When it comes to noise, it seems that the electric guitar is usually the biggest challenge. It may have something to do with the high-gain amplifiers, but the truth is it can be tamed. Today, we’ll be learning how to record electric guitar without noise (or with as little noise as possible).
In today’s article, we’ll be learning how to record electric guitar without noise using three different methods. The method you’ll be working with will depend on whether you’re planning to use microphones or DI boxes. Either way, you should have an idea of the direction you’ll be heading after reading through these options. It’s possible to minimize noise to the point where it’s inaudible, but remember that it’s impossible to achieve absolute noiselessness (it’s part of life, get used to it). Let’s get started!
- Recording electric guitar without noise using microphones
- Recording electric guitar without noise using an instrument DI
- Recording electric guitar without noise using an amp DI
- Recording electric guitar without noise using noise gates
- Some final tips on recording electric guitar without noise
Recording electric guitar without noise using microphones
Before the advent of digital audio technologies, recording electric guitar amps with microphones was the industry standard. However, sound engineers were still struggling to record electric guitar without noise because amplifiers can get noisy.
Of course, proper gain-staging was much more important back then.
However, it’s still important to remain mindful of this process even today. We’re still working with analog audio technologies (electric guitar, amplifiers, etc…) even though we’ve grown accustomed to working with digital hardware.
The signal-to-noise ratio is much less of an issue once it enters the digital realm, but we’re going to be learning to manage what happens before that.
Here’s an example of what this signal-chain looks like:
- Electric Guitar
- Audio Interface
One of the most common mistakes in recording (especially with rock/metal guitarists) is to push the amplifier too hard. Lowering the gain may hurt your ego, but it’ll make you sound better.
Did you know that you can easily add more gain later?
- Layer more than one guitar track
- Use saturation plugins/effects
- Boost your signal (so it hits the preamp harder)
You’ll have many options down the road to “enhance” your electric guitar’s signal.
One of the oldest tricks in the book is to insert an Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer before your amplifier, boost the level (not the gain) and lower your amplifier’s gain because you won’t need as much after that.
It’s how you get that “djent” sound (if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry).
If that’s not your thing though, you can keep your gain where it is, but here’s how you can improve your signal-to-noise ratio before the signal arrives at your audio interface.
Check out my product review on the TritonAudio FetHead.
It’ll make your microphone virtually noiseless. It only works with dynamic microphones though.
Other than that, you may also want to have your electric guitar checked out. Using humbuckers (or stacked single-coils) is obviously the answer to eliminate mains hum, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
We’re focusing on everything that happens AFTER the electric guitar performance.
Recording electric guitar without noise using an instrument DI
If you’ve grown accustomed to recording straight into your audio interface as I have, you know how much noisier amp modelling software can be. One of the solutions I found was to use instrument DI boxes like the Radial Pro48.
If your audio interface has HI-Z inputs, it’s pretty much the same thing.
One of the main causes of noise when recording electric guitar is impedance mismatch. In layman’s terms, that means that the output voltage of your instrument isn’t optimized for your audio interface (or the other way around).
DI boxes solve that issue by not only matching the impedance, but by “balancing” your signal.
In other words, guitar cables (TS) aren’t balanced.
On the other hand, microphone cables (XLR) are balanced and eliminate noise through the process of phase cancellation. Basically, the DI box converts your instrument signal into a microphone signal.
However, that won’t completely solve the issue since part of your signal is still unbalanced.
Reducing the length of your guitar cable (5-10 feet maximum) is optimal.
Don’t stress about it too much though because you can only reduce the noise by so much. It’s an inherent part of the electric guitar, so get used to it.
You’ll notice that the DI box does a pretty good job at reducing the noise though.
Recording electric guitar without noise using an amp DI
If you’re still into using amplifiers, you may also want to consider using an amp DI box. Instead of plugging your guitar into the DI box, you connect your amplifier’s speaker output.
In my opinion, this is probably the best way to record electric guitar without noise.
The Radial JDX 48 would be my weapon of choice because it also emulates the sound of the Shure SM57 in front of a speaker cabinet. It’s also specifically designed to accommodate the extremely high-voltage of amplifiers up to 120 Watts.
