Best Way To Record Electric Guitar At Home | Decibel Peak

best way to record electric guitar at home

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Even after owning several amplifiers, I realized that the best way to record electric guitar at home involved using one piece of hardware and one piece of software. Using microphones to record your favourite amplifier isn’t always practical and/or affordable (especially for those of us recording in apartment buildings). Is there really another way though?

Recording electric guitar at home using an audio interface and amp modelling software is much easier and much more affordable. However, we’re looking for the best way to record electric guitar at home. Typical audio interfaces and average amp modelling software isn’t going to compete with your thousand dollar amplifiers/microphones. After years of research, I’ll finally be sharing how I managed to create professional sounding guitar tracks at home using the products I’ll be recommending. They’ve changed my musical lifestyle for the better and now… It’s your turn (hopefully)!

Recording electric guitar at home using an audio interface

If you ask me, the best way to record electric guitar at home involves recording straight into your audio interface. However, we’re going to need an audio interface that can successfully replicate the fundamental characteristics of an actual amplifier.

Currently, there’s only one manufacturer out there with products fitting that description.

13 Arrow environmental 2

Before moving on though, we need to understand why most audio interfaces aren’t suitable for recording electric guitar. It’s very simple… You wouldn’t be capable of recording your instrument using amp modelling software in real-time (without audio latency).

Amp modelling software is pretty demanding, so you’ll most likely experience some form of latency by monitoring through your DAW.

That’s the main reason, but I still didn’t mention how most amp modelling software cannot replicate the tube/valve amplifier tone and feel. If you’re into highly digitized sounds, you probably won’t mind but I personally wanted something that sounded REAL.

Without significant innovations to their preamps, most audio interfaces fall short of the target.

Lastly, most audio interfaces still use the outdated USB protocol. If you’ve never heard of the Thunderbolt protocol, now you know why you’re still having issues with audio latency. I won’t dive too deep into this technology, but rest assured that it significantly reduces audio latency.

So, those are three reasons why most audio interfaces aren’t optimal for recording electric guitar at home (or recording anything at all).

What’s the solution though?

  • Typical audio interface – Replaced by DSP-powered audio interface
  • Typical microphone preamps – Replaced by Unison-enabled preamps
  • USB audio interfaces – Replaced by Thunderbolt equipped audio interfaces

If some of these terms are new to you, don’t worry. We’ll be elaborating on these technologies in the following section. It’s needless to say that whoever is responsible for these changes has taken an active role in revolutionizing audio interfacing for the better.

I’m talking about Universal Audio, of course!

Recording electric guitar at home using Universal Audio hardware

If you’re ready for the future, the best way to record electric guitar at home involves using Universal Audio hardware. Before finding out about this company, I was starting to believe that recording straight into an audio interface and obtaining professional results was impossible.

I couldn’t believe how they’d managed to create the perfect synergy between the analog/digital world using their innovative technologies.

universal audio limiting amplifier

As I mentioned previously, Universal Audio has integrated three solutions into their audio interfaces to counteract the mediocrity of most audio interfaces. We talked about digital signal processing (DSP), Unison-enabled preamps and Thunderbolt technology.

So, what does all of this mean? Does it really make that much of a difference?

Starting with DSP-powered audio interfaces, you may or may not be familiar with the term. Basically, we’re talking about an external processing unit (CPU) whose sole purpose is to process audio. Can you guess what advantages that may bring?

For starters, your computer’s CPU can relax and focus on more important tasks while the DSP processor takes charge of things like plugins.

Now, Universal Audio isn’t the first company to use DSP technology. Avid (the creator of Pro Tools) has also dabbled in the market, but in my opinion they weren’t nearly as successful or affordable.

The difference with Universal Audio interfaces is that they have ONBOARD DSP instead of needing to purchase an additional device.

It’s similar to multi-effects processor, audio interfaces WITH multi-effects processors and digital synthesizers. However, