How To Record a Guitar Amp Without a Mic | Decibel Peak

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You’re asking yourself the same question I was asking when I was looking for alternatives. The only guitar amp I was using that would allow me to record without microphones was my Randall. The KH75 (Kirk Hammett Signature) had both the speaker outputs (4-Ohms/8-Ohms) and the headphone output to work with. I got “okay” results using the headphone output, but today we’re going to learn how to record a guitar amp without a microphone the RIGHT WAY.

When I learned how to record a guitar amp without a microphone, it suddenly opened up a world of possibilities. For those of us working in apartment buildings and/or less-than-ideal recording environments, using microphones can be challenging. It’s even more challenging when you’re using an amplifier that features some serious wattage and/or is tube-driven. To get optimal results, you’d need to crank that thing up pretty loud (the neighbours will love you for that). So, I’ll be presenting the solution… Recording your guitar amp using its speaker outputs and specialized DI boxes. I’ll even present an alternative to the alternative! Let’s get started.

Recording your guitar amp using an amplifier DI box

Before doing the research myself, I was surprised to find out that Radial Engineering manufactured “special” DI boxes. One of those DI boxes is specifically designed to handle the output voltage of an amplifier.

Before talking about that special device though, we need to understand why we need it.

how to record a guitar amp without a mic - the randall kh75

I mean, why can’t I connect it straight into my audio interface? Why can’t I connect it through conventional DI boxes? If you want to learn how to record a guitar amp without a microphone, you need to realize the difference between an amplifier and an instrument.

You may know that guitars are high-output instruments, so what about amplifiers?

Think about it… PASSIVE guitar pickups are still considered high-impedance, so how powerful do you think your 75 Watt (or higher) guitar amp is? Remember, the speaker output is designed to power speaker cabinets and to get them REALLY loud.

Needless to say, you’d blow out your audio interface if you tried connecting your amp.

You’d also blow out typical DI boxes designed for instruments.

What we’re looking for is something that can handle these ridiculously high-voltages. That’s it thought, there’s nothing else to it!

So, we’re going to be studying the DI box I’ve chosen for this project right now!

Recording your guitar amp using the Radial JDX 48

Once I found out about the Radial JDX 48, I immediately started considering recording using my guitar amplifier again. I’ve been recording my Universal Audio Arrow and UAD plugins (with fantastic results) for quite some time, but I LOVE options!

Although Radial talks about using this DI box on-stage, it can also be used in the studio.

One of the features that distinguish the Radial JDX 48 is its ability to emulate the sound of tracking your guitar amp through the conventional dynamic microphone in close proximity. In other words, you won’t need to worry about impulse responses or cabinet simulations.

Another feature I really like is the throughput which is useful if you want the best of both worlds.

It’s mostly useful for the stage, but I see LOTS of potential in the studio. For example, you can record using the DI box to have an isolated version of your track AND route the throughput to another amp for monitoring and/or recording with microphones.

That’s probably not what you came here for, but it’s an option for the future!

I’d personally use that throughput for routing straight into my Universal Audio Arrow. Or better yet, I’d route it into my Radial Pro48 and continue using the method I described in my guide on the “best way to record electric guitar at home”.

However, this would require more inputs than I currently have (you’d need three).

  • Radial JDX 48 (DI guitar amp)
  • Radial Pro48 (throughput guitar)
  • Radial Pro48 (DI guitar)

The most important thing you need to know about the Radial JDX 48 is that it can handle amplifiers up to 300 Watts (there’s a switch to enable that)!

You can even use it to connect your guitar/bass instead of using your guitar amp. In other words, you can use the Radial JDX as your “go-to” DI box instead of having more than one. If it can handle the voltage of an amp, it can certainly handle that of your instruments.

Just be warned that the frequency-response ISN’T “flat” (it sounds like the Shure SM57).

Another thing you may want to know is that it can be powered by +48V Phantom Power or using the power adapter (some mixers/audio interfaces aren’t equipped with Phantom Power). Some interfaces also lack the ability to reverse the polarity from balanced lines, so the JDX 48 conveniently includes the switch.

Lastly, one of my favourite “overlooked” features is the bass extension switch.

Basically, if you’re using the JDX 48 to record your bass guitar amplifier, it’ll simulate the sound of 15” speakers to provide enhanced bass-response. Although, you can still use this with your guitar amp for some tonal variety!

So, that’s all there is to it! Or is there more?

Recording your guitar using an audio interface instead of your guitar amp

I appreciate the fact that you prefer recording with your guitar amp. However, learning how to record a guitar amp at home still requires you to own an audio interface. My question to you is… Wouldn’t you be better off “skipping the amp”?

Don’t answer just yet, because we’ll be considering the advantages/disadvantages!

