With direct guitar recording into virtual amps you can now rock out through the guitar chain of your dreams in the comfort of your home studio and without the neighbors calling the cops.
In this article I’ve outlined a few tips and best practices for getting great guitar tones without amps or mics.
—Go Direct: “Going direct” means connecting your guitar into your recording interface by means of the high impedance (Hi-Z) instrument input if available or through a DI box (direct injection box). A direct box converts the hi-impedance signal from the guitar to low-impedance, mic level signal to connect to any preamp.
Great results can be had with either though the best results come from the best signal chain including quality cables and DI box. The Radial JDI and J48 are professional studio standards and are actually quite affordable.
—Avoid hum and buzz: LCD and LED monitors (computer screens) are now the norm and while they don’t emit as much noise as CRT monitors some noise can still be picked up by your guitar pickups. Computer fans, cell phones and even a wrist watch can be sources of unwanted noise in your guitar tone.
To reduce and avoid the noise sometimes you just need to move around the room a little and the noise will be gone. Additional noise suppression is best done with a noise gate plugin in your DAW.
—A virtual guitar rig: The quality and quantity of virtual guitar amps has increased dramatically over the past few years to the point where you may not even want a real amp anymore. Amplitube 3, Guitar Rig 4, and POD Farm 2 (to name just a few) are all top notch virtual guitar processing systems.
They’ve really raised the bar in sound quality. The flexibility and ability to select from hundreds of pedal, amp, cabinet and mic combinations at will makes them invaluable tone shaping tools for guitar, bass and beyond.
—Latency: With guitar recording, the lower the latency the better. 128 samples is good, but 64 samples or lower is ideal. Latency affects the way you play and you want the immediacy that plugging into a real amp has.
You’ll need a good firewire interface to achieve this kind of stable low latency.
—Timing and tuning: As always, timing of the performance and tuning of the instrument are so important. Most of the major virtual amp packages have a tuner option, check the tuning often! With a DAW you can actually see and hear how far off your timing is.
Record each section of the song multiple times, choose the best or best bits of each performance and edit a composite that’s in time and in tune.
—Filtering out the bad stuff: Virtual amps don’t sound 100 percent real but they’re getting closer all the time. Where the current virtual amp systems fall short is in the cabinet and microphone options. I always use an EQ after the amp plugin to get rid of the harshness and fizz that can make an amp sound fake.
If you boost with a sharp Q between 3 kHz and 12 kHz you can usually find 2-3 really nasty areas. Isolate the frequency and cut it out by a few dB.
Here’s how that sounds: No EQ (mp3) | Fizz Cut (mp3)
These are just a few tips to get you started with direct guitar recording.
Jon Tidey is a Producer/Engineer who runs his own studio, EPIC Sounds, and enjoys writing about audio on his blog AudioGeekZine.com. To comment or ask questions about this article, go here.