What is the best way to record electric guitar? This is one question I get asked often. There are several factors that must be addressed before we can truly have clarity on this subject. In regards to recording guitar in the home music studio, there are as many opinions as the day is long.
Some people have a signature guitar tone that is not something they care to change for the purpose of recording. Electric guitar tone is shaped by playing style, type of instrument and setup, type of pedals and effects, as well as the amp or gear being played through.
Other guitar players don't have a signature sound at all. Some may not even be able to hear what tonal elements separate one player's sound from another. In any case, the best way to record electric guitar depends on the result intended to be achieved. It is also relative to the recording gear available.
Still, we have to start somewhere, right? My hope is to provide some helpful insights that will allow you to produce your desired finished product. To help you decide what is the best way to record electric guitar for your situation.
One piece of gear that has a large effect on the guitar tone is the amp that any specific player is using. There are essentially two types of guitar amps popular today. Tube amps and solid state amps. Tube amps use a series of tubes to power the amp and typically produce a warmer tone than solid state amps. Solid state amps shape guitar tone by electronic circuitry and produce a distinct sound of their own.
The closest related element of the guitar amp is the speaker or group of speakers that sound is being outputted to. Some guitar amps require a separate speaker cabinet. Other guitar amps are considered combo units with a speaker or speakers built directly into their makeup. Assuming the guitar tone coming from your amp is to your liking, the best way to record electric guitar is to mic the speaker itself.
There are many different techniques to micing a guitar amp/speaker cabinet. Typically one of two different style mics will be used. Either a dynamic mic like the Shure SM57 or a condenser like the Shure SM137 (far from an exhaustive list of micing options by the way). In most cases a dynamic mic will pick up less noise from the room, depending on how far from the speaker you place it. A condenser mic will tend to pick up more room noise but is usually a bit smoother in its tone.
You may find yourself wanting a bit of the room sound in your recording. For this reason it is worth trying a few different mics if you have that option. Also the farther the mic is from the speaker the more room it will pick up. You will have to experiment with amp volume verses mic distance until find the tone you want.
The outside of the speaker cone tends to reproduce the most lows and warmth of the guitar tone while the inside reproduces the most highs and sharpness. For this reason, a great place to begin experimenting with capturing a great guitar tone is by placing a mic in the center of the outside portion of the speaker cone.
The two most common mic placements to start with are called "on axis" and "off axis." I've illustrated them in the images below. Notice I've said, "to start with." You may find that you like the sound more to your tastes if the mic is straight on instead of an angle. Don't be afraid to experiment with different placements.
If you have two mics and channels to work with, you may want to try micing both the outside of the cone and the inside at the same time. This will give you the option to blend the two for a purer sound. Try a few positions and listen to the sound before trying to record.
Is this truly the best way to record electric guitar, what about using a Pod?
This is definitely a great question. I'm going to be doing an entire post on the best way to record electric guitar using a pod. For now let me say this. Line 6 has come a long way with their many guitar amp modeling effects. They are a great option for the home music studio and they produce a sound all their own.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please add your comments or questions to the section below.