The following guitar recording technique is one that I can recommend for a number of scenarios. If you’re both the player and the recordist, it allows you to concentrate on playing the right notes and worry about the tone later. You can even lay down the part quietly, in the middle of the night, and wait for an opportunity to get the right tone later.
Since it involves first laying down a fairly neutral DI track, you may not get inspired enough during the playing because of the lame tone. Use a Zoom or other such multieffects box to feed yourself a meaningful headphone flavor while recording both the processed and the direct signal. Then you can re-amp the DI track where it sounds good—with a portable recorder, there is no limit to the locations and tones you can achieve in this way.
Walking the walk
Here’s a report on the latest occasion where I used this technique. Before the drummer arrived, I had just enough time to record a bass part and a rhythm guitar part for him to play with. For the latter I used an ART Tube MP preamp on neutral settings, just to get the guitar signal to a line input on my Yamaha AW4416.
Soon, drummer Reginald Evans had arrived and worked his usual magic, and I was listening back with grateful amazement. His track was perfect, matching my rhythm track and making it better than I had dared to predict. In fact, I decided I’d better not retrack it, since he had locked on to little things I might not be able to reproduce. But the guitar tone was lame, of course—the Tube MP was set up just to get the sound into the Yamaha, not to add any zing.
Reggie’s kit was out in the studio’s large multi-purpose room, which has surprisingly good acoustics—as long as one doesn’t place mics below some heating ducts that seem to affect the sound in strange ways. So why not try to match that room sound for the guitar? With a bit of luck this might even save me from needing delays or reverbs later on. Worth a shot.
The AW4416 has an unbalanced analog output that doubles as a bus send or aux send. That’s where I connected a long guitar cord, out the control room door to a Fender Princeton amp that was raised up on a chair to avoid too many reflections from the floor. A Beyer 260 ribbon mic was placed about 8" in front of the speakers, and I mounted an Audio-Technica AT4033 higher up and about 10' out facing the amp.
I put the AW4416 guitar track into play, went out into the room and after a few tweaks on the amp I got just the right amount of distortion. Back in the control room I played out the entire rhythm track and recorded both mics in one pass on separate channels on the 4416. The Beyer got that fairly dry close-up sound that conveys the in-your-face rock attitude of the track, with just a hint of room around it. The 4033 captured a lot of air and room sound. So far so good.
To provide an even drier but still nicely crunchy sound, the Beyer and the amp were then banished into a carpeted recording closet. Another recording pass later I now had four tracks to work with at mix time: DI, Beyer close-up in room, Beyer close-up in closet, and AT 4033 distant in room.
This was worth the minimal time it took to set up and record. Not only did it take up very little of the drummer’s time, but at mix time I had such a generous room tone from the 4033 that I never even had to reach for either reverb or delay. Try it yourself, you may like it!
Marty Peters wears more hats than C.S. Lewis ever dreamed of. You know him as the benign arbiter of Readers’ Tapes.