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The Ultimate Modern Guitar Recording Guide

Updated: Nov 9, 2021



Introduction

This guide will serve as an overview of all the available guitar recording methods. Technology has improved tremendously over the last decade and we have various ways to record guitar. These are objective and subjective factors to consider when recording and purchasing gear. This is intended for guitarists and producers that want to record guitar.


I am writing this guide because I am extremely passionate about recording guitar and have spent countless hours doing so. I want to use this experience to help others figure out the best option for their needs. It will be organized by least amount of equipment required to most.



1. DI Guitar with Software Plugins

Guitar software is constantly evolving and has become a fantastic solution for guitarists that are trying to have minimal roadblocks when recording a song. It is the most affordable option, assuming you have a computer and recording gear. If you are not a computer person and don’t intend to be, skip this section. If you want the easiest and cheapest way to record, this is you.


Who is it for?

  • Guitarists of any playing level

  • Producers looking for workflow and flexibility

  • Non-tone chasers and people that don’t want to spend time or money on gear

  • Guitarists that are computer savvy and comfortable using a DAW

  • Metal and extended range players that require elaborate processing

Who is it not for?

  • Tone chasers

  • Jazz, blues, classic rock, folk players that require “organic” tone and realistic room sounds

  • Anyone that hates the computer

  • Anyone that doesn’t have a recording setup

Pros:

  1. Ease of use: just install software, operation is fairly straightforward

  2. Workflow: you just have to connect guitar, no mics or extra setup.

  3. Flexibility: you can change tones after recording.

  4. Portability - no gear required if you have a recording setup.

  5. Editing - the DI signal is easy to edit.

  6. Affordability - a plugin is much cheaper than amps or modelers..

Cons:

  1. CPU power - can be a limitation. Some software uses a lot of cpu.

  2. Tone and feel - high variability, some are great others are not.

  3. Using a mouse to dial in knobs is slow.

Overall Scores


Ease of Use

10/10 just install software and good to go


Workflow

10/10 you can change tone after recording!


Tone

Variable


Feel

Variable


Price

10/10

Suggested equipment: guitar, instrument cable, audio interface, computer, DAW, guitar amp/cabinet modeling plugins, headphones, monitors.


Commonly used plugins: Neural DSP, Guitar Rig, Line 6 Helix Native, UAD, Positive Grid Bias, Stock plugins in your DAW.


2. Guitar Amp Modelers

Guitar modelers are a staple in the modern guitar community because of unparalleled features and portability. They have different workflows/features depending on the unit, but the overall principle is the same: to simulate a full rig of pedals, amps, and cabinets in one portable unit.


Modelers can be great for pro guitarists and hobbyists alike, however they require foundational knowledge of how guitar gear works. This is because they aim to model or replicate expensive amps and pedals. Therefore, I would not recommend them to beginners. They require a lot of time to dial or search for sounds if you are a discerning player. It is potentially rewarding because you can program shows on digital rigs like the Axe FX that would switch all your sounds without you having to tap dance on a pedal board.


Who is it for?

  • touring or gigging guitarists that don’t want to carry a ton of gear

  • Guitarists and producers that want a huge amount of sounds with minimal gear

  • producers that have interest in creating some really unique sounds

  • extended range players that require elaborate processing

Who is it not for?

  • beginner guitarists that haven’t used amps and pedals

  • Anyone that doesn’t have time or interest in dialing in sounds or sifting through presets

  • Anyone not interested in using additional software

Pros:

  1. Features: a ton of tones in one box

  2. Flexibility: Good for studio, live, and with pedals and amps you already own.

  3. Portability: Less gear to carry around, some of the modelers are floorboards

  4. Tone: is pretty darn realistic these days

Cons:

  1. Workflow - can be good BUT potentially slow from secondary software or hardware unit to dial in sounds.

  2. Affordability - some units are pricey, and you need accessories.

  3. Resale Value - they get outdated quickly, unlike amps. They are basically computers.

Overall Scores


Ease of Use

Variable, depends on the unit. Generally Kemper easier to use, Fractal more challenging.


Workflow

Variable, 3/10-8/10


Tone

Variable, 6/10-10/10 highly subjective and debated


Feel

6/10 let's be honest never really as good as an amp


Price

8/10 good deal considering what you get


Recommended Equipment: guitar, instrument cable, modeling unit, TRS cables, audio interface, computer, DAW, headphones, and monitors.


Popular modelers: Kemper, Axe FX, Line 6 Helix, Neural DSP Quad Cortex, Headrush


3. Guitar Amps with Loadbox and Cabinet Simulators

Using a guitar head or combo amp with a loadbox and speaker simulator is a game changer for tone chasers, tube amp aficionados, hobbyists, and pro guitarists that want to record and practice at reasonable volume levels and are down to invest in gear. It alleviates issues with tone and workflow associated with digital modeler units. It also alleviates logistical issues like at-home noise and extensive equipment associated with recording cabs with microphones.


Who is it for?

  • people that like amps and have space for them

  • People that appreciate the tube amp tone

  • People that need to record or practice at reasonable volumes

  • People that don’t like digital or computer gear

  • People that collect gear and want to sell and resell

  • People that want to dial in tone, but not spend too much time doing it

Who is it not for?

  • anyone that does not have space for amps

  • Anyone that needs the most portable setup

  • Anyone that does not want to spend time browsing for IRs and dialing in virtual cabinets

Pros:

  1. Tone: potentially awesome

  2. You can use your amps if you have them

  3. Quiet recording/practicing absolute game changer

  4. Amps are highly prized by gear sluts and have resale value

  5. Easier and less gear/time than miking up cabs

  6. Easier to dial in sounds than using modelers


Cons:

  1. Potentially expensive

  2. Loadboxes and IRs and speaker sims are potentially not that great sounding

  3. IRs and spear sims require extra money and research

  4. Potentially a lot of gear required especially if you want to record DI and do re-amping

  5. Potentially will want multiple amps and pedals to get the sounds you want

  6. Amps are heavy and take up lots of space

Overall Scores


Ease of Use

8/10


Workflow

9/10


Tone

9/10


Feel

8/10 not quite the same as a real cabinet, some are better than others by a lot


Price

6/10 price is variable


Recommended Equipment: guitar, instrument cable, guitar amp, speaker cable, loadbox, potentially speaker simulation software or Impulse Responses, audio interface, computer, headphones/monitors.


Commonly used gear: Universal Audio Ox Box, Suhr Reactive Load, Two Notes Captor X / Torpedo, GGD plugins, ML Sound Lab, Celestion, all kinds of amps including Fender, Marshall, Mesa, Bogner, Diezel, Friedman, etc.



4. Guitar Amps with Cabinets and Microphones (The Classic Way)

Using a real amp with mics is the tried and true method and generally the best option if you have the luxury of being able to do this right! This is one of the best options for complete beginners and pro musicians alike. And has been the only option up until about 15 years ago or so.


Recording amps can seem daunting but you really don’t need that much gear or knowledge to start out. And if you have an amp that isn’t super loud, it doesn’t have to be a huge disturbance in the house. But for pro recordings, it makes sense to go to a studio or invest in building one.


Who is it for?

  • the most discerning players, especially live musicians

  • People that have studio space

  • People that are interested in learning microphone techniques

  • People that are ok with lots of gear

Who is it not for?

  • anyone with limited space

  • Anyone not interested in buying and learning how to use mics

  • anyone that is really lazy

Pros:

  1. The tried and true method for getting great tone

  2. Easy to dial in once you know what you are doing

  3. Ultimate excitement for tone chasers and gear sluts

  4. Amps and mics are great investment, resell well, and are timeless

  5. No extra software to fuss around with

Cons:

  1. Logistical issues - you need a space where loud amps can be recorded. A room with acoustic treatment is ideal

  2. Gear: potentially a lot depending on your needs

  3. Knowhow: recording and microphone technique require some knowledge and experience

  4. Portability: many people are switching to modelers these days because amps are so heavy

  5. Reliability: amps require maintenance like new tubes and such every so often


Overall Scores


Ease of Use

6/10 potentially challenging for some


Workflow

6/10 potentially intricate, can be streamlined


Tone

10/10 the best


Feel

10/10 the best


Price

4/10 potentially expensive with nice mics and preamps.


Suggested equipment: guitar, instrument cable, pedals, guitar amp, guitar cabinet, microphones, mic preamps, audio interface, computer, headphones, monitors.


Commonly used gear: Shure sm57, Royer R-121, various amps, various cabinets, various mic preamps.


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