Welcome to Focusrite Academy’s Guitar Recording video tutorial course. Through this series of thirteen videos, featuring guitarist Sam Bell (Mask of Judas, sessions) and guitarist/producer John Mitchell (Enter Shikari, It Bites), you’ll learn all about guitar stringing and intonation, the ins and outs of amplifiers, speaker cone microphone placement and much more.
John and Sam will be working with a range of guitars – both acoustic and electric – amps, cabs, microphones and Focusrite audio interfaces. All of our tutorials are platform-neutral, too, so whether you’re working on a Mac running MacOS/OS X, a PC running Windows or even an iPad, everything here is 100% applicable.
Watch the videos in one epic binge or dip into them as and when you need advice on a particular aspect of the guitar recording process – and don’t forget to share them with your friends on social media.
Having worked through Focusrite Academy – Guitar Recording, you’ll have all the insider knowledge you need to be able to engineer and produce incredible sounding guitar tracks.
Sign up to the Focusrite Academy mailing list to hear about new additions to our library of video tutorials as they arrive. And do get in touch with any questions you might have, or to tell us about your own personal approach to recording – we’d love to hear from you!
Say hello to your course tutors: renowned guitarist/producer John Mitchell and pyrotechnic guitarist Sam Bell.
Stringing a Guitar
Before we hit the red button, you need to make sure the guitar itself is in shape. Here, John Mitchell talks you through the basics of stringing and setting up a 6-string.
Sam Bell discusses his personal approach to getting the right guitar tone for progressive rock, both when working with plugins at home and analogue amplification in the studio.
Speaker cone positioning
When recording a guitar amp, changing the position of the microphone in relation to the speaker cone gives you a huge amount of control over the captured tone. Here, Tim Harbour demonstrates the profound effect of adjusting the mic position using a Shure SM57 and an SE Electronics RN17, separately and in combination, with Sam Bell playing a range of clean and distorted tones.
Amp mic placements
John Mitchell provides some historical background on the technique of mic placement and shows you how to get started with a Shure SM57, beginning with the easiest way to find the centre of the speaker cone!
Acoustic Guitar Mic Placements
If you just point your microphone at the sound hole and hope for the best when recording acoustic guitar, this video is for you. John Mitchell explains and demonstrates the full spectrum of acoustic guitar mic placements with an SE Electronics RN17, and discusses blending mic and DI signals for the best of both worlds.
Guitar mixing – volumes
Tim Harbour takes you through some basic mix techniques to allow you to deliver a great-sounding indie rock track.
"Trying to get heavy guitars to sound big and sit in a mix can always be a challenge. The aim is always to make sure the sound you're recording needs as little EQ and processing in the mix as possible. Something I've found at the mixing stage is that it's usually best to have a tiny bit more midrange or low end than you might intend for your source tones. Taming or reducing frequencies isn't usually an issue, but trying to boost something that isn't there in the sound you've captured tends not to work as well.
For the low end, it's hard to replicate that thumpy resonance you get from a good guitar amp with EQ in the mix, but if you have a little too much, a good multiband compressor and EQ can help reduce this without much of a problem. With regards to midrange, if you start off with too much of it scooped out, it can sound unnatural adding this in later, and you might not be able to acheive that clarity you're seeking as this is where the body of a modern heavy guitar tone lies. For me at least, I don't think the same can be said for high end. Usually if a guitar tone needs brightening up, boosting high frequencies isn't an issue. This is by no means a strict rule but if you're having to boost a wide amount of midrange or low end by 5db or more, you may need to work on your source tones."
Session Guitarist & Influencer
"It may not be the most glamorous advice, but as a solo artist who records all his material in a home studio setup using a Focusrite Scarlett 18i8, I think one of the key things to effective recording is establishing a good recording workflow with a core set of hardware and software plugins which are your 'go-to's'. Get to know your amp, modeller or plugins. Get to know your DAW. Get to know your key pieces of recording hardware and software effects and plugins. Especially for the last part, you'll come across many, many software plugins and while it may take time trying many of them out, you'll end up with core set of plugins that you intimately know which become part of your mixing workflow.
Establishing an effective workflow (and lots of practice as with anything) enables you to stop thinking about the minutia of mixing and focus on being creative. This applies both musically when writing and tracking as well as how you mix and produce that material. It also means that if you want to try new pieces of hardware or software, it becomes a case of swapping things in and out, or just adding them into your signal and mixing chains. This is especially relevant if you want to change your own sound up or if you're working on mixing somebody else's material and it means you don't have to build things from the ground up."
