip). Take the other signal, run it through your pedals and into your amp. Mic that amp up and plug the mic into the other input in the interface. Now when you play, you will be recording the same part twice, once through the amp and once through the v-amp. Due to the longer signal chain through the amp, the two recordings will be slightly out of phase with each other. This is good, as it will make them sound like two separate recordings.

Add the v-amp to the clean recording, pan each track, and there you go. Flawless double tracking of the same recording through two different amps. Even if you need more than two tracks, this will halve your workload. When I record industrial-style guitars, I usually six-track them, but with this technique I only need to do three good takes. It halves my time and halves my stress, and even sounds better than doing all those takes because it's tighter and comes from different amp sounds, thickening up the sound nicely.

I also use a similar technique for acoustic guitar, though there's no need to split the signal. I plug my electro-acoustic into one input on my interface and point a mic at it, which goes into another input. Pan them each side and there's an instant rich, stereo sound, and I only had to play it once.

4: How to conquer latency

One of the big annoyances of the modern way of home recording is latency the time it takes to get a signal through an interface into a computer, get it processed, and get it out again. This translates into a slight delay between you striking the strings and hearing what you've played in your speakers or in your headphones. Even expensive interfaces and powerful computers can still suffer from this problem, and it can really throw your timing off. Even if you subconsciously account for it, you'll still be out of time because most recording software tries to correct for it. It's a particular problem if you're trying to play fast, as even a few milliseconds of latency can wreck your timing and accuracy.

The fix? Let's go back to the split signal idea we discussed above. Mute the tracks you are recording to, so that only the backing comes through your headphones. Make sure you can hear your amp loud and clear. Even if you're not mic'ing your amp up, make sure you're plugged in and you can hear it. Take one of the cans off your ears, so that you hear the backing in one ear and your amp in the other. Now play.

As it hasn't been through the computer, the sound from your amp will hit your ear with zero latency. What you play will be what is recorded. Even better, having your guitar sound in one ear and your backing in the other will make it really easy to tell them apart, which is particularly handy if you've already laid down some guitar tracks. This way you will know which guitar you hear is you.

5: See your timing, don't hear it.

Here's one for those of you in the metal fraternity who love to play fast (and who doesn't?). Timing is everything when playing at speed, especially when recording multiple tracks of guitar parts. The problem is, it's really hard to tell how well you've recorded a track just by listening to it. If you play 16 notes a second in a shuddering death metal rhythm frenzy, and the 11th is slightly late, you've got almost no chance of hearing the problem. Can you count to 11 in less than one second? Didn't think so. Worse still, some problems won't become apparent until you have a few tracks laid on top of each other, and you hear that something isn't quite right, but have no chance of working out which one.

The solution, again, is to use the dual-input system I've described. This will result in two recordings, one distorted (from your amp) and one clean. The trick is to look at the clean recording. Actually look at the waveform. Especially if you've palm-muted it, you'll be able to very clearly see exactly when you've hit the strings. Using the grid/ruler on your DAW, you'll be able to see how in time those individual pulses are. An even better idea is to drag the waveform or midi for the drums next to the clean guitar part, so you can check whether your playing is tight to the drums by looking at it, not listening to it (listening can tell you if you're out of time, but not if you're early or late or by how much, especially if the error is small). Then you can decide to re-record the part or edit it to make sure it's all in time if you edit, make sure that you mirror any changes to the clean recording in the distorted recording. You won't be able to see the pick strokes in the distorted recording, it'll all be a big fat blob as a result of the overdrive, but you know the two recordings are identical, so trust yourself. That way you can get multiple guitar parts, bass and drums in sync with each other within milliseconds, leading to an awesomely tight wall of head-smashing metal power.

And yes, of course it's cheating. How do you think the big studios get everything sounding so tight? They cheat. And so should you.

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About the Authour:

James Scott is a producer, audio engineer and writer based in London, UK. He works with up and coming artists to help them get noticed in the industry. His
free newsletter includes exclusive recording and production tips that he doesn't share anywhere else.

