Three Quick Tips for Recording Guitar
Free your microphone placement and gain structure, and your EQ and compression will follow.
Hello everyone, and welcome back to another Dojo! In the last two columns, I’ve focused on bus mixing techniques to get your recordings more on point—and I hope that was helpful. This time, I’d like to place focus in the other direction and give you three tips to capture your best recorded tones yet.
In my experience, the best way to get great recordings begins with getting in tune with your inner ear and the tones you are hearing in your head. This understanding will act as a catalyst for the first important tip: choice and placement of microphones. As simple as this is, we run the risk of listening with our eyes instead of our ears, because we are creatures of habit. How many times have you placed the same mic in the same place on the same amp (or same place at the guitar, for acoustic players)? Did you really explore the possibilities, or was this the best solution at the time and now it has become ingrained? Maybe it’s time to re-think the process and try something new?
Regular Dojo readers are already familiar with the three most common microphones used in recording: condenser, ribbon, and dynamic. Regardless of what mics you have, use your ears and listen to the source you want to record. For example, listen not only to where the amp sounds the best at the speaker, but also in the room. For acoustic guitar, placing the mics near the 14th fret in addition to other locations can yield a wide variety of tones. If you are recording by yourself, make several different short recordings and document the mic placement for each, listen, and then make decisions. The idea here is that you want to get the sound you’re looking for without using any EQ. In short, if you don’t like the sound you’re getting, move the mics until you do!
Once the decision has been made, the second tip for making better recordings is to pay careful attention to your gain structure (aka recording level) and give yourself plenty of headroom. The best way to do this is to set the recording track’s fader in your DAW to unity (zero), and then adjust your preamp’s gain level until the signal meters between -15 and -5 for most DAWs (check your specific DAW to find out which VU metering type you are using). If you’re somewhere in this range, you’ll have good signal-to-noise ratio and ample headroom for loud passages, like when you kick in the overdrive channel for the chorus and solo sections.
A scenario like Fig. 1 has bad news written all over it. The track faders are pushed near the top of their range and the master bus has already peaked. This can happen quicker than you think if you didn’t set your input levels properly to begin with. If you find yourself in this predicament, you’ll need to recalibrate your gain structure for every track for the entire mix. Ouch!
The final tip is focused on signal processing and preserving the efforts of the first two tips. Once your tracking is completed, don’t be too quick to start adding copious amounts of EQ and compression. The reason for steps one and two was to mitigate the need for EQ and preserve the natural dynamic range of your tracks. Now, when you need to use EQ and compression, you can use it with subtlety and not out of necessity to fix a poorly recorded track.
As always, if you have any questions you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I also want to invite you to checkout my new single “Christian Graffiti” on your favorite music platform to hear all of these tips in action. Until next time, namaste.
Christian GraffitiProvided to YouTube by DistroKidChristian Graffiti · Bryan ClarkChristian Graffiti℗ Rainfeather RecordsReleased on: 2022-09-30Auto-generated by YouTube.
Recording Dojo: How to Capture the Best Delay Sound
Both the type of delay you're using and whether your amp is equipped with an effects loop can have a huge impact on how good your echoes sound in the final mix.
You might not have given much thought to your delay pedal, other than adjusting the time, mix level, and how long you might want the feedback to be when using it. But there are more things to consider, and where you place it in your signal chain can make a big difference in your tone—especially when recording. This month we’ll cover the main ways to use delay, depending upon your pedal and amp setup.
Let’s begin by dividing types of delay into two categories: analog and digital. Traditional analog delays, like the Echoplex, Roland Space Echo, and Binson Echorec, achieved their delay by using a loop of analog tape and three heads: erase, record, and playback (see Fig. 1). Moving from left to right, the erase head removes any previously recorded audio, then your guitar signal is recorded at the record head before moving to the playback head. The further the playback head is away from the record head, the longer the delay. After leaving the playback head, it’s looped back around to the erase head, and the process starts all over again.
In order to get the signal loud enough to be captured on tape and minimize noise, a discreet preamp was needed to boost the incoming audio. These preamps are a huge part of the analog tape sound. In fact, guitarists liked the tone so much that many companies started making “boost” pedals and leaving the tape delay behind, especially as the digital age arrived. This is where the term boost pedal originates. (Xotic’s EP Booster—with the EP derived from Echoplex—is a great example of this.)
Digital delay usually involves a set sample and bit rate (i.e., 44.1 kHz/16 bit). Audio is sampled (recorded) into the digital domain, and all settings, like time, mix, and feedback are adjusted digitally. Some digital delay pedals like Eventide’s TimeFactor (which has both analog and digital options) will allow you to adjust these parameters (and many more) so you can make your guitar signal sound like it has gone through a bitcrusher.
What’s the difference? In the digital domain, whatever audio is sampled can be recreated exactly without any degradation, no matter how long the feedback. With analog, there are several anomalies that happen as the result of slight glitching of the mechanical gears moving the tape across the heads (flutter), the tape misalignment as it travels across the heads (wow), and the tape itself loosing fidelity as it ages. While this might seem like a drawback, it’s actually the main reason you might want to use analog delay!
