Just like Recording A Kick Drum, I recommend employing the simplest, quickest, phase-friendly, and easiest to mix method. Again, that means using only one mic, and positioning it in the same place countless other hit-making audio engineers have-between the rack tom and the hi-hat (at the 10 o’clock position from the drummer’s perspective).
What point is there is over-thinking it, attempting to change a proven method, when so many other talented people have already done the hard work for you, and figured out such and effective technique?
Bonus: small tweaks go the longest way, and through the course of observing what’s helpful for some of the other engineers I’ve worked with, I learned that moving the snare mic to the 9 o’clock-ish position, helps tremendously in rejecting hi-hat bleed into the snare mic. This isn’t always possible because of the way some drummers set up their kits (typically a very low hi-hat), but luckily, most of the time there is plenty of room to get that snare mic under the hat.
Hit the record button.
Do you realize that you already know how to do it? Stop reading yet another blog post about how to record, looking for someone else to give you the magical answer. I’m willing to bet you’ve invested ten times the amount of time reading about recording than you have actually in the studio recording.
You can’t do it unless you do it, and a recording of something sounds 100% better than a recording of nothing.
Here’s a few quick ideas for crafting your tone when recording electric guitars. Because many of us working at home in our project studios don’t have access to a lot of outboard EQs (I sure don’t), I’ve left the use of EQ out of the equation. Personally, I’m of the mentality that you should work with the source you’re recording to craft the tone, then use microphone selection and techniques to further craft the tone you’re looking for. There is certainly a place for EQ, but I’m a believer in not only keeping things as simple as possible, but also holding out on EQ as much as possible-using it only as the last coat of shine to a source that is already great.
Using multiple mics allows you to blend the response curves of the mics together, creating a tone full of warm nuances. It’s kind of like taking a photograph with several different lenses at the same time, and then blending the qualities of these lenses together to create a picture with a unique look.
Grab an amp splitter or A/B/Y pedal. There are lots of companies that manufacture these. You can get a simple two-way splitter (A/B/Y pedal), or if you’ve got a little more cash on hand you can get more sophisticated with a multi-way splitter.
In any case, split your guitar signal through two or more amps. Then blend the tones together just like in the technique above. You can use the same type of mic on every amp, or try different combinations for more complex tonal shaping.
Layering parts with different tones
One of my favorite things to do is to have the musician perform the same part multiple times, but change different parts of the setup, such as the guitar, the amp, the pedals, the mic, the pre, or all of it. This way, you’re not only getting variations in the tone of the guitar, but also in the nuances of the musician’s playing. Really makes the overall track have a big sound in the end.
So there’s three fairly basic and widely used techniques to capture a great guitar tone in recording, but I thought I’d throw in a few extras as a bonus.
There is some great outboard gear, as well as some software phase alignment tools on the market. These tools allow you to play with the phase of the signal-continuosly sweeping it from anywhere between 0 deg to 180 deg in phase adjustment. When it comes to electric guitars (especially in rock) playing with the phase of signals can create some really interesting and inspiring tones.
Another way to play with the phase of signals is to simply change the placement of two or more mics in relation to one another on a source signal. Equally as interesting and inspiring as above. When positioning microphones, play around with their position and distance on an individual speaker as well. Mic’ing directly in the center of the speaker (mic pointed at the dust cap) will get you a tone that has a lot of high frequency content (but could sound thin). As you move the mic to the edge of the speaker the highs will begin to roll off. Playing with the distance of the mic to the speaker will cause the proximity effect to come into play.
My favorites are fuzz and octave fuzz boxes, clean boosters, and chorus/short delays. But distortion boxes, EQ/filter pedals, compressor pedals, and phasers/flangers can all be great as well.
If you try some of these techniques out, please come by and share your thoughts or links to sound clips in the comments. Got any of your own techniques? Feel free to post those in the comments too.