Tracking guitars can be an extremely long process that requires an acute attention to detail – not just from the guitarist, but the engineer/producer as well.
Even after the perfect takes have been captured, there’s still the whole process of editing & mixing the guitars, and choosing a guitar tone that fits in well with the rest of the instrumentation.
If you’re serious about capturing the best guitar recordings, here are the three tools you absolutely must have to create the ideal guitar tone for any situation:
Get A DI Box
Too often, a poor recording environment can decimate a good performance. If you’re playing particularly technical guitar parts, you know how hard it can be to nail the perfect take. The last thing you want is a siren, cell phone, or air conditioner cutting into the microphone and ruining the take.
If you need to use the DI built into your interface, that’s completely fine, but I’d still recommend using a dedicated DI box. Why?
It’s simple: Nine times out of ten, if your interface has a DI/Instrument input, it was put there for convenience; not quality.
A good interface has a lot of hats that it needs to wear as an all-in-one solution. Converters, preamps, monitoring, headphone amp, talkback mic… where do you think your DI falls on that priority list?
It’s the same reason you see the price for each of those elements skyrocket as you move into high-end equipment. Everything in that category is made to complete one task to the best of its ability.
Fortunately, DI boxes are one of the few pieces of gear you can pick up without a ludicrous price tag while still maintaining high quality and performance. There are a few boutique options out there that creep into the thousand-dollar range, but the majority of good DIs will start at about $50 - $199 depending on the features you’re after.
Amp Sims That Don’t Suck
I won’t let this section run off into self-promotion of the Toneforge line, but I do need to take a minute to talk about amp sims.
If you don’t have an amp sim yet, you need one. That recording you conveniently captured with your new DI when someone’s car horn went off? An amp sim is the easiest and fastest solution to take that raw guitar recording and bring it back to its full glory.
There’s no reamping or patching that needs to happen in the box – that alone should save you hours of setup and teardown time. On top of that, you gain the flexibility to change every aspect of your guitar tone with a few clicks of your mouse.
A good amp sim is so much more than a replication of a hardware amp: it should give you more tone options, better effects that a digital amp offers & complete control of everything down-chain of your guitar.
A well-designed amp sim will give you flexibility while also remaining cognizant of your processing power (a low buffer and low processor overhead means real-time amp simulation). We’ve built every instance of Toneforge around this mindset that your amp sim should give you mix-ready tone, not just a replication of hardware.
If you’re unfamiliar with impulse responses, prepare to have your workflow turned upside down.
Impulse responses are the single biggest time saver and quality assurance tool we have when working with electric guitars.
Impulse responses (IRs for short) are a capture of the sonic imprint of the signal chain between a guitar amp head & your DAW. It’s everything from the guitar cabinet, to the microphone and mic placement used & the preamp used to capture it.
If you’re already using live amps that you love the sound of, capturing an impulse response will let you replicate that sound time and time again in-the-box.
For those that are looking to upgrade their guitar cab options on a budget, there are hundreds of readily available IRs on the market. Over the past few years, we’ve made it a goal to capture IRs whenever possible, especially when the cabinets are rare or unique.
Now our Conquer All collection is up to over 200 IRs to choose from.
Are We Missing Something?
If you’ve got another piece of the puzzle that’s essential to the guitar tracking process, we want to know about it.
Share your guitar tracking techniques and tools with thousands of like-minded engineers and producers over on the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum.