How to record guitar

Uh… I thought you were a web designer?

Hey, when I say creative services that are more than just web design, I mean it! Techism provides a full range of creative services. Today’s blog post comes from a client who has used my musical services in the past and asks me just how one records guitar. It’s a simple question, but the answer is really different depending on individual needs.

Getting the electronic signal:

Acoustic Guitar

You will want to mic your guitar. There’s a lot of ways to do this. The highest quality method is the X-Y mic setup where you position two mics at 45 degree angles with their heads meeting. Or you can just stick a condenser mic at the sound-hole. If you don’t care about flatness and room sound, you can just put a mic in front of the instrumentalist like you see at a coffee-house set up. Here’s a page where the pros and amateurs share their experiences and techniques.

Electric (option 1)

Mic an amp and play loud as possible to reduce “room noise”. How you mic an amp depends on the type of music you are playing. Generally, put the mic in front of the speaker cone, and provide about 5″ distance. Play as loud as possible to get the strongest signal to the mic and the least environmental noise.

Electric (option 2)

Go direct-line with a guitar processor like a Pod or a digital amp like the Bugera series.

Electric (option 3)

Go direct line with your amp’s line-out if it has one. Note: DO NOT USE A POWERED OUTPUT FROM YOUR AMP AS THESE WILL DESTROY YOUR COMPUTER. If you don’t know how to identify a safe line-out on your amp, just go get a pod. Line-out on amps tends to sound kinda lame.

Recording your signal in the computer.

A Mic’d acoustic or balanced line out from a DSP.

There’s lots of sound cards and direct boxes. If you are using a mic, you will probably need some way to plug that mic into your computer. If you are using a cheap consumer computer microphone then you just plug it in. If you are using a professional mic with an XLR connector, you need an IO box to get your microphone signal into your computer. mAudio and Presonus both make excellent solutions for this. Some fancy version of SoundBlaster may also offer XLR plugs, or you may be able to convert your mic signal to a 1/4″ instrument jack. A number of higher end sound cards will accept a 1/4″ jack but most consumers have a 1/8″ minijack (headphone jack style). You can purchase mic cables that go down to a 1/4″ jack and then get a 1/4″ to 1/8″ converter.

Electric Guitar

DO NOT PLUG YOUR ELECTRIC GUITAR’S CORD DIRECTLY INTO YOUR SOUND CARD unless it is designed for direct input from an electric guitar. Electric guitars use a different impedance, and even though they use the same 1/4″ jack as a keyboard or some microphones, they will destroy your input if you plug into it without running through SOME kind of signal processor.

Either use an amp’s BALANCED line out, a signal processor like a pod or by mic’ing your amp.

Software to record with

I always liked Adobe Audition because it’s a simple multi-track recorder that sounds good and is easy to use. There’s also “Guitar Tracks” which is a simple guitar-centered multitrack recorder I used back in the ADventures days.

At the higher end, you have DAW’s like pro-tools, logic, cubase, etc…If quality is your aim, go to your local guitar-center and buy a packaged IO box and daw. They frequently come bundled together and will offer an easy installation to recording guide for anywhere from $200 to thousands of dollars.

To get a passable job done without a lot of hassle A lot of guitarists stepping into digital recording love the simplicity of the Line 6 Guitar Port and Rifftracker software. Plugs into a USB port and is easy to use.

However, if you just want it done dirt cheap, you can use Window’s built in sound recorder. Click start→all programs →accessories→entertainment→sound recorder.

Summary / Use Cases

Here are some examples of different users recording guitar and the setups they use:

Dirty Harry: Quality comes last. Harry just needs to record an accoustic track so people can hear it and he wants it done immediately as well as cheaply. He uses a crappy computer mic sitting on his desk, plugged into his stock sound card’s mic-in or his laptop. He fires up windows sound recorder and hits record. He counts to three, lays the track, counts to three and hits stop. File→save as, and he’s got a .WAV file with his track.

Typical Computer Mic


First-time Fred: Fred wants his electric guitar to sound cool but does not want a degree in mixology. He goes to guitar center and asks for the Line 6 guitar port. He goes home, installs the software, plugs in the guitar-port’s usb, plugs his guitar into that, fires up “RiffTracker” and follows the directions from there. He can record multiple takes and isolate the best ones, play accompaniment with himself and get all the cool amp sounds he will likely want.

Line 6 Guitar Port w/ Riff Tracker


Dabbler Dave: Dave has played a few gigs and knows which end of a mic to plug into a snake. He has a signal processor already and maybe a mic or two as well. He just needs to get the sound into his computer but he wants it to be clean and professional without too much hassle or expense. He will use something like the Pod as his DSP and plug it’s line-outs into a small IO box like the Presonus Firebox and then record in the Bundled installation of Cubase Light that comes with it. Dave also may consider an M-Audio Fast Track Pro with Ableton Live Lite. Dave will record a few takes to the tick-track and select the best one to export. He might even record some accompaniment and get into home recording.

Line 6 Floor Pod Plus

M-Audio Fast Track Pro w/ Ableton Live Lite

Cost: ~$450.00

Studio Steve: Steve wants to record a CD or produce music or he is obsessed with obtaining total control over the sound. Quality is paramount. Steve will need a top of the line signal processor for guitar like a Pod XT Pro or higher. He will record via SPDIF or optical output from his DSP to his IO unit such as a Presonus Firestudio Project which in turn is connected via FireWire to his computer. He records into a high end DAW like Logic Studio pro and performs multiple takes, isolating the perfect one, often cutting portions of one take and pasting it into another, applying mastering and effects and then exporting the result.

Presonus FireStudio Project

Pod X3 Pro

Logic Studio


Professional Pam: Buys a dXb? Hey…I worked hard on this interface and I want professionals to use it! If I had the money, it’s how I would roll. An all in one desk. It’s a mixer. It’s a multi-track recorder. It’s touch-screen operated and utterly brilliant. Highest quality converters and signal processing – this is what’s in the studios of professional producers. I think Snoop Dog uses it.

Mackie dXb

Cost: ~$3000.00


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