Guitars are cool. They look cool, they sound cool and they make YOU look cool. But they can be a real pain in the ass to record well. In this blog I'll give 5 quick tips that I use all the time which could help you get a better guitar recording when tracking yourself.
1) Guitar Setup
I recommend that all guitarists learn how to perform a basic setup on their guitar to keep things in good playing order. There are plenty of videos explaining how to do this on YouTube but I’d recommend practicing a bit first. You will probably find a professional in your area who can perform a setup for you relatively inexpensively and I promise you it’s worth the money. A well set up guitar feels and plays so nicely and will also hold it’s tune much better. Get this done prior to your recording and you will reap the rewards.
2) Fresh Strings
This is a pretty obvious one and if you're getting your guitar setup you'll get some fresh strings on then. Fresher strings are more resonant and have lots of nice high end harmonics. As the strings age and get covered in dirt and grime from your fingers they begin to lose tone and can also be harder to keep in tune. You’ll probably feel and hear the decline over a period of time so be sure to have some spares on hand. It’s also important to make sure you’re using the correct gauge of string for your style and genre of playing.
3) Eliminate Unwanted String Noise
This is a HUGE one for me. Unwanted guitar resonance can cause so many annoying problems when it comes to mixing a guitar sound and they’re so easy to fix at the tracking stage. Certain guitars will suffer with this more than others, however whatever guitar you’re using can benefit with some muffling to remove unwanted noise. Here are some typical problem areas I’ll always address when tracking:
Nut Resonance - I’d advise picking up a fret wrap/string mute for all of your guitars and just leaving it on there. If you don’t have one of these to hand however, some foam or paper napkins slid under the strings will do the job.
String Through / Stop Tail Resonance - The worst guitar for this is the Fender Jazzmaster which suffers with HIDEOUS resonance. You can still get this problem with something like a Les Paul and a stop tail bridge. Again, a really easy solution is paper napkins or foam placed under the strings to stop them vibrating.
Unwanted String Resonance - Sometimes you’ll be playing a part that doesn’t require a certain string, but due to your hand position that string may still resonate and become part of the sound – whether you like it or not! I recommend breaking up the song into sections where you can easily mute strings off that aren’t required. There are a few ways of doing this, firstly the easiest way is the good old paper napkins again. Folding these so they’re out of the way of your playing hand but muting off the unwanted strings is so easy to do. You can also do this with moon gel (which is used by drummers to dampen drum skins) placed underneath the string and onto the fretboard which is a little more discrete than a napkin. Lastly you could just remove the offending strings! For example if you’re playing octaves that only need the A and G string you could just take all the others off!
4) Use Shorter Cables
This is one isn't one that a lot of people will think of doing but the longer your cable, the more high frequency roll off you will have in your signal due to the electrical resistance in the cable. You can get signal boosters where this is unavoidable however in a home recording environment the simple way around this is just using a shorter guitar cable!
5) Use a DI Box
This one kind of depends if you're using amp sims and in the box, or tracking a real amp. If you're tracking a real amp I also suggest splitting the signal and taking a DI at the same time in case you need it later. If you're going in the box with amp sims it may benefit you using a good quality DI box. This is particularly important if you’re planning on using and outboard pedal effects before plugging into the interface as having the DI box as a buffer will help to stop overloading the input. I have found a difference in sound quality between using a line input on a cheaper interface such as a Scarlett 2i2 and using a DI box and then connecting to the interface. There seems to be something lacking in the tone when doing a side by side comparison. The difference may be subtle but a lot of small changes can add up to a big difference. So if you’re able to purchase or borrow a good quality DI box such as a Radial Pro DI I’d recommend giving it a try.
There are a few different things to try the next time you’re recording guitar at home. Let me know if any of these work for you!