How To Record Guitar Well In The Studio

Becoming a professional musician and joining a successful band is a goal that will take many steps to achieve. One of the skills you must develop as you work to make this dream a reality is learning the art of recording guitar in a studio environment.

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Becoming a professional musician and joining a successful band (such as a band that tours the world on a big level) is a goal that will take many steps to achieve. One of the skills you must develop as you work to make this dream a reality is learning the art of recording guitar in a studio environment. To maximize your potential for success in this avenue of the music business you must learn how to record your musical parts at a high level while observing the allotted budget and meeting strict deadlines.

Unfortunately, most guitarists don't begin to consider the importance of developing their studio recording abilities until they feel the pressure of recording in such an environment for the first time. No matter how well you can play music for yourself (or even on stage), walking into the studio to record your first album will make you aware of the hidden flaws in your guitar playing that you never knew you had. This happens because the skills needed to record guitar well in the studio are very unique and require you to pay attention to fine details that many musicians never consider. One of the most frustrating experiences for musicians is having good musical (and guitar playing) skills but struggling greatly to record even very basic guitar parts "perfectly". This situation is very common for many guitarists who are new to recording.

Why is it necessary to learn how to record music in the studio?

If you and/or your band wants to make an album in a professional recording studio, the costs of recording can run anywhere from $50 per hour to hundreds of dollars per hour. The longer it takes you and your band members to record the parts for your songs, the more money has to be paid out in studio costs. On top of that, if after spending several hundred hours in the studio the music is still not recorded at the needed level of quality, you can expect to pay a whole lot MORE money for the studio engineer to edit the parts that contain flaws due to sloppy recording. All of this wasted time and money could have been avoided if you and your band were better prepared to record in the studio.

Most bands (particularly those on a smaller level) that have a limited recording budget, end up either having to "accept" a mediocre sound on their album recording in order to meet their budget, or end up hiring studio musicians (who are not members of the band) to record the music in less time, with greater accuracy and for less overall cost. Record companies do this a lot more frequently than you might think, even though people outside the band and record company rarely find out about this.

The good news is that it is possible to prevent situations such as the ones described above by learning to record your own guitar parts reliably and consistently in the studio. This ability is something you can develop with practice, just like you develop your other guitar skills. The challenge here is that the skill of recording music in the studio must be practiced in a very unique and special way. This is one of the reasons why even very advanced guitarists have a very challenging time recording even the most simple parts PERFECTLY in the studio.

Spending more time "recording" will help you to improve somewhat, but until and unless you are aware of the most common mistakes that guitarists make in the recording studio you will find it difficult to track your progress in this area. To learn some of the more common mistakes guitarists make when recording music in the studio and to get advice on how to overcome them, read this free guide for recording guitar in the studio.

The most difficult aspect of recording an album in the studio is creating totally perfect and tight rhythm guitar tracks. Most guitarists are already aware of the need to make rhythm guitar parts "in time" when recording. Even though "playing in time" is definitely critical, this is only one element (out of MANY) that must be thought about when recording guitar in the studio. Below is a sample of what is required to record a flawless rhythm guitar track:

  • Keeping the palm muting sound perfectly consistent on every one of the guitar tracks.
  • Tuning and intonating the rhythm guitars perfectly with the other instruments, especially orchestral instruments. TIP: Tuning your guitar in the same way that you do for "regular" guitar playing will make it VERY difficult for you to do this! Get this free guide for recording guitar in the studio to learn how to avoid this common problem.
  • Recording the guitars tight (in perfect time) with the drums and bass parts.
  • Keeping all of the recorded chords sound perfectly "stable".
  • Cleaning up (preventing) extra noise on the strings (that is picked up either from sliding your fretting hand up and down the neck of the guitar or from touching the strings that you are not playing).
  • Managing the amount of pick articulation and the quality of sound (tone) that comes from the pick attack.

You probably noticed that the above listed elements are not all that hard to pay attention to and refine in isolation. However, the challenge of recording perfectly in the studio lies in the following 3 things:

  1. Getting ALL of the points listed above (not just 1 or 2 of them) to come out flawlessly on all of your recorded tracks.   2. Doing step 1 above at least 2 times to double track or 4 times to quad track the rhythm section.   3. Doing steps 1 and 2 as quickly as possible to save yourself and your band a LOT of money.

