Simple guitar recording techniques

Man playing acoustic guitar

You've spent years strumming your guitar in your bedroom, and now you want to get into the studio. You may be so attached to your guitar that it's essentially an extra limb, but chances are the first time you step into a studio you’ll still be striving for that perfect sound. Are you looking for a charming folksy twang or an icy cold shriek akin to the sounds emanating from a Norwegian metal bar circa 1995? Of course, your sound heavily depends on your instrument and the equipment you’re using – maybe don’t expect to sound like Ed Sheeran with your Flying V. There are, however, certain guitar recording techniques that can transform your sound.

Set the tone

Tone is a funny thing. We know it when we hear it, yet if someone asks us to define tone we might be a bit lost for words. It doesn’t help that its definition can change based on who you ask. It may refer to pitch or overall sound quality – which are of course very different things.

In this article, we’ll be talking about tone in terms of treble and bass. People often refer to ‘light’ and ‘dark’ shades when talking about tone. A light tone – one with more treble – can cut through the final mix if you want your guitar to be the main sound. If the guitar is a supportive part, a dark, richer tone provides a great full-bodied sonic backdrop.

Now, you may be asking yourself ‘how do I get the right tone?’ Fortunately, this leads onto our next tip.

Assume the position

Where you position your equipment matters almost as much as the equipment itself. This is a universal rule, whether you record in a bedroom or a studio. For example, consider where you position your mic in relation to your amp. A seasoned recording technician will tell you that where you position your mic is vital. When it comes to sound recording, an extra inch can change things by a mile. This isn’t to say, however, that you should spend half of your recording session moving things inch by inch.

The proximity of your mic to the speaker can have a drastic impact on your guitar’s bass sound. The closer your mic is to the speaker, the higher the bass frequencies. If you think you’re overdoing it on the bass, give the mic and the amp some distance.

We mentioned ‘light and dark’ when mastering your guitar’s tone. Want a brighter tone for more of a ‘jangly’ sound? All you need to do is point the mic nearer to the centre of the speaker. If you want to stay on the dark side, push the mic a little closer to the edge. Just to remind you again, start by moving the mic inch by inch. Nothing is more frustrating than almost finding the perfect tone, only to throw yourself off by moving the mic too far. 

Of course, logistics are a factor when positioning recording equipment. To paraphrase a song by The Smiths, some recording spaces are bigger than others. If your space is on the smaller side, we're sure you can make it work. However, you still have to consider the impact on your final sound. In a smaller space, for example, the sympathetic vibrations between an amp and the floor can muddy your recording.

Play around with the equipment

Don’t worry if you go into your recording session having not planned your studio layout to the nth degree. Honing the sound of your guitar is a creative process. Like all creative processes, there’s a lot of trial and error involved. This becomes clear when you get to grips with all the equipment a recording studio has to offer.

Fortunately, the studio time is yours to try out new and unfamiliar equipment. You’ll grow to understand how slight differences can make a lasting impact on your sound. Consider your guitar recording mic. If you’re going to be recording acoustic guitar, for example, you’ll probably want to go with a condenser mic. Condenser mics are more sensitive than a dynamic mic. This means they’ll pick up subtler elements such as fingerpicking.

While you may not consider it ‘recording equipment’, your guitar pick can help switch up your sound. A lot of guitarists can be sentimental about their picks – like the funky one you swiped at that Rancid gig. However, it’s definitely one of the most cost-effective ways to change how your guitar sounds. Want some clarity in your lead guitar? Try out a metal pick to brighten up your tone. Alternatively, a felt pick helps provide a softer accompaniment that's great with piano.

Double up for a substantial sound

You can transform the way your guitar sounds by experimenting with multiple tracks. Do you like how your guitar sounds, but just want a little more substance? All you need to do is layer identical takes over each other. However, even the slightest variation in tracks can add some rich, exciting dynamics.

There is an art to getting ‘double-tracking’ right. ‘Direction’ is key when mixing music. We interpret sounds as coming from the left or right, especially when listening with headphones. If two tracks are simultaneously coming from the same direction, it can be hard for the listener to differentiate between the two. This is especially true if there is only a subtle difference between the two.

Any decent mixing software should allow you to ‘pan’ tracks to the left and right. So if you are double-tracking your guitar, you’ll want one track coming from the left and one from the right. This means the listener can not only understand but appreciate how they’ve been layered!

Are you ready to record guitar like a pro? Whether you’re a plucky young upstart or a regular Joe Strummer, we have something for you. We offer a relaxed space with experienced professionals and a large repertoire of equipment. If that sounds good to you, book a session at Kore Studios today.