The Basics of Recording Electric Guitar

While being a great player is as important as any gear one might use for recording electric guitar tracks, there are some essential tools needed to get the job done right. In this blog, we're focusing on some of the basics, including key pieces of equipment and techniques that can help you make your next session sound even better.

Setting Your Tone
There are thousands of plug-ins that can change your guitar's sound, but it's important to have the proper tone intact at the source. Make sure you're in love with your choice in guitar, amp and pedals before even attempting to record. If you're not impressed with the sounds you're getting, you'll most likely not be happy with the final results, no matter what magic an engineer pulls out of their bag of tricks.

Selecting the Right Microphone
There are many tried and true microphones that have made a lasting impact on the recording studio. These mics have become mainstays for a reason. When it comes to dynamic microphones, few engineers stray from the Shure SM57, which has become known as one of the ultimate microphones for recording electric guitar. The popular alternative to the SM57 is the Sennheiser MD 421, which offers a wider frequency response.

When it comes to condenser microphones, they are often used in tandem with a dynamic mic to capture the full amp sound. Neumann and Telefunken U87, U67 and U47 mics have long been studio favorites, in addition to classics like the AKG C414, Shure KSM44 and Audio Technica AT4041. Another option, especially if you're looking to nab some twangy guitar leads, is to use a ribbon microphone. The AEA R84, Royer Labs R-121 and Mesanovic Microphones Model 2 are a few favorites for using on electric guitar.

Determining Best Mic Placement
When it comes to finding the sweet spot of where to set up a microphone, every engineer and producer in the world has their own idea of the best placement. You'll most likely find your favorite spot from experimentation.

A great starting point for a dynamic mic is to place the microphone flush to the cabinet's grill in the dead center of the speaker. Test your set-up to hear if you're getting the desired results and, if you aren't, adjust the distance of the microphone from the grill cloth.
Some engineers prefer more space (Steve Albini suggests starting at least a foot away), so moving the mic in inch increments can help you dial in the perfect placement. In addition to placing the mic in the dead center of the speaker, you can also try using the microphone off-axis and pointing towards the same spot.

When pairing a dynamic microphone with a ribbon or condenser, most engineers opt to allign both mics on the same speaker cone to combat any issues with phase. However, placing the microphones at different distances from the speaker can result in dramatic effect that adds something special to the tracks you're recording. For instance, placing a dynamic mic on the grill cloth and placing the secondary microphone a foot from the front of the amp or behind the amp can add delay and depth to a guitar part.

The Sound of the Room
Part of the magic of capturing great guitar parts is the live energy that the instrument can bring to a room. While we've talked about micing amplifiers at close range and within a few feet, many sonic creators utilize room mics to add even more depth to their recordings. Placing a large condenser mic 10 to 20 feet away in your tracking room can give you some unique results to work with during the mixing process.

While there are many different methods of recording electric guitars, these are a few of the key pieces of gear and principles that will help you get started. Stay tuned for more in-depth blog posts about the art of recording electric guitars and check out our electric guitar microphone shootout to hear many of the microphones mentioned above in action.


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2 thoughts on “The Basics of Recording Electric Guitar”

  • aj

    never understood it. When was the last time you put your ear to the grill to hear what a guitar amp sounds like? Give your mic a chance to have some air in it, and one 5 to 10 feet away will give you some valuable phase information, especially if your room sounds good in the first place, always a good plus.

  • Barry clissold

    Let's be serious, almost all guitar amps are pretty basic pieces of audio equipment, the amp has usually limited frequency response and is driving an even more limited speaker which is usually hanging on a baffle board in an open backed box, so there's not a lot of "rocket science" involved here. Get a sound out of the amp that you are happy with , choose a reasonable mic, move it around to find a sweet spot, add a bit of room ambience and dimension if you wish and all should be good ! In the end everyone has a different idea of what a good electric guitar sound should be anyway !! Acoustic guitar, now that's a bit trickier !!!

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