To help you with achieving the goals described above here several steps you should take right now:

  1. First, find out how much you truly know about recording guitar in the studio. Use this free guide for recording guitar in the studio that will help you to determine if you are making any of the most common recording mistakes.   2. After you uncover your specific strengths and weaknesses for recording guitar in the studio, start taking the needed action steps to improve your skills in this area of your musicianship.   3. Be patient and persevere! Learning to record guitar well in the studio is a skill that can be refined like any other. Even though it may feel frustrating to realize that you must start from the beginning in this area of your musicianship, know that the vast majority of guitar players have gone through the same learning process that you are going through. Stay determined, continue to practice, and results will not be long in coming. As with all musical skills, you will have a much easier time mastering this area of your guitar playing under the guidance of a highly effective guitar teacher.

Practicing to improve your recording skills in the studio will give you a huge advantage over most wannabe professional musicians and will make the process of achieving your music career ambitions a lot easier.

About The Author: Tom Hess is a recording artist, touring musician and the guitar player for the band Rhapsody Of Fire. He trains and mentors musicians from all over the world on how to develop a successful career in music. Visit tomhess.net to get free music career resources and to read more music career articles.

33 comments sorted by best / new / date

    tommaso.zillio
    Great tips. Recording is a completely different world than playing live, and the mindset of the player should reflect this accordingly. The tuning tip alone is invaluable - I discovered it independently after a lot of trial and error by myself. Thanks for posting this!
    James Scott
    Cool article. As a producer I tell the bands I work with that learning to record guitar is a skill in itself and something that will cause them to haemorrage money if they don't practice it. Most of them don't listen and blow many hours and hundreds of dollars unnecessarily in bad takes. In extreme circumstances I've been approached by record companies or bandleaders to re-record guitar or bass parts myself because the musician in the band didn't have the skill to record an acceptable track. I don't know if they were told that the final album was overdubbed with my playing but I suspect they weren't! So get practicing, because you REALLY don't want this to happen to you!
    Aldo Chircop
    Excellent points, Tom! This is one of those things which few talk or know about, unless they have experienced it (or got caught out by it at the worst possible moment): Recording is a skill and an art in itself, with its own specific physical, practical and mental challenges. It's a big mistake to go into a paid studio without having done some homework on the actual process of recording. So make sure you have at least a very basic recording setup, and make your mistakes at home first. That will save you some embarassment, frustration and money
    I_love_sandbags
    Wow, that's good stuff! The palm muting tip was especially eye opening. It definitely makes a big difference for keeping your playing tight on a record. Thanks Tom!
    TCRGuitar
    Great article...information you can use in the studio or recording on your own. Recording is a separate skill in itself that separates the best from the just good or not so good. Thank you for the helpful advice.
    Brandon Bloom
    Excellent article! This information will help a lot as I record more and more. The last thing I want is to end up having some random guitarist get payed to play my music because I didn't take the time to develop these skills.
    bocciaalex
    Awesome, will definitely be considering many of these points next time I lay down some tracks, and when I record others!
    JonChorba
    Good stuff, Tom. I've read your guide before I saw this article and your tip on how to tune guitars for recording is spot on.
    lwrahmaan
    Great article, I am very familiar with a lot of the studios problems mentioned above.
    Dan Acheron
    Great article. I will be implementing these tips so I can start improving my recording skills!
    the deacon
    very good stuff tom. helpful for any guitarist going into the studio at any time, let alone the first one
    BobBlunn
    Great article Tom! Those who've never recorded can be blindsided by some of these things. Especially the tuning thing. It's nice to have a good tuner that lets you dial this in whenever needed. And, playing something exactly the same on multiple takes is actuially quite challenging!
    Ty Morgan
    Thanks, Tom. As always your extensive knowledge and the passion to help others really shine through in this article. The tuning tips alone are worth their weight in gold! If only I had known this stuff 20 years ago . . . Better late than never!
    panhead201
    Mr.Hess, I don't know if you read these comments or not,assuming you do,here goes.I rear this article and found it interesting enough to read the others you had listed.At first I thought you were being condescending till I read the comments and realized you had to speak to the lowest common denominator.You got guts,I'll give you that.I've been doing this for a living since the mid-sivties.I've finally decided to sit down and record all my own stuff.Everything but backcround vocals and horns.I've worked everything from huge venues and tours,to clubs,to the studio.Both sides of the board.It's amazing,the problems I've been having.My biggest problem is keeping the melody line out of the bass and rythm.It's been great having to learn new stuff.I don't know how you can teach.I've given a few guest seminars,Berkeley and Julliard,stuff like that,but never one on one.More power too you,you gotta get through to one or two of these guys.Thanks,panhead