If you haven’t read my guide on the “best way to record electric guitar at home”, I highly recommend doing so. The method I outline basically involves using “special” audio interfaces to obtain the same sound-quality as using expensive amplifiers.

Does that sound impossible?

If you’ve used amp modelling software in the past, I understand your frustration. However, you most likely haven’t heard of Universal Audio and/or used their products. Everything else I’ve used (Guitar Rig, Amplitube, etc…) led me back to using my guitar amp.

When I found out about Universal Audio though, I went running back!

We’ll talk about what makes these units so “special” in the next section, but let’s first understand what we’d need to modify from our current method.

You could still use the JDX 48 either way, especially if you want to try the “trick” I described in the previous section. However, you may not even need DI boxes at all if you’re more of the minimalist (I am, but I still use my Radial Pro48).

It just depends if you want to create multiple versions of your signal (I do).

So, let’s consider what life would be like using Universal Audio interfaces instead of amps!

Recording your guitar using Universal Audio interfaces

Great, hopefully I got you interested in the alternative to the alternative! I really enjoy talking about Universal Audio because I truly believe they’ve revolutionized home recording/professional recording for the better.

I especially recommend these audio interfaces for guitarists/bassists.

As I mentioned, the amp modelling software I’d used in the past left me disappointed. However, the amp modelling plugins offered by Universal Audio are something else… You may be skeptical, but that’s because you don’t understand how they’ve integrated their hardware into the software (and vice-versa).

I highly recommend checking out this article I wrote on the subject if you want more details.

To summarize though, you need to focus on their combination of onboard DSP/Unison preamps to understand how that interacts with the plugins. I mean, Slate Digital offers analog modelled plugins, so why should UAD be any different?

Starting with the onboard DSP… You can virtually run your UAD plugins in real-time with NO audible latency whatsoever. That’s because the plugins are being hosted inside the audio interface and your computer’s CPU is left to accomplish more important tasks.

In other words, it sounds like you’re recording straight into the hardware you’re emulating.

Believe me when I say it sounded/felt exactly like playing a real guitar/bass amp.

Moving on to the Unison preamps… They basically emulate the circuit behaviour and impedance of the plugin that’s being loaded into the interface. They even adjust themselves automatically to dial-in that perfect gain-staging “sweet spot” for that warm/analog sound.

There’s nothing else on the market like these preamps!

It makes all the difference and it’s the main reason why Universal Audio hardware isn’t like anything else you’ve ever worked with. What’s the use of analog modelled software if you don’t have the hardware to go along with it?

Anyway, I highly recommend reading my article if you’re interested.

If not, then at least you got what you were looking for!

Recording your guitar amp requires an audio interface, so why would you still need an amp?

Getting back to our question, I still believe that guitar amps have their place. Software can only go so far (it’s gone really far though) to replicate the sound/feel of an actual amplifier, but there’s nothing like the warmth of some actual red-hot tubes.

If you’ve already got the gear, you’re probably better off using it instead of buying more!

I just wanted to present another alternative to those who maybe weren’t sure about how they wanted to go about recording electric guitar at home. If you want to learn how to record a guitar amp without a microphone, I think both options are equally awesome!

However, I think using an amplifier is actually simpler… 

I mean, you won’t need to worry about software and you could save yourself some money by getting an ordinary audio interface (hopefully with Thunderbolt connectivity though). You just need your guitar amp, your Radial JDX 48 and perhaps the Zoom TAC-2R (what I’d use).

Other than that, make sure you got your cables. Make sure to pick up an XLR cable if you haven’t got one already!

So without further ado, here’s your shopping list:

Radial JDX 48:

Learning how to record a guitar amp without a microphone can be a game-changer. I hope you like the method I presented because there aren’t any other ways (that I know of) to accomplish this task. With the Radial JDX 48, you’ll be covered whether you’re recording the amp itself or your instruments. If you enjoyed learning with me, consider subscribing to my weekly newsletter for more high-quality content like this! I appreciate the time you took to find answers, you’re one step closer to becoming the fully-independent music producer you’ve always wanted to be!

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2 Responses

  1. Oh, this is really possible? Wow, I must confess here that I am really stunned and also very happy to see this post. With a simple audio interface, I would be able to record a guitar amp so I do not need a microphone anymore. That’s some really good stuff here. I need to show this to my sister. She’s the guitar lady of the house.

    1. Hey Payton,

      I was surprised myself, but DI boxes are really the unsung heroes of the night (or day). I think it’s the best compromise if you still want that amplifier sound while keeping the volume down. It’s also much easier to control the outcome this way, especially if your room hasn’t been treated.

      Thanks for dropping by, I wish you and your sister the best!

      – Stefan

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