(Imogen Heap, Dreller, Shy Nature, etc)
How To Get A Great Guitar Recording - V1
A. Philosophical/Production Approach
The first and most important factor in getting a great guitar recording involves no microphones, effects, vintage amps or even guitars. Before you touch any equipment, stop and think about what exactly you're trying to achieve. There are so many options when it comes to recording guitars (acoustic & electric) and there is no objectively great way to make a guitar recording. But there are a few good places to start, and most of them involve doing a little bit of research or a little bit of lateral thinking.
If you have an idea where you're headed, even a brief moment of research and referencing tracks will take you far. Try to listen to sounds you know of that best relate to what you hear in your head, they may not necessarily even be guitar sounds, but listen to them and try to imagine the "ideal" signal chain for that sound in your head (or, if you're feeling lazy, research that record online and see what they used). Get as close to that signal chain as you can with whatever you have. It doesn't matter whether you do it with priceless vintage gear, chains of guitar pedals or free plug-ins, just get as close as you can with what you have available. Recording a DI signal and re-amping it is a great way to allow yourself to remove performance from the equation for a moment in order to focus on designing a sound, I often use the DI in the ISA preamps because it's a great, high quality preamp, but also very clean and faithful to the signal you put into it. The instrument input of an interface like the Clarett or Scarlett is just as suitable.
Let the part and the sound instruct you on what the best approach to recording it will be. For example, if you have a very mechanical part being played into delays - perhaps the best method is to record a DI without effects, so that you have the option to comp and edit takes, then re-amp through the effects with the ideal performance. If you find an approach like this too cold and clinical, try placing the guitarist in the room with the amp and recording the performance live with the musician playing the part as it would be at a live show.
It's impossible to stress enough how important it is to create your sound in the context of the music, wherever possible. Take what sounds good to you in the room, in solo, or any other situation where the sound is alienated from the music with a large pinch of salt. The most important thing is that it fits into your recording the way it was intended. Try not to allow vanity to prevent you from making a good recording.
Once you have the sound you'd envisioned coming out of your monitors or headphones, or better yet - something newer and more exciting than what you'd imagined in the first place, revert your focus back to the performance and make sure it's the right one for the song. Musicians and engineers alike frequently underestimate the effect of the performance itself and focus too much energy on the "correct" signal chain. If the part is aggressive, play it aggressively. If the part is soft and delicate, play it softly and delicately. "Play it like you mean it" It is a cliché, but it is so for a good reason.
B. Technical/Engineering Approach
Supposing you already have a part and a sound established and your job is to make a good recording, you simply need to decide how best to capture it. Assuming you are faced with a more traditional setup (player, guitar, effects, amp), you have a few standard approaches you can take to ensure you're getting a good recording that both sounds good, and is malleable in the mix.
Many detailed guides to recording guitar amps exist online, but as a basic approach, all you must know is where the center of the speaker cone is, and where you want to put the microphone in relation to it. As a rule of thumb, the sound at the center is brightest and becomes increasingly dull as you move the microphone towards the edges of the speaker. An SM57 is an excellent place to start, but if your setup permits, then microphones such as the Royer 121, Neumann Fet47, Sennheiser 421, AKG C414 are all excellent workhorse microphones to try on your amp. Typically, condensers such as the Fet47 are brighter, while dynamics and ribbons are duller, respectively. All microphones carry a unique sound, and you can use them and their placement to your advantage. Always adjust mic placement before reaching for EQ or another microphone, unless doing so for a specific effect. Most recording problems can be solved by the placement of the microphone. Of course, sometimes what is required is multiple microphones - whether it be a combination of near and far microphones, or multiple close microphones blended to create a hybrid sound between them. Although phase can be a powerful creative tool, it is best practice to align the capsules of close microphones as closely as possible to avoid phase cancellation. This does not necessarily mean the grille of the microphone either, try using a torch or any other bright source of light to see through the grille of a mic to the capsule and establish exactly where the capsule is for a more accurate aligning of a multi-mic setup. It is also good practice to raise an amp off the ground to reduce the transmission of energy through the floor into the microphone stand, often this can save you headroom in your recording.
Some engineers like to take DI signals before or after the effects in order to open up creative possibilities at mixing stages, or allow themselves to return to a sound and tweak it at a later stage. This is easy to recreate on a two channel interface with instrument and microphone inputs available simultaneously. While it is important to attempt to capture the sound right the first time, in less than ideal conditions, it can also be important to give yourself options for when you're in a better environment to evaluate the quality of your recording. Try to restrict any critical listening to studio monitors in a well-treated room, or a pair of headphones you know well. Although the sound in the room is important for approximate changes to a sound, and for the player to hear, nothing is more important than the signal that is returning to your monitors from the microphone.