In this guide, we are looking at the easiest and most practical way to record guitars silently with amp simulations. From plugin into our interface to exporting usable guitar tracks - we are dealing with the complete process.
Let’s make sure we know how to handle our amp sims, know how to record without clipping, and get tracks that are ready for mixing!
To record guitars at home, we need the following things.
No brainer I know but! Let’s put new guitar strings on and keep that guitar in tune!
The interface converts the guitar signal into a usable format for our computer/DAW.
The vast amount of available audio interfaces can be overwhelming. That’s why I suggest two very common audio interfaces for home recording:
Both are killer for price and quality!
For example, I used a Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd gen) to record all guitars for ShredLabel I.
It does not matter what system or company as long as we got RAM! It should be at least 8GB RAM. My recommendation is 16 GB RAM and we are all set.
Headphones or/and studio monitors are the way to go.
Headphones can be plugged in directly in the interface. This results in super silent recording of guitars. Listening on speakers complements it and maybe more convenient.
The DAW has, as far as I know, no influence on the sound quality.
With that out of the way: Cubase, Reaper, or Logic (Mac only) are good ways to start.
The companies offer trial versions, so we can check them out. When we know which DAW we want to use, most offer inexpensive lite versions which usually have enough features for recording and editing guitars.
Amp simulations made a quantum leap in the last years. I remember being disgusted by the sounds I got ten years ago when I first played around with the first simulations…
That changed when I picked up the topic a few years ago.
Wow! What a difference!
With new companies coming into the market and raising the bar higher and higher in terms of realism, usability, and features. Companies that blew me away and I highly recommend are:
There are a lot more companies that create killer products. I just recommend what I use. All companies offer trial versions.
My tip: Limitation is key. We are better off with an amp sim that can do a few things very well and lets us record guitar tracks that sound killer.
First, we need to have a signal path that will give us usable tracks.
What does usable mean? Recording guitars too hot means that the signal is clipping. This results in a distorted sound that cannot be fixed. Clipping looks like this:
Since we are working with amp sims we are recording our guitars D.I.
Which means direct input. It’s the pure signal that comes out of the guitar without any processing like going through an actual amp. Therefore the only thing that determines our signal is our interface.
If we dial in our interface right, we get a superb signal for great tracks from a technical point of view. This is critical as we know: Clipping tracks are unusable and cannot be fixed.
Recording guitars D.I. we plug in our cable straight into the interface using the instrument input. On the Focusrite, it’s called INST and on the Steinberg, it’s called Hi-Z.
Now we need to adjust the gain knob on the interface. The best way to do this is to chug (play hard palm mutes) as hard as we can and roll up the knob as much as we can while staying in the green area even with the hardest chugs.
Alright, we have a nice guitar signal. This is fine for recording one or two guitar tracks.
If we have more tracks for example for a whole song, we can still run into the issue of gain staging. What that is doesn’t matter right now. All we need to know is, we need some headroom in our signal if stuff piles up in our recording project.
Open up our DAW, select the interface driver, and check out the level of our input signal. The sweet spot and safe place for our input signal should be at peak (hardest chug) -10db and should normally be around -18db.
We are again adjusting the input level with the interface.
Before we hit record, we need to make a few adjustments.
In the general project settings, we should select a sample rate with at least 44.100kHz and a bit depth of 24 bit. When selecting the right audio input, we need to keep in mind that we record a guitar. That means we need to select a mono track. For the output, we need to choose our speakers or whatever we are using. Easy peasy!
Now we can add an audio track. In the audio track, we can load our amp sim as an insert effect. Bam!
We are ready to roll!
Sound is very subjective. It is totally up to You what kinda sound you want and need. Apart from this, we have 2 features that affect the sound regardless of taste.
The input knob of the amp plugin controls how much signal goes into the plugin. The more we turn the knob up, the higher the amount of distortion and saturation. The standard setting will be at 0 or neutral. This will work for most situations.
If the sound is a bit thin and our interface input is already on spot, it is an option to use the input knob for sound improvement.
Another more obvious feature in an amp sim is the oversampling. This directly affects the way the amp simulation processes the signal. Higher oversampling results in higher sound quality.
Why is there a feature like this? We always want the highest sound quality!
The better the quality (higher oversampling) the more processing CPU power is needed. Since audio processing is already very demanding, this may result in crashes if the computer can’t handle it.
Still, we want to have fun with our amp sims and record guitars even if our computer is a bit older, right?!
That’s why the amp sim lets us compromise.
We can control how much of the plugin signal will go into our DAW. Again, the standard-setting will be 0 or neutral. This will work most of the time.
We just need to be careful to not go over the top with the signal output. Otherwise, we can run into clipping tracks when we export. Again we need to make sure that our meters are in the range of -10db and -18db. If the output is too hot, just roll down the output knob.
Remember our original signal from our interface cannot be messed with. Still, we can pump up the signal with our amp sim. Therefore we just need to check the input and output knobs in our amp sim. The neutral position will work 99% of the time.
When double tracking parts, we should use different tones like other speakers, another amp, or different amp settings. Every sound will emphasize different frequencies and will therefore saturate the sound better. Sure another guitar with the same amp sim tone works too.
Recording guitars with amp simulations has become a real deal.
The sound quality and the sheer ease of use are undeniable. The price of the amp sims compared to getting all the equipment for real is almost ridiculous. And finally, recording everything silently is just the icing on the cake!
This guide should enable everyone to record guitars and make them sound great with guitar amp simulations!
Thank You for Your time and as always....
Play The Rad Way!