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Audio Toyes # 7 - Recording Electric Guitars

Brian Toye
January 30, 2011



Audio Toyes #7 – Recording Electric Guitars

Electric guitars are one of my favourite instruments to record. The fun part involves getting the sound we want to lay down to tape. I tend to go to the extremes as I have built Rock Wool Baffles (diffusers/bass trap materials) designed to separate four – 4x12 cabinets. Picture four of the squares in the Hollywood Squares game show with a 4 x 12 guitar cab in each square. They are baffled from each other to limit the direct bleed from one cab into the microphones of another cab. I place two or three mics on each cab (yes that’s 12 tracks of guitar for ONE guitar part if your doing the math). I like to employ 4 different cabs, usually an Orange, Mesa, Marshall and any other random cab that's available. I will place a Neumann TLM 102 Large Diaphragm mic, an Audix D4 condenser mic and an Avantone C-14 Ribbon mic on each cab (12 mics total). Each mic will be running through either an SSL, API or Golden Age (Neve 1073 clone) pre amp into Pro Tools 9. Each guitar cab will be powered by its own head. Usually a Mesa single, duel or triple rectifier, an Orange Rockerverb, a classic Marshall head and another random head that’s available. YOUR guitar(s) of choice will be run through a controlled splitter into each of the four heads simultaneously (for more information on such a splitter see http://vrtacicdesign.com/guitar_splitter.htm or http://www.lamusic.ca/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=JD7&Click=12797 ).

We start with the first head and tweek the sound we are looking for from that particular head. We do the same with all four heads and then we listen to the overall sound with all four heads powering all four cabs. Once we are satisfied we track all guitar parts for all songs needing that particular guitar tone. When it comes to the mix I now have 12 tracks of guitars each sounding slightly different and I can use these to mix the ultimate guitar tone. Sometimes I may only use 2 mics from one cab, sometimes all 12 tracks make it in the final mix.

When going into the studio as a guitar player its important that your guitar(s) are properly set up (action/intonation for your tuning) and that you have invested in expensive pro strings that are going to sound brilliant and sharp for the whole recording session. Its important that you have taken care of your gear, maybe chosen to replace the pic ups that are not as noisy or that best suit the sound you are going for. Have a guitar tuner in your pocket at all times and in between EVERY take re tune the guitar.

I have a little trick that gets rid of guitar HUM on my recordings. Its not 100% effective because the sound waves are not 100% identical, however they are so close that this technique noticeably lowers the HUM to almost inaudible levels. When your in a room with four guitar cabs you can definitely hear the hum when your not banging out a chord. To fix this problem I record the guitar hum (12 tracks) into Pro Tools (3-4 minutes of it to cover the length of the song). Then on 12 new tracks I will track the actual guitar parts. When all 24 tracks are played together the HUM is amplified but when I invert the phase on the HUM only tracks they cancel out the HUM on the guitar tracks (negative interference, look it up in a waves chapter of any physics text). The hum is now gone from your recording and your left with a crisp clean (or crunchy/thick, whatever you were going for) guitar sound.

Acoustic guitars:

When it comes to acoustic guitars I like to place the performer on a hardwood floor, on a stool with two condenser microphones picking up both the body/low end of the guitar and the neck/higher frequencies of the guitar. Always phase check to make sure your signal is strong. I surround the performer with baffles constructed from Rock Wool to avoid early reflections from walls coming back into the microphones (sounding like a quick unwanted reverb). I have had great success recording all my acoustic guitars in this fashion.

I employed this acoustic guitar recording technique for this cover of radiohead "Street Spirit":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kk6saC8Wyfs

Mics I like for acoustic guitars AT 3035, AT 4050, Neumann TLM 102, Neumann KM184's

Mic Pre's I like for acoustic guitars Great River, API, SSL, Neve

- Brian Toye -