6. Alternative Methods
Miking up an amp is generally the preferred method for recording electric guitar, and will give you excellent results with care and attention. It does however have its down sides - it can be very time consuming unless youre a seasoned pro, and if you dont have the privilege of a separate soundproof booth, it can be a rather noisy and tiresome affair. There are a few alternatives to using mics that you may want to consider for a more convenient and quieter process:
When recording bass guitar its quite common to use a DI box, but its not so common with electric guitars as the speaker in a guitar amp plays a much bigger part in the sound something that you miss out on when its switched off! Even when used in conjunction with an effects pedal such as a distortion stomp box, the direct sound without a loudspeaker is quite weak and thin. A few manufacturers of DI boxes have tried to combat this problem by integrating speaker simulators into the DI, the Behringer Ultra GI100 for instance.
There are many different DI boxes available, but they generally fall into two categories; active (powered by phantom power or batteries) and passive. Although in theory, passive circuitry is the cleanest and should provide the purist sound (and they are also usually cheaper), they can be susceptible to hum and tend to be less versatile than active models. For more detailed information and user tips and tricks, please read our DI Box Online Advisor.
A common weapon of choice among guitarists in the 80s were guitar preamps such as Tech 21's Sansamp, and some still favour them now. A preamp is basically a regular guitar amp minus the power amp - it raises your low level guitar signal to line level, and will also give you tone controls such as bass, treble and presence. Some of the tube-based preamps provide an excellent overdriven sound when pushed hard. As with DI boxes, look out for models with built-in speaker simulation to get a convincing end result.
Due to their wide range of amazingly realistic sounds, amp modellers have become increasingly commonplace, not only in the project studio, but also in large professional studios. Line 6 were the first to introduce a digital guitar amp modeller in 1997 - the POD - which had a variety of embedded effects in addition to amp and speaker simulations. Many companies have subsequently released similar products including DigiTech, Roland/Boss, Korg, and Yamaha. For more information on amp modellers, please read our Amp Modelling Online Advisor.
Amp Modelling Software
In recent years, computers have become increasingly powerful, and are now capable of running plug-ins and standalone programs which can be just as good as standalone hardware units. Products such as AmpliTube from IK Multimedia and Native Instruments Guitar Rig are popular choices. A great advantage of software amp modelling is that you can record a guitar signal dry, allowing you to alter the amp, speaker and effects settings at the mixing stage. Be aware though that the sound of the amp and effects will often heavily influence how a guitarist plays, so take care to provide something suitable in their cans.
Even though PCs and Macs are now more powerful than ever, you should always check the system requirements of the software. Another common problem to look out for is soundcard latency; this is the time taken in digital audio systems to convert the signal from analogue to digital, process it and then convert it back to analogue. The problem is that when you play the instrument, there can be a delay before you hear the sound, and although this is only a matter of milliseconds, it can be very off-putting to the player - latencies of over 10 milliseconds will usually cause problems.