TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 9 Recording Electric and Bass Guitar

If you’ve been following TCM’s Home Music Studio blog, you’ll realise by now that there are no hard and fast rules to recording your instrument’s sound. We have discovered that, recording the voice and the piano involves trying various different types of microphones, using different polarity patterns and finding optimum positions to place the mics.

Today we’ll consider how to record electric and bass guitars.

Before you start to record anything make sure the guitar is in tune. You may want to put on new strings before an important session…..make sure they have time to stretch before recording. Also check your tuning between takes, especially if you’ve been using a vibrato arm on the guitar.

The electric guitar can be recorded in various ways. You could connect your guitar directly into your mixer, your audio interface (of your computer) or you’re SIAB (studio in a box) system.

Drum machines and synthesizers/keyboards can usually plug directly into your instrument input, but electric guitars and basses will often require a DI (direct inject) box.

The DI method will result in a sound which has little colouration and lacks the power that many electric guitarists like so much. But you can alter your sound by using one or several plug-ins, of which there are numerous to choose from. Everything from distortion (of various kinds) to chorus or delay effects. There are also many amp simulator plug-ins out there which can replicate your favourite amp sound. If you can, record the clean sound onto one track and add the effects to a separate track on your recorder, this allows you to keep your mixing options open.

An alternative technique is to use a splitter box. It allows you to send the guitar output to a few different amps or FX chains simultaneously. Record the different outputs to different tracks. Let’s say you have three splits. Then, for example, you could use a clean feed for the verses, a more raunchy sound for the choruses and the third feed for the middle eight. In other words, it can give you several different sounds from one performance. When recording multiple guitar parts, try varying your sound so that they can be heard better in the final mix.

Another technique… could choose to record by connecting your electric guitar to an amp and then taking a feed out of the amp’s line output to your instrument input on your recorder. This method gives you the sound from the amp without having to use a microphone. You will need to determine the best volume levels at the different points in the chain…..the electric guitar volume (and pick up setting), the volume and settings on the amp and the input volume level to your recorder. There are various combinations you could try out to get a clean or dirty sound.


But remember, if you are recording into a digital recorder peak your recording level no higher than about 6 to 8 dB.

Analogue recorders are more forgiving with high input levels, but digital will simply clip (distort) if the level is too high.

A traditional method to record the electric guitar is to connect to your amp of choice and place a mic to pick up the speaker’s sound. If you use a close mic set up, the room you record in is unlikely to contribute much to the sound. Place the mic a few inches to a foot from the speaker cabinet, directed towards the centre of the speaker cone (or slightly off centre). If you’re recording a rock guitar sound a dynamic mic (eg. Shure SM-57, Sennheiser MD421 or Electrovoice RE20) will be a good choice.


You will get different tonal qualities from your amp

depending on which mics you use and where you place them.

Small diaphragm condenser mics (eg. Neumann KM84, Shure KSM 137) will render a cleaner, flat response. Whilst large diaphragm condenser mics (eg. Neumann U87, Rode NT-1) produce an extended frequency response, particularly at the low end giving a warmer, softer sound. Despite their fragile nature, ribbon mics ( eg. Beyer M160) can also used. You will need to place these mics (and the condensers) a little further away than the dynamics, as they are more delicate and the high SPLs (sound pressure levels) could damage them if they’re too close to the speaker cone.

As with all mic positions, try altering the distance and angling the mic in various positions until you achieve the sound you like.


Close and Ambient Mics on Guitar Amp

You could also add an ambient mic a few feet away from the cabinet to give you more room sound. If you have the tracks available record each mic onto a separate track, so that you can mix and blend the sound from each one…..listen for phasing problems if you end up using more than one mic (check out this blog for more on phasing issues).

Try recording your sound in the garage or bathroom. As well as a close mic, you will need to place a mic some distance from the amp in order to get the effect of the room you’re in. Each room will provide different acoustics… may hate the result. But you just may end up with a unique sound that hasn’t been heard before.


Altering mic position just an inch or so

can give a crisp or mellow sound.

You can try the same techniques for bass guitar that I’ve outlined for electric above. The DI approach works particularly well. Be aware that when miking a bass guitar amp, it can easily sound muddy (thick) and thin at the same time. Sounds impossible, but true. Record in a room that is quite dead (no reverberation). Reduce sound reflections by covering windows with curtains, floors with rugs and removing that hi-tech reflective furniture if necessary.

A dynamic used close up or large condenser mic is best suited for the bass response. But again, experiment until you like what you hear in your studio monitors. If tracks allow, record a DI and a miked version of the bass performance simultaneously. That way you will have the flexability to mix between the two in the final mix.

Ambient miking rarely works on basses,

it just tends to add to the muddiness of the sound.

If you’re recording a solo, you might want to record it several times on different tracks (if you have the tracks available). Then edit the best parts of each track together to form the take to be used in the final mix. If you’re going to use this approach, edit the takes before adding echo, reverb or other effects like chorus and flange. It will be easier to edit and result in a better sounding track.


To give a thick sound, I like double tracking guitars in real-time as opposed to using an electronic equivalent effects box. It can sometimes require a few takes to get the separate guitar parts to sound as one, but I personally prefer the result to the ADT (automatic double tracking) effect.

If you find that you’re getting a hum or buzz from your bass guitar or electric, it could be because some of your equipment contains transformers. Move away from the interfering piece of equipment as much as possible to reduce the problem. Computer monitors can be guilty of this. So turn them off if not in use, or distance yourself from them.

Compression can be a useful tool when recording an electric guitar. It will help the sustain and even out levels. Try it pre and post EQ to see which you prefer. It’s especially useful on bass guitar as there are often large transients from bass players. If you don’t compress a bass you risk overloading the input to the recorder. I’ll discuss compression in greater detail when we cover signal processing in a later blog.

Next week we’ll discuss recording acoustic guitar and it’s close relations.

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If you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish. Check out the TCM Mastering site. Or contact us with your questions by clicking here.

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