Photo: Julia Mahncke
You really don’t need a lot to record yourself. In this article, we’ll cover all the different options available so you can make an informed decision.
- We’ll go over gear for every budget – from dirt-cheap to high-end items.
- You’ll be ready to make your first recording right after reading this article.
- Plus, you’ll have a wish list for when you’re ready to upgrade.
- We’ll go over different methods of recording from old school stuff to the latest trends.
Before we list any recording gear, let’s talk about why recording yourself is a great idea.
Why recording yourself will make you a better guitarist
Even if you don’t want to release music, there are some serious benefits to recording yourself playing – this goes for guitarists of all levels.
Here are a few of reasons to start recording your practice sessions:
- Getting feedback from a professional is great but you can learn a lot from analyzing your own playing.
- Record yourself playing along to a metronome and when you listen back, you’ll immediately know whether your time feel is behind or your rushing or dragging.
- Hear what others hear – sometimes we can be too involved with what we’re playing to really hear how we sound in the moment.
Many people have the goal of playing in front of other people or releasing music and videos of themselves playing guitar on social media.
- If you already get flustered when you see a recording button from a distance, take it slow and practice in a low stakes environment.
- It’ll become easier with time and you’ll prepare for more challenging situations such as playing a gig, recording when other people are present, and recording in a professional studio setting.
We all feel like we’re behind sometimes, like we should already be much better at playing guitar than our current skill level – this type of thinking can really kill your motivation.
- When you put in the time and practice wisely, you will make progress.
- Sometimes it’s slow but if you record yourself, you’ll be able to listen back and hear the evidence for how far you’ve come.
What gear should I buy to record guitar?
Below are gear recommendations divided up into three categories:
- Beginner: This gear is dirt cheap and for folks who just want to give this whole thing a try at the lowest cost possible.
- Invested: This gear is still affordable but only recommended for people who are able to put some money aside to invest in one of their favorite hobbies.
- Pro: This gear is on the more expensive side and only worth buying if you’re in for the long haul.
Whatever you buy, try buying used gear.
- It’s cheaper and better for the environment.
- It’s also a very common practice in the music gear world which means there’s an online retailer that specializes in used music gear: Reverb.
If you have a local music store, they probably have a used section as well.
- They will charge more than if you buy from another musician but it can be helpful to use their expertise.
- If it’s a good store, they will make sure the gear is in good working order and sometimes they even provide a short warranty period.
If you buy from one of the big online retailers, look out for seasonal deals and open box items to save money.
Recording gear for beginner guitarists
When you’re starting out, try using what you already have. If you have a computer, tablet or smartphone, you should be good to go. No more tech needed.
If you don’t have any of those devices or don’t want to use them, we have a suggestion on what to buy as well.
How to record audio for Apple users
Your Apple device comes with an app called VoiceMemos. You just place your phone in front of you, aim the microphone at your guitar or amp, and hit the record button.
Photo: Screenshot of the Apple Voice Memo app
How to record audio for Android users
Most Android smartphones and tablets have a simple voice recorder. They look different depending on what device you have. Here are the instructions for a Samsung voice recorder.
How to record audio for if you’re not an Apple or Android user
Recording guitar without a computer or phone
Photo: Zoom H1n-VP 2-channel Handy Recorder
Recording gear for invested hobby guitarists
Taking your recordings to the next level means acquiring a bit more gear. Our suggestions will provide several upgrades from the beginner gear:
- Recording into a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) will make it easier to edit your recordings.
- The most commonly used DAWs are full music production softwares.
- You can use software plug-ins to experiment with different tones when you record your guitar – no pedal or amp needed.
- DAWs make it easy to record to a backing track or a metronome.
- You have more control over the signal and can avoid capturing background noise when you record by plugging into an interface that is connected to your computer instead of using a microphone.
At this stage, we’re assuming you have a good computer or an iPad. Here are the items you need to add:
- Interface (a device that connects your guitar to a computer)
- DAW (music production software)
- Microphone (only if you have an acoustic guitar that can’t be plugged in)
Record your guitar with affordable interfaces
An interface is a piece of gear that helps your computer communicate with your guitar or a microphone.