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Luminate
    Nice article. Regarding double-tracking, won't it make more sense to record a single track and then copy-paste the waveform on to a new track? That way, one can beat some latency issues too, since there's only one raw feed going in, instead of two.
    yes you beat latency issues, but the reason why double tracking sounds so full is because of the minor (milliseconds) of difference in the timings
    Kw1q51lv3r
    hriday_hazarika wrote: Regarding double-tracking, won't it make more sense to record a single track and then copy-paste the waveform on to a new track? That way, one can beat some latency issues too, since there's only one raw feed going in, instead of two.
    No, because there's literally no difference between the two audio files. The reason one can hear a mono track coming from in between two speakers is because the two speakers are playing that mono track at the same time. Which is basically what you're doing if you're taking a single audio file from a track and copying it over to another. To get that double-tracked sound, you gotta record twice. There's literally no way around it.
    sensei420
    instead of double tracking i record one track, copy and paste it, pan each one about 3 quarters and on one side I add 2-3 ms of delay to get the slightly different time. It ends up sounding like two guitars and I can use a different v-amp on each channel.
    savage axe
    thanks alot man im trying to start recording myself im just waiting for my protools interface to arive and i look forward to trying some of this out.cheers
    Kw1q51lv3r
    juggernaut88 wrote: ^ yeah i had the same doubt..but i assume he's talking bout a situation where you use a different guitar to double track.....like a lot of people do
    The result isn't because one uses a different guitar, it's because we're all human, and we can't make our guitar strings behave in the exact same manner all the time. Even if the timing is almost perfect, the signal produced will still be most definitely be different.
    James Scott
    Kw1q51lv3r is correct, if you have an identical waveform in each speaker, then the sound will seem to come from the middle, whereas you want it to seem to come from both sides at once. You need the waveforms to be different. You can do this by Auto Double Tracking (ADT), copying the waveform over and then delaying it by 40-60ms on one side, but two different recordings usually sounds better.
    James Scott
    @WhoAMEye - you can indeed do it this way. Also there's no need to have all those v-amps live simultaneously. Play it once, then copy and paste to new tracks, adding and rendering the v-amp each time, then mix afterward. That way you can do it regardless of your computer's horsepower. @Mark G - I think you've misunderstood a little. you are correct that it does sound different to playing the same thing twice, but not necessarily in a good way. It sounds tighter and punchier, and often that is what you want, especially with the kind of music I usually work with. Also it's especially valuable with acoustic guitar if you want it to sound like just one guitar playing (such as when I'm producing a solo singer-songwriter, when it needs to sound like one person with a guitar) but with a richer, stereo sound. Sometimes recording seperate tracks does indeed sound better, but much of the time it either doesn't matter or actually sounds better with the split signal method.
    Mr. Dragon
    Regarding double-tracking, won't it make more sense to record a single track and then copy-paste the waveform on to a new track? That way, one can beat some latency issues too, since there's only one raw feed going in, instead of two.
    Doubling effect happens when two of the same tracks are played 4 to 20 milliseconds apart.(sweet numbers to remember)
    WhoAMEye
    Another (even Lazier way) is to set up one source and then feed that into multiple tracks through different amp models. Spread these out through the audio field and then blast your riffs through it. This way is the software equivalent of playing a split source into multiple isolated miked amps. As long as your computer is quick enough the results can be awesome.
    juggernaut88
    ^ yeah i had the same doubt..but i assume he's talking bout a situation where you use a different guitar to double track.....like a lot of people do
    DharmaForOne
    Not sure why the people suggesting copying waveforms to new tracks and offsetting by a few milliseconds are getting downvoted. Is this really significantly different than the author's suggestion of recording the same part twice, simultaneously?
    Mark G
    This guy doesn't know what he's talking about. Splitting a track will not get the same results as playing something twice.
    theogonia777
    All very solid advice, in particular I'm very fond of the solution for latency in number 4. Excellent work.
    Mr. Dragon
    This was a nice article, but I would have included more details entailing microphones. Maybe perhaps on microphones' polar patterns and frequency responses; as well as, the types of microphones (dynamic, condenser, and ribbon). I just think microphones are extremely important because they are converting a natural sound pressure wave into an analog signal.
    GaryBillington
    Another way of double tracking but only recording once is to use a direct input to your interface via the amp's line out for one track, and have a mic set up in front of the amp for the other. Or have two mics, set at different angles/distances to create the slight difference that is needed between the tracks. Like all these articles though, he assumes everyone uses software to record - that's fair enough for people who want to take it serious and try making it as a professional, but there are just as many hobbyists out there who prefer using multitrackers.
    oOJonnyLOo
