Here are 15 practical tips for recording guitar in any studio environment to help make the experience as smooth and trouble-free as possible
Entering the recording studio can be a stressful task. Our friends at Cakewalk have outlined 15 basic tips to help you prepare for recording guitar before walking into a tracking session.
Change your strings every 24 hours of play time
Guitar strings can take a beating in the studio, especially if your plan is to record an entire album’s worth of material. To keep strings from becoming dull and bland, make sure to switch them out every 24 hours of play time. If you switch them right before a session, make sure to properly break them in before the red light goes on.
Improve pick attack and dexterity
One of the reasons you might struggle getting the sound you want when recording guitar is that your pick attack is not as hard as it needs to be. This will vary depending on the style of music you play, but much of the time in rock and heavy metal recordings, the guitar sound drives the song. If that sound is not the right tone and aggressiveness, then the track will suffer. In any genre, having dexterity and proper technique will shine through in your recording – and so will poor technique and control.
Practice, practice, practice (with a metronome)
Practicing your parts before recording guitar goes without saying, but it’s also a good idea to practice to a metronome and internalize the clicking. Don’t tap your foot or make noises to count the beat to yourself. You must feel the metronome in your playing or else you will have a hard time staying quiet in a recording booth while tracking.
Practice playing full takes
Recording full takes is definitely one of the hardest things to accomplish in the studio. To be comfortable nailing all the parts of a song or solo, practice the songs in their entirety – or even practice recording the songs. Sometimes recording part by part is a quicker task, but only if each part is practiced to perfection. If you must record each section part by part, the music may be out of your comfort zone.
Practice with headphones
The studio may bring many levels of discomfort, one being playing with headphones. Practicing with an amp can be useful when rehearsing for live shows, but little details about your performance could go unnoticed with that type of setup. The studio is a place where you are put under a microscope and are expected to play your best. Using headphones is part of the monitoring setup most recording studios. Do yourself a solid and pick up a pair to understand how you sound “under the gun.”
Adjust pickups in case they are too far from your strings
Electric guitars rely on the pickup systems to output a proper signal. Make sure your pickups haven’t sunk into the body of your guitar. The farther these are from string, the more the signal suffers in sound. The fix is easy for most pickups, simply take a screwdriver and adjust the screws that sit on the pickups. Count your turns so that each side of the pickup is the same distance.
Get a new guitar cable plus a backup
Brand new guitar cables are very important. Different companies make different kinds of cables out of all different types of materials. Take the time to make a few purchases to see what the differences are in cables. Check online reviews, and maybe even find out what studios recommend for guitarists. Check the cables that you are using between guitar pedals and make sure that they are all undamaged. Don’t kink your cables, and make sure you wrap them correctly.
Make sure your intonation is correct
This is one of the biggest issues in a sub-standard recording. An easy way to check your intonation is to tune your guitar’s open strings and then play octave chords above the 12th fret. If something sounds severely out of tune, then your guitar needs to be intonated. This is true for bass guitars as well.
You should have your guitars setup with the change of every season. The weather can affect the wood severely and cause intonation issues. Getting your guitar set up will also help adjust things like your action and truss rod.
Clean your fret board
Use a flat-head screwdriver where the frets meet the wood. Make sure you do this gently, and make sure there’s no grime or residue in this area of the neck. Even a little bit of grime can make the guitar sound out of tune when it’s perfectly intonated and tuned. Fret board cleaners are also worth investing in, and a quick clean when you change your strings is a good habit to get into.
If you are using effects pedals in the studio, make sure they are hardwired with AC or have fresh batteries. A dead battery can hinder the signal, create hums, ground loops, or process in a way that chokes the signal. Also make sure the pots and connections are dust free to limit static and unwanted noise.
Make sure all the electronics in the guitar are working
If you have noticed that you have a loose pickup selector, noisy knob, or a unstable cable jack, make sure you get that worked out well before your studio date. The last thing you need is for something to fall apart in between takes. Make sure you do not have any loose screws or bent hardware on your guitar. Sometimes this kind of damage can produce more problems.
Ohm matching when using one or more speakers
Matching impedance (measured in Ohms) needs to be done correctly. If not matched correctly, it could result in a blown speaker or blown head. Make sure to be particularly careful about this when working with more than one speaker or differing loads.
Buy a backup pair of tubes for your amp head
Make sure you purchase new tubes for your head before entering the studio. Blowing a tube during a recording can cost you precious hours in the studio. Make sure to purchase the same kind of tubes you had before. Different types of tubes can alter the sound of your tone.
G-string constantly out of tune?
If your guitar’s G-string constantly falls out of tune, here’s a quick fix. Take a #2 pencil and gently roll a bit of lead in the nut-groove where the G-string lies. This helps add a level of friction where the string and the nut meet and keeps the string from sliding around during your performance.
Don’t be afraid or intimidated by the recording studio if it’s your first time going in. Everyone makes mistakes their first time and the best thing you can do is practice your passages until you can play them cold. Read up on your favorite guitarists to see how they prepare for the studio, or talk to guys that you know record a lot.
Image via ShutterStock.com.
Cakewalk is the leading developer of powerful and thoughtfully designed products for the modern musician. These products include award-winning digital audio workstations and innovative virtual instruments. Millions of musicians worldwide – including Grammy® and Emmy®-winning producers, composers, sound designers, and engineers – use Cakewalk products daily to produce audio for the professional music, film, broadcast, and video game industries. The Cakewalk blog offers technical tips, tutorials, and news relating to their products and audio recording.