Recording our own music is something many of us guitar players do these days. It’s just so easy and affordable, and you don’t need much gear to get things sounding pretty good. So, if you’re looking at taking your first tentative steps towards recording your guitar musings from the comfort of your own home, here’s a few tips on what you’ll need to get great results quickly and easily. The one thing we can’t give you is the awesome songs!
We’ve written blogs before about how recording at home is a great modern option for musicians (read that post here if you haven’t already – it could be useful!). After all, why pay for studio time when you can be the master of your own output at every step of the process?
Recording at home means no time pressure, total creative control, and less expense. There are upsides to the studio approach too, of course – professional producers and a wide range of top notch gear to try out and use, to name but two – but the reality these days is that most of us want to do things from our bedrooms.
So, what exactly do you need to record from home successfully?
The simple answer is: not too much. Of course, the more advanced you get, the more you can spend on gear, and the more professional sounding your results might be. But for the vast majority of us, affordability is the name of the game.
Luckily for you, you probably have many of the basic tools for the home recording job without possibly even knowing it.
First up is a guitar. OK, we’re guitarists. We all have guitars, or at least axes we can get our hands on at short notice. Check.
Secondly, a computer. Also check. The more powerful and modern the better, obviously, but old workhorses can sometimes do the job too – just make sure you check you have all the relevant specs required if you’re looking at buying a piece of new gear for your setup.
Thirdly, you’ll need a DAW – or Digital Audio Workstation. This is the program you’ll use for making your recordings, and they range from free software like Apple’s GarageBand through to fully professional setups like Pro Tools (for some more advanced Pro Tools recording tips, see our Blog Masterclass from Julia Kosterova here).
With guitar, computer and DAW in place, you’re almost hooked up. But to make the connection between guitar and computer, you’ll need an audio interface.
Basically speaking, an audio interface changes the analog audio signal from your guitar into a digital signal, so your DAW and computer can process it. By the way, we’re assuming here that you have cables to connect your various bits of gear to one another!
There’s loads of affordable interface choices out there, so research the one that best fits your needs and budget. For example, if you’re going to be using MIDI devices during recording, make sure you pick an audio interface that supports MIDI, and so on.
And then we really are almost done!
The next question is how you’re going to be recording your guitar, and a lot of this comes down to what kind of amplifier you’re going to be using.
At home, you can’t go too loud without waking the neighbors. This makes big tube amps somewhat impractical. How to get that great overdriven tube tone if you can’t turn the volume up past 9 o’clock?
Happily, there are plentiful solutions to this.
The first is to go digital. There’s a bunch of modelling amps out there that sound great, as well as any number of plug-ins that’ll give you commanding guitar tones without having to toast a single tube. Even free programs like GarageBand offer a wide array of guitar FX and amp models for players to choose from.
But for those of us who demand tube tones for recording (and lots of us do – we realized this after all the feedback we received when we blogged on this very topic recently) there are also some simple workarounds.
The first is to buy a smaller amp (or, if you can’t face that, a bigger amp with a power soak). Yes, lunchbox amps can sound fantastic too (read why right here), and not just for recording purposes. But they certainly shine when used at home, because you can crank them to tonal heaven without the fear of the noise police knocking at your door.
All good, but how do you connect the tube amp to your studio setup?
There’s two main ways to hook your amp up to your recording rig: you can either use a microphone to record the sound of the amp’s speaker directly, or, with some amps, you can hook them up directly to your audio interface using a dedicated DI output. Some amps feature these as standard, and they allow you to record silently, or even play gigs without a speaker – you can simply run straight into the PA or a mixing desk.
Which of these methods you go with is up to you. Buying a mic is a great, tried and tested method, and of course you’ll be able to use it to record other instruments, and even your vocals too. But miccing a cab and getting a great guitar tone out of it is an art form in itself.
Using a DI output, on the other hand, is super simple, but many say the tone is drier and not as soulful as that of a micced cab. This is something you can fix in post-production, of course. Ultimately, choose the solution you feel most comfortable with.
All the main gear sorted, then, you’ll need the crucial accessories to finish the job properly: headphones for listening back and to wear while recording, studio monitors for post-production, extra cables and stands for mics, guitars, and anything else you want to augment the process with.
Because that’s the beautiful thing about home recording. Get the basics in, and you’re set. But you’ll also most likely be hooked with the process, and you’ll strive to make yourself better, your recordings higher quality, and your songs stronger.
And from there, the sky really is the limit!
We hope this basic guide has given some of you the inspiration to start recording at home. It’s maybe even given some of you more experienced players a kick up the backside, and the motivation to start again.
But whatever your experiences of home recording are, we’d love to hear about them, so feel free to tell us all about them in the comments below…
First published: November 28 2014. Most recent update: October 09 2015.