    The only thing i see is pointless is the split signal, you can copy/paste it, and then shift it along a few milliseconds in most softwares... Plus, it kinda defeats the purpose of double tracking because its just the same track just slightly out of phase ... might aswell record another track and get the proper effect, its not that much hassle...
    eatfresh1736
    This is a great article. I do all my recordings in my dorm room, so I've had to figure out a lot of these tricks by trial and error. Also, I agree with sensei420, that you can just copy, paste, and manipulate it; you can add slight delay and equalize them slightly differently
    Allen Hopgood
    Great article James. I learned a lot. Do have any more tips for recording acoustic guitars?
    BobBlunn
    There are some great recording tips in this article! I find mic placement key to getting the sound I want from my amp even when mic'ing to a PA for live shows. Thanks for sharing...
    Draven Grey
    Great article. One thing I would add to the discussion about the doubled guitars is that I often just copy it to a new track and then move it over by about 20 samples, as well as put it through a different amp (via re-amping or amp-sims). As Tallica9000 stated, I would also rather play twice. But James, you already said you do that anyway, more than twice, and use the doubling trick to add even more depth. It's a great trick that adds a TON to the sound. For overcoming "amp sim depression," I often put a convolution reverb or impulse response on the amp sims, which makes them sound like real amps - maybe not exactly like what they're trying to emulate, but real and vibrant none the less (just like micing a speaker cab). I also highly suggest looking into the ear-training program, Golden Ears, which easily (and inexpensively) trains you to hear like a Mastering Engineer. This is HUGE for mixing, "sweet spots", adapting to less than adequate equipment, etc. As much as I recommend them, maybe I should affiliate with them, lol.
    Dan Acheron
    Nice article! Im working on building a home studio right now so I will be coming back to this article for these tips as I get closer to finishing my studio!
    Tallica9000
    I think that I would still play things twice, as I would want to keep the tones of the two signals consistent by using the same settings on my amp. I guess the ideal situation would be to have two completely separate rigs and then split output and mic both, then edit in a slight phase shift. But who has the space or money for that unless you're in studio.
    maltmn
    wow this is a great article! I NEED to get a microphone then I guess... but my little amp doesn't get the effects I need I guess I'll have to record twice
    Kw1q51lv3r
    Luminate wrote: Nice article. Regarding double-tracking, won't it make more sense to record a single track and then copy-paste the waveform on to a new track? That way, one can beat some latency issues too, since there's only one raw feed going in, instead of two. yes you beat latency issues, but the reason why double tracking sounds so full is because of the minor (milliseconds) of difference in the timings
    It's not just the minor difference, it's the fact that no guitarist can produce a recording with a waveform exactly the same every time.
    CrossBack7
    Oh, Gary. You guy, you. You're describing the exact thing he's saying to do, he's just using a virtual amp rather than a line-out on a regular one. Same could be done with a multitracker if you mix in Reaper or some other software.
    hriday_hazarika
    Nice article. Regarding double-tracking, won't it make more sense to record a single track and then copy-paste the waveform on to a new track? That way, one can beat some latency issues too, since there's only one raw feed going in, instead of two.
    diefordethklok
    I always copied/pasted and then used "phase shift" and moved the second track left or right a couple milliseconds. Simple. I did this in Creative Wave Studio, when I was 14. I beat all of you.
    Necrolysis
    TO TAKE CARE OF LATENCY just google ASIO4ALL. download it, install it. Works amazing. Even on my crappy computer, you can choose your sample rate, the number of samples to buffer, etc. It uses existing hardware, and makes everything alot easier. I just use REAPER with the ASIO4ALL driver. works with every sound card. its free. and its small. Winner winner, steak ****ing dinner.
    Cazman
    DharmaForOne wrote: Not sure why the people suggesting copying waveforms to new tracks and offsetting by a few milliseconds are getting downvoted. Is this really significantly different than the author's suggestion of recording the same part twice, simultaneously?
    The last guy who said it got downvoted because he's a dick about it.
    thechaostheory
    Very good article!! Big help for me to get a good sound for once ;p Do you have anything for vocals?
    krm27
    Very informative, thanks. Where can I find what my home computer needs in terms of memory, processing power, to be good for home recording? I'm a bit of a techno-dunce, and my computer is dated. I'm worried I may need to upgrade or replace it as a starting point to getting a good home recording set up.
    kristijan.fistr
    Hi! I'm really new to recording and I can't afford a lot of neccessary hardwares and similar stuff but I can't help to wonder if I can record a decent guitar without some external audio interface? Like directly into my computer to get a digital sound with help of guitar rig or similar softwer? Thnx in advance
    frozensolidguit
    Because I'm cheap with my recordings to double track I duplicate my mono recording and set one to left channel and the other to right channel in audacity. Then I take around an eighth or so of a millisecond off one of the channels and set them to stereo. It works pretty well I find, but I guess it's not exactly the correct way to do it