Know Your Parts
Recording a great guitar part comes down to a combination of luck and preparation, the latter of which you have total control. Try to have a firm understanding of the parts that you have to record for the day. More than anything, practice these parts if possible, as this will ensure that you perform comfortably and with conviction. It’s also terribly counterproductive to use the recording time to learn or memorize guitar parts, more so if they’re complex.
If you’re recording as a session player for other artists, try to set aside time to learn a few of their songs or familiarize yourself with their genre. The greater your understanding of their musical mood board, the more your parts will feel in their compositions at home. In the same way that an athlete prepares for a big game, every musician needs to prepare for your recording sessions to truly optimize their performance.
Service Your Gear
Every accomplished guitar player knows how to maintain their gears. There are a few routine checkups that you can implement before heading into recording sessions. These checkups will help to ensure that you don’t run into any technical issues while recording:
- Check that your strings are relatively new, correctly wound around the headstock, and free from obstructions at the nut, saddle, and bridge.
- Check to see that your bridge, saddle, and nut are all firmly installed and do not shift around while playing.
- Wipe and clean your fretboard, and treat with conditioner or oil if possible.
- Check to see that your intonation is correct (that your notes stay in tune over the entire fretboard.
- Check to see that your jack input is firmly in place and that all of your tone and volume knobs work. Also, check that your guitar does not buzz when you plug it in (this could be due to electronic faults in the guitar, the guitar jack, the amp/playback system)
Build Your Sound
Once you’re sure that all of your recording and playing gear is in working order, you can start to decide how you want your guitar to sound on the specific recording. Building your sound is one of the most exciting parts of the recording process, and it’s important not to overthink your sonic choices to the point where you hinder your creativity.
The style of music and mood of the song will determine the necessary tones you need for recording. When possible, try to have a few guitars, pedals, and amps with you for recording. This will provide you with a variety of tonal options to experiment with and choose from while recording. For instance, if the song you are recording is quite heavy and aggressive, you may want to bring along overdrive, distortion, and fuzz pedals to record with.
If you find yourself unsure how to get the guitar tones you desire, build a playlist of reference tracks with guitar sounds that you like or enjoy. Try to put some research into the artists on your playlist to find the gear that they use. More often than not, this method will lead you to the equipment you need to get your preferred guitar tones.
A crucial step to run through before recording your guitar consists of checking every analog stage of your recording chain in the studio. A reliable studio (whether at home or in a more professional setup) should have the following boxes ticked in their gear list:
- There should be a relatively well-spaced room for recording amps. The room does not have to be large, and sometimes even a large closet will suffice. The recording space for the amp should be quiet, and there should be no uncontrolled movement in the space.
- The engineer should have reliable, noise-free mics and cables to record from. You can use one or a few microphones placed in front of an amp for recording.
- The guitar amp should not make any excess hum, buzz, or other electrical noises.
- If the studio uses DI boxes, preamps, or interfaces – try to ensure that they are all in working order and free from any latency.
If you don’t have access to or budget for a fully professional recording studio, you’ll be happy to know you can still get stunning results from home recording. This method generally requires much less analog gear, and you’ll also work without the pressure of working within paid studio time.
A professional quality home studio setup will still take a bit of investing, but it’s worthwhile in the long run. You’ll have to own a pc or laptop, as well as a basic recording interface. A healthy selection of digital audio workstations (DAW’s) is available that bring most facets of a full studio right to your home. These programs contain multiple emulators of preamps, amps, and even studio rooms so that you can develop your studio skills at home.
DAW’s are almost a standard requirement of modern-day guitar players. Navigating the basic areas of studio recording yourself will give you a deeper understanding of your production as a guitar player.
Prepare Your Recording Schedule
An often overlooked step in the pre-recording process is scheduling. Bands and artists will often go into a recording session with a basic idea of what they plan to achieve for the day. This mindset can lead recording sessions to become unproductive. It can be easy to get lost in the creative and recording process, especially without direction, but you can remedy this by setting a timed recording plan for the day.
Begin your studio sessions by writing down a plan of what you need to achieve for the day. Set order of importance for all your guitar parts, and decide which parts require more time to tackle. This technique will create a more focused workflow in the studio and usually leads to more appropriate creative choices. Once you have tackled every item on your to-do list, allow yourself to back and revise parts to see if you can fit in any more creative purges. Use this time as a reward for the intent you put into your scheduling, and you’ll find that your recording sessions are more fluid, fun, and creative
The above-listed steps should give most guitar players the solidity and mental stamina they need for hours of great recording sessions. Expensive gear does not directly translate to good guitar recordings. More than anything, great guitar recordings generally come from spaces where there is both experience and experimentation. Thanks for reading through our checklist of things to do before recording guitar. Until next time, happy shredding.