16 guitar recording tips from the stars
When it comes to recording guitar, everyone goes through a slightly different process.
Over time, we all find ways of working with comfortable 'old' setups and often end up discovering what could be considered unconventional methods. These procedural variations also factor as a major part of what creates unique music.
With this in mind, we contacted four star guitarists – John 5, Paul Gilbert, Adam D and Marty Friedman – and asked them how they go about capturing their guitar performances on hard disk or tape. Their methods certainly work for them, and they might just work for you, too.
On my latest album, I took a more simple approach to my amp setup. At the studio where we record, they have loads of amps set up. I used a Marshall JCM 900 and a Fender Tone Master. We kind of just fire them up and go. I haven't been using a lot of effects, as I've had such a cool, organic sound – that's how I practise at home.
Everybody doubles their rhythm parts, but I always thought, 'Why don't they double their lead solos, too?'. It's really hard to do, especially with any bends and faster sections, and it does take a very long time, but I've been doing it a different way to make things a little easier. For instance, as soon as I've just finished a song, I'll double the lead part right away, while it's still completely fresh in my mind.
Always be prepared, and know what you're doing. It's like when you're in school; you'll want to study before you do a test, if you're going to do any good in it that is. Well, it's the same thing with anything in life, and recording guitar is definitely included.
Go straight (direct input), or at least try to limit yourself to only one or two pedals or effects, otherwise you'll only mask your true sound and take something away.
Mic 'n' easy
Electric guitar is the easiest thing to record. It's not like drums or vocals. Distorted guitar is especially easy, as it's already compressed. Use a dynamic mic, don't do anything fancy with it – just point it straight at the amp or angle it slightly and it'll sound great.
Tuning and timing
Recording comes down to two things: tuning and timing. Lots of unsigned bands I hear overlook timing. People think AC/DC, Green Day and the Ramones aren't great players because they don't play fast, but they have their timing nailed and their records are really tight and sound great as a result.
Editing parts is OK, but you need to find a balance and know where to draw the line, otherwise you can waste hours. I used to find that, after spending so much time editing, I lost sight of the original feeling that I was trying to create. You should always try to get the best possible performance in the first place.
You can get lots of distortion from any amp or plug-in - it's not like 1975 when Marshalls just had a volume control. The problem is that jacked up guitars with loads of distortion will sound like mush. Try to get the song sounding good without loads of distortion and overdubs.
Adam D (Killswitch Engage)
You either call it 'knowing what works' or blame it on laziness, but I always just throw a '57 in front of the cab. I suppose it's a 'stick to your guns' mentality. I default to that every single time.
Mic placement is pretty crucial. You can get a million different EQ responses depending on where you throw the mic in front of the cab. I personally have the best luck – or at least I think so – when I back the mic off a little bit. I know a lot of engineers throw it right on the grille to get the bass boost, the proximity effect and all that garbage, but I find that if I back it up about six inches, I get a more balanced EQ curve.
Half the battle is playing the part well. Remember the old phrase, 'You can't polish a turd'? If it sucks from the beginning, it'll suck at the end. There's no way around a bad sounding performance.
A little bit at a time
My brain is not intelligent enough to perform a song well in one pass, so a little bit at a time works better. That way, the player can concentrate on what's going on at that specific moment. It's too overwhelming to play a whole song good.
Prepare and over-prepare, and then prepare some more. When you're done, practise everything over again, just once more. Then, by the time you get in the studio everything will just flow out of you.
Despite what I just said, sometimes I feel that being totally unprepared makes for a really fun, fresh experience. If you have an unlimited amount of time, you can be as unprepared as you want and simply hope to get lucky.
I'll have one go at an entire solo and even when there are some parts I like and others I don't, I won't punch in and get caught up in little details. I'll just remember the parts I like and then replay the whole thing again. I'll repeat that process, so the final solo ends up being one take. Engineers like doing it that way, too.
No one approach
Steve Vai and John Petrucci of Dream Theater played on my 2006 album Loudspeaker. John came into the studio, where I walked him through the entire track, then got him to play all the impossible stuff I couldn't imagine doing myself. Steve had no direction; I sent him the song and he sent a bunch of tracks back, which I hacked up to my liking.
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