It’s also possible to plug your electric guitar straight into the box.
In other words, it’s kind of like a 2-for-1 deal!
By using an amp DI box, the only source of noise you’ll need to worry about is your amplifier. Making sure it’s well grounded and that the gain is set optimally will pretty much guarantee a virtually noiseless signal.
I still recommend connecting your amplifier using short cables though.
I also recommend getting your guitar’s electronics checked out if you feel like that may be the culprit. Use humbuckers when possible and if you’re using single-coils and/or P90s, you simply need to learn to live with the noise.
Other than that, feel free to combine the amp DI method with the microphone method!
Recording electric guitar without noise using noise gates
Now, we’ll be talking about noise gates because they’re obviously designed to eliminate noise. Right? Well, they’re also not as easy to work with as you may think.
We’re talking about noise gate pedals and the ones available as plugins.
I advise against using noise gate pedals because I think they sound terrible. I’ve used one in the past before learning how to use my amp properly and it only did more harm than good. It’s basically like the “band aid” solution for electric guitar noise.
The noise gates available in your DAW are different.
By different, I mean you can at least remove it if you realize the results aren’t worth it.
When you’re using noise gate pedals, you can’t really go back and edit that… That’s why I only recommend using noise gates during post-production. I also recommend keeping it on light side or you’ll be compromising some of your sound quality.
Dialing-in the perfect attack/release times for an entire track can be difficult (or impossible).
If possible, I recommend working on different sections of your performance rather than using the noise gate on the entire track. It requires precision and finesse.
However, it’s an excellent way to remove some excess noise (only if it’s excessive).
You’ll also want to keep in mind that the noise you hear when the track is soloed out won’t be audible in the grander scheme of things. Once you add more tracks to the mix, the noise becomes inaudible.
One of the main things I do with my tracks is to “fade out” the clips so that the noise doesn’t cut out abruptly (which is sometimes a side-effect of using noise gates). In other words, I prefer the noise to sound consistent because quite frankly…
I don’t mind it!
Tastefully noisy electric guitar tracks (when recorded properly) can actually add value to the overall soundscape. So rather than avoiding the unavoidable, learn to work with your instrument’s natural characteristics and emphasize them.
That’s something you won’t hear everywhere!
Some final tips on recording electric guitar without noise
To finish up, I just want to focus on the electric guitar itself. I know I said I wouldn’t get too technical, but the electric guitar itself is oftentimes the main cause of the noise.
I recommend visiting a professional if you feel like that’s the case!
However, there are some things you should be aware of before you do that. One of them is that using copper shielding in your guitar cavity can really help (especially with single-coils). I’ve personally done this and it worked out great!
You’d simply ground your signal to the copper shielding.
Feel free to mention this to your professional if you don’t/can’t do this on your own. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to provide that service as well.
Another thing you need to keep in mind is that single-coils/P90s will always be noisy.
It’s just part of their appeal!
I mentioned stacked single-coils earliers, but they obviously won’t sound as “pure” as the real thing, so make sure you consider that before swapping pickups.
Other than that, following the tips you’ve gathered from this article should dramatically improve your signal-to-noise ratio. It’s all about starting from the source (your electric guitar) and working your way up the signal-chain because once it reaches the digital realm… It’s too late!
Your audio interface WILL add some noise, but it’s virtually inaudible.
They’re all pretty much the same to be honest, so no use going crazy over audio interfaces.
That being said, I’ll be leaving you with some products to check out. If you have any questions along the way, feel free to post them in the comments section. I’ll get back to you shortly!
You’re now equipped to record electric guitar without noise (or with minimal noise, at least). I know it’s difficult for some of you rockstars to tone down the gain, but you need to see the bigger picture. Signal processing isn’t the same as performing live and even then, you’ve got sound engineers to assist you. After years of experience (10+), I rarely use noise gates and even when I do, I’d rather not. It’s really a last resort so focus on the root cause, not the “band-aid” solution! If you liked this article, consider checking out some others in the “recording guitar at home” series. You can also help yourself to a FREE copy of my ebook. Thanks for stopping by, take care!