Try this: If you’re getting your distortion sound from your amp, see if the amp has an effects loop I/O in the back. If it doesn’t, like old Marshall and Fender amps, then you’ll want to use a delay pedal that has a vintage delay profile instead of a digital delay. Think Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, early Clapton. This is how they got that tone: using an analog tape delay (with those preamps) going into a screaming tweed Fender or Marshall plexi. If you try this with a digital delay, you’ll probably notice that your tone will sound brittle, grainy, less smooth, and it will be harder to tell the difference between the original notes and the delayed notes. The good news is that many contemporary delay pedals, like the Boss DD-8, have both analog and digital options for you to choose from, and you can A/B the difference.
If you’re getting your main distortion sound from your pedals, then a digital delay won’t affect your tone as much, and if you’re looking for that great digital delay sound à la ’80s David Gilmour and The Edge, sprinkle a little chorus into your sound before the delay and you’re “in the stadium,” shall I say.
Finally, if your amp has an effects loop, try isolating your delay (regardless of type) by running it through the amp’s effects loop. You’ll need two more cables, but you might find that your tone has more clarity overall and you can control your delay with more finesse.
PG’s Nashville correspondent shares his favorite moments behind the camera with some of the best guitar players in the world.
When PG started the Rig Rundown series in 2008, YouTube limited videos to a lean 10 minutes. Now running time is limitless and we've packed hundreds of hours of guitar geekery into more than 450 of these addictive videos, racking up millions of views while giving us all-access to what were formerly trade secrets.
For me, it's not so much about the gear as much as it is the stories behind it that makes these videos fascinating. So, in no particular order, here are my Top 10 Rig Rundowns.
Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein
Doyle was in full Misfits' makeup, shirtless, muscled up, and intimidatingly towered over me. This was my first interview ever, so I asked the basic questions about his rig and signed off. Then Doyle says in thick Jersey, "What? It's ov'r? I got all dressed up for this. Ask me more stuff." I realized this big scary monster was just a fun, 50-year-old kid who wants to make every day Halloween.
In 2016, Stern tripped over construction debris left on the streets of New York, which resulted in two broken arms and nerve damage in his hands. It looked like Stern's reign as a jazz giant was over. A year later, Stern released Trip and was back touring and killing it. In this rundown, he revealed that he was having trouble holding onto a pick, so he started applying wig glue to his right hand. Stern's recovery is a testimony to the indomitable human spirit.
It's an unworldly experience standing next to arguably one of the greatest guitarists ever as he plays a '59 Les Paul through two Dumbles and two tweed Twins cranked so loud you can hear it from outer space. When Bonamassa said, "John, play this thing," I was both elated and terrified.
Buk and I moved to Nashville around the same time. Although the attrition rate is fairly high for musicians here, 27 years later we're still standing. Buk is a great guitar player, but more importantly, he's one of the most musical people you'll ever meet. Just listen to his improv in the opening. He never runs out of ideas.
Chet Atkins assigned the honor of C.G.P., aka Certified Guitar Player, to his favorite pickers. There are three left in the world: PG has filmed Rundowns on two of them. Steve Wariner is a C.G.P., four-time Grammy winner. and mind-blowing talent. From his family band to his teenage years playing bass for Dottie West to playing in Atkins' band to becoming a huge country star, Steve's career odyssey feels like a movie. If the stories aren't enough, listen to Wariner rip on his signature Gretsch.
Speaking of C.G.P., this Rundown is the most fun and informative 43 minutes you can spend online. Sitting next to Tommy as he plays is like watching Picasso paint. You see that it's just six strings and 10 fingers, but you hear an incredibly tight band. Not only is the playing amazing, Tommy is just plain fun and funny.
As we entered Frampton's massive studio, his iconic black Les Paul Custom was leaning on a stand, with a cable leading to a Klon, then an old Bassman with a talk-box running to a mic. Frampton, standing next to it, said, "Hi, I'm Peter. Here's my rig." He waited a few beats, then opened up a door to another room to reveal his real rig, featuring several boats of vintage guitars, two refrigerator-sized racks, two Bradshaw boards, stacks of amps, a trio of Marshall 4x12s, and more. Frampton's electric and acoustic performances during this rundown highlight his incredibly melodic playing. Somehow he makes his jazz leanings fit perfectly with classic rock 'n' roll.
When I was a kid, pre-MTV, you rarely saw live music on TV, but when you did, it seemed like Waddy Wachtel was always there. Any concert, be it Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Keith Richards, Stevie Nicks, etc.—at stage right was this guy rocking out with long, crazy hair, granny glasses, and bell-bottoms. He was the guy that made me think, "That's what I want to do: play with everybody." Waddy has great stories, like the time Stephen Stills sold him his 1960 Les Paul for $350, or giving his neighbor Leslie West his first Les Paul Jr.
Lanois produced two of my top five albums: Chris Whitley's Living with the Law and Emmylou Harris' Wrecking Ball. Lanois was touring with his vintage Korg SDD-3000 that he's used since the '80s, on albums like U2's The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree.There were strips of whitetape across the top of the SDD-3000 covered with Sharpie'd tempo reminders from his tour with Emmylou when they performed the entire Wrecking Ball album live. As a pedal-steel player, it was amazing to hear him play his old Sho-Bud in some weird tuning I would've never imagined. His battered '53 Les Paul with a mini-humbucker from an old Gibson Firebird was the icing on the cake.
When Mr. 335 invited us to his Nashville home studio, I felt like I was meeting the Dalai Lama. Listen to Carlton's improv on the head and you'll understand why he's a legend.