When recording electric guitars in the home studio, there are a number of ways you can go about it. The most obvious method is to use a microphone in front of your amplifier cabinet to capture the sound coming straight from there. This, in part, is the reason why small valve amplifiers have become so popular in recent years. But another method of recording electric guitars often gets overlooked and it could offer you a range of benefits. Recording straight into your DAW without first going into your amp allows you to capture the clean tone direct from your guitar. This in turn allows you to feed that signal into an amp modelling software program or back out into a selection of amplifiers. This will allow you to work with a range of tones later on.
OLD TRICKS, NEW METHODS
Re-amping is by no means a new concept. It is a technique that has been used for many years and delivers great results when done properly. In fact, I would expect any modern engineer to capture a clean signal along with the amp tones just to cover all bases in the event that the amp doesn’t sit well in the mix later on. That way, you don’t need to worry about getting the guitar player to get the perfect take once again, you already have it. But, recording in a fancy studio with an engineer who knows what they are doing is one thing and recording at home is another. So, what should you be doing to get your electric guitar signal recorded the best way possible?
THE IMPORTANCE OF IMPEDANCE
When connecting a guitar to a USB audio interface, you need to think about the signal coming from the instrument and consider how it needs to be delivered to the analogue to digital converters in the interface. This is where the issue of impedance matching comes into play. And for many, you will be a little confused about the whole concept of impedance and not really know how to deal with it. Essentially, it refers to the resistance of a device and so this needs to be matched to allow for the best possible signal flow. Ultimately, a signal passing from a low impedance device to a high impedance device will have a better result than the reverse. The problem with an electric guitar is that the pickups are generally very high impedance; at least this is the case with most magnetic pickups. This does not allow a decent current flow from one device (the guitar) to the other device (the interface), and so results in a lack of high frequencies and an overall dull sounding signal. Turning the gain up doesn’t resolve this issue as it is an impedance problem and not an amplification problem. So, to eliminate this issue, the simplest solution is to use the correct input on your interface if one is available. Most recording interfaces these days have one or more inputs that allow for high impedance devices to be connected. You will often have to engage a switch to allow this to work and will generally find these marked as “Hi-Z” on your device. Running your guitar in through the “Hi-Z” input will allow the interface to transfer the signal current correctly from your guitar to the converters. This may result in a leap in the overall volume from the source and should not be disengaged purely for this reason. Turning off the “Hi-Z” switch will generally return the input to a line level input that will lower the volume, but it will create an impedance mismatch and so affect the signal coming in. You are better off running through the “Hi-Z” input and dialling back the input gain to a workable level. Try recording the same thing with both methods so that the result is similar in volume and then listen back to both of them. You will notice added clarity, brilliance and a top end frequency response from the “Hi-Z” that is not present in the line level input. This is why guitarists often complain about their instrument sounding terrible when recording direct into the computer. Turning it up doesn’t help if you have the impedance wrong from the get-go. So, get you impedance right and you will hear the difference. Then, you can work with your clean signal recording however you like including reamping and software plugins.