    James Scott
    @wafflesyrup, it's not a matter of commercialism, it's a matter of whether what you record sounds like crap or not. Even back in the sixties, the Rolling Stones had to overdub most of Brian Jones' guitar parts because he was too wasted to play properly, and the likes of Ry Cooder and Jeff Beck initially built their careers as overdub specialists who would fix bad recordings by some of the most famous artists of the period. If you want to sound non-mainstream and non-commercial that's fine, but that's not the same as sloppy playing that attacks people's ears. Take a look at Tom's guide and listen to the audio examples, you won't find any professional recordings with the kind of errors he's talking about.
    Macabre_Turtle
    Just when I started thinking this thing was going to actually give us some advice, it turns out to be a Tom Hess ad. Fantastic.
    theogonia777
    Macabre_Turtle wrote: Just when I started thinking this thing was going to actually give us some advice, it turns out to be a Tom Hess ad. Fantastic.
    It's a link to a free guide, it's not like you're being asked to buy anything. It's really no different than if the actual guide was posted on this page; it's just redirecting you to a different location where it's already uploaded. And Tom Hess's stuff is pretty crackerjack, so I don't see what you're complaining about.
    panhead201
    to wafflesyrup,you're absolutely right in what you're saying.And you'll notice I did'nt have anything to say about Hess,s guitar playing.I'm one of those studio guys from the sixties.Under contract with Columbia.Had personal problems with somebody who was very close to John Hammond,Sr.Did a lot of work for him and was free to do what I wanted on the side.Electra,Chess,Checker,Verve,etc,etc.Gigged enough to pay the rent,buy a house in Woodstock,Then moved up the road when Hendrix leased a house in Boiceville.So I bought the house next door.1/2 mile away on a dead end.Stayed around Ulster county alot cause Butterfield was near the end,mostly at the hospital in Kingston.You can get away with anything at a gig.In the studio you are under the microscope.The pressure on guys who are doing it for the first time can be staggering.I've seen guys puke,cry,smash up high dollar shit,not always theirs.If somebody can prepare them for it(It still ain't gonna be like the real thing}then I think thats good.Non-mainstream is one thing,non-commercial is a whole different thing.They asked me to help record a guy named Bannana Dave.Something about smoking bannanas gets you high.He was so bad I walked out.Told them I was going to get a drink and did'nt go back.And the sonofabitch actually sold this crap.It's a rough buisness,and thats what it is,a buisness.AS far as the guitar playing,my mother said,"if you can't say something nice".
    wafflesyrup
    Stop industrializing music today, save a baby. Professional recording is very much a world of its own, one created by man and ruled by the elite. Conforming to the standards of today's popular music in the studio will only ensure we have far more engineers, and far less actual musicians.
    jetwash69
    theogonia777 wrote: Macabre_Turtle wrote: Just when I started thinking this thing was going to actually give us some advice, it turns out to be a Tom Hess ad. Fantastic. It's a link to a free guide, it's not like you're being asked to buy anything. It's really no different than if the actual guide was posted on this page; it's just redirecting you to a different location where it's already uploaded. And Tom Hess's stuff is pretty crackerjack, so I don't see what you're complaining about.
    The difference is it doesn't direct you to a place where it's uploarded. It directs you to a place where you provide a bunch of personal information, then you go to a place that has it uploaded. This is pretty insulting...
    Brandon Bloom
    jetwash69 wrote: theogonia777 wrote: Macabre_Turtle wrote: Just when I started thinking this thing was going to actually give us some advice, it turns out to be a Tom Hess ad. Fantastic. It's a link to a free guide, it's not like you're being asked to buy anything. It's really no different than if the actual guide was posted on this page; it's just redirecting you to a different location where it's already uploaded. And Tom Hess's stuff is pretty crackerjack, so I don't see what you're complaining about. The difference is it doesn't direct you to a place where it's uploarded. It directs you to a place where you provide a bunch of personal information, then you go to a place that has it uploaded. This is pretty insulting...
    Why do you find this insulting? When I went through it all I had to do was create an account with my name and email address to get this information, when plenty of people would usually pay good money for it.(so it didn't cost them more later on in the studio). I don't see what is so insulting about awesome free advice...
    panhead201
    What planet do you live on,man? music has been big buisness for thousands of years.Ever since the first time somebody realized somebody will give you something for playing it.This guy's giving free advice on how to deal with it and avoid embarassment and expense.Why don't you play your favorite song through headphones,play along,then play back only your part.One take.How'd you do?.Be honest.
    scorpio2billion
    Informative, but never underestimate the audience who cares more about the passion of the playing than the perfection.
    moumourenheh
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    Shrub74
    Having just started recording myself, and failing horribly, I'd lost utter faith in myself. After reading this I'm greatly reassured in my playing. Very useful article!