- If you play electric guitar or your acoustic guitar has a pickup, you can take the same cable you would plug into an amplifier and plug it straight into an interface.
- Your computer will then be able to record the sound.
- Acoustic guitars sound a lot better when you record them through a microphone or a mix of microphone and pickup – more about that later.
Photo: Focusrite Scarlett Solo
There are a lot of interfaces out there. Usually, they’ll come with a some basic music production software so you can get started right out of the box.
Here are a few popular choices:
IK Multimedia iRig 2 (works with Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch)
Fender Mustang Micro (sneaky option for non-Apple user who can use this as interface and amp/pedal simulator)
If you’re planning to record acoustic guitar and vocals, a USB-mic can double as an interface.
You can plug an instrument in with a cable and also record through the microphone.
Creating great guitar recordings with affordable DAWs
You’re in luck because Garageband is a great music production software that comes with your Apple device for free. It’s fairly easy to use and there are lots of tutorials online to help you if you get stuck.
Audacity is a free audio recording software. You can record and edit with Audacity but it’s not a full blown music production software.
If you want more than just recording and editing capabilities, we recommend Reaper. It’s a low cost software that is capable of handling most tasks any other DAW can.
If you have a bit of money to spend but want something simple, try out one of these:
Remember: If you buy an interface or microphone, it might come with a software. No need to waste money if you already have what you need.
Use an amp simulator when recording direct
Once you record your guitar directly through an interface and play it back in a DAW, it’ll sound… meh.
Don’t worry though, you can process the signal to make it sound like you actually played through an amp and maybe even used a few pedals.
Garageband comes with a lot of digital amp and pedal options so you don’t have to spend any extra cash. Here are instructions on how to use their amp and pedal models.
Photo: Amp Designer in Garageband
If you’re not using Garageband, your software might have amp and pedal models as well.
Affordable headphones for recording guitar over a backing track
At this point in your recording journey, you really just need any headphones as long as they’re wired. Headphones are good for monitoring your sound directly through the interface.
- Bluetooth headphones will introduce lag and you won’t be able to hear what you’re playing as you’re playing it.
- You can monitor sound through your computer speakers as well but you might also run into the problem of sound lagging behind.
- If you already have wired headphones with a small jack, you can buy an adapter so you can plug them right into your interface.
If you want to buy some comfortable over-ear, wired headphones, take a look at these models:
Some people prefer closed-back headphones for recording vocals or acoustic guitar because they don’t “leak” sound back into the microphone you’re recording with. (Hello, click track 😑 What are you doing on my recording?)
Random tip: If you wear glasses, you might prefer bigger headphones. Small headphones, like the Sony MDR model, can put pressure on the ends of your frames behind your ear and cause pain when you wear them for long periods of time.
Recording gear for guitar players with professional ambitions
What’s the best way to record guitar? At this level, there is not just one answer. It depends on your goals and what is most inspiring and efficient for your workflow.
We won’t leave you hanging though. Coming up are some popular gear choices and recommendations from the Pickup Music team. Bear in mind – professional recording gear doesn't come cheap!
- Be prepared to spend $500 or more (sometimes way more) per piece.
- There’s no limit to how much you can spend.
- Just remember that no amount of gear will make you better at playing guitar – so don’t think you can buy your way out of practicing!
Choosing a DAW for professional guitar recordings
You can’t go wrong with these two:
Logic Pro (only for Apple users)
And some people (specifically the company who makes it) still claim that Pro Tools is the industry’s standard. We think that’s debatable.
Three methods to record amazing guitar tones
You can take three different routes when recording your guitar and we’ll discuss all of them in more detail below:
- Old school: Put a microphone in front of your nice amp, run it through some cool pedals into a decent interface and hit record in your DAW.
- In the box: Plug your guitar into an interface and shape your tone within your DAW using a bunch of awesome plug-ins.
- Hardware modelers: Run your guitar through a multi-effects pedal with amplifier, cabinet, and pedal modelers, which connects to your computer. Tweak everything to your heart’s delight and then record into your DAW.
The old school way of recording your guitar
This method is best for people who
- Love dialing in tones with physical knobs
- Have amps and pedals they love
- Tend to stick to a signature sound
- Can leave their gear set up in a dedicated room for recording
We’ll leave it up to you to experiment with different microphone positions but here are the basics:
- The most ever recommended mic to get this job done is the Shure SM57.
- You can also go with a ribbon mic.
- When you’re recording at home, you most likely can’t just crank the volume of your amp.
- Get a small amp (either 10 or 12 inch speaker) that will deliver clean and crunchy tones at a reasonable volume level.
- An attenuator can help to tame louder amps and help drive the tone at low volumes.
Pro: If you know your gear and you’ve got your tone dialed in, this can be less overwhelming than having a gazillion options.
Con: There’s only so much you can do to change your tone in the mixing stage. If you don’t like it, you have to do it all over again.
How to create a great guitar tone “in the box”
This method is best for people who
- Need a lot of different tones
- Don’t have a lot of room to store gear
- Like to record on the go
- Do session work and don’t need to recreate the same sounds live
In the box refers to mixing and tweaking the sound of your guitar within a software on your computer. Just plug your guitar into a good interface and let plug-ins do the rest.
A solid choice for an interface is the Universal Audio Apollo Twin. This interface can process your signal before it reaches your DAW. This will lower your CPU power usage and you can add more plug-ins without worrying about your DAW freezing.
Photo: Universal Audio Apollo Twin
Once you’ve got your signal recorded, you can shape it with plug-ins:
- LogicPro has some good ones built into the software, so does the free version Garageband.
- NeuralDSP makes fantastic plug-ins.
- Many folks also like AmpliTube5, Positive Grid Bias Amp 2, and Line 6 Helix Native
Photo: Neural DSP / Archetype: Cory Wong
Pro: The possibilities of tweaking your sound are endless and you don’t need a lot of space to store gear.
Con: If you’re a perfectionist, you might never wrap up a project again because you’ll have trouble settling on a sound.
Our favorite interfaces and processor units for recording guitar
This method is perfect for people who
- Are tired of poorly cobbled together pedalboards
- Can’t be bothered to carry an amp around anymore
- Need a lot of different sounds in the studio or on stage
- Need to recreate recordings they did on stage
Here’s what you need to know about multi-effects pedals:
- There are a number of great pedalboards that allow you to choose from an array of pedal, amp, and cabinet simulators in one device.
- If you can’t afford the full version, the same manufacturer often has smaller units that are worth looking into.
- They double as recording and touring gear. Once you dial in a tone, save it as a preset and you’ll be able to recall the settings on stage.
- Some of them function as an interface, so you can connect the pedal directly to your computer.
Photo: Line 6 Helix Floor
Take a look at our two favorite models:
Pro: One piece of gear that does it all - it’s a convenient tool for a professional guitarist.
Con: Multi-effects pedals are pricey and some people prefer to acquire gear over time as their budget allows.
Best practices for recording acoustic guitar
Acoustic guitars sound best when you record them with a microphone. Whenever you use a microphone, you have to think about its placement and what the room will contribute to the sound.
Eight steps to a good acoustic guitar recording
Here are a few golden rules for recording guitar with a microphone:
- Try to record somewhere with a carpet, curtains, bookshelf, a sofa, a mattress – this helps absorb unwanted reverb.
- Don’t position the microphone smack in the middle of the room or close to a wall – put it somewhere in between.
- Point the microphone at the 12th fret of your guitar, never at the sound hole.
- Leave some space between the guitar and the microphone, at least the length of the microphone.
- Pull up your favorite recording of an acoustic guitar and see how close you can get to that sound.
- Put some headphones on, play your guitar and move the microphone around a bit to see where it sounds good.
- Don’t sit on a squeaky chair, next to a refrigerator or a fan – or anything else that makes a lot of noise.
Pressed for time? Just consider these things:
- Recording yourself will help you become a better player – do it!
- Don’t overthink the gear situation, just use whatever you have available now or start with affordable gear.
- If you’ve caught the studio bug, buy used gear first, enjoy as many trial versions of software you can get your hands on, and maybe borrow some gear from generous friends.
- If you record an acoustic guitar, use a microphone.
- If you record your electric guitar, you can get great sounds without a microphone.
Photo: Julia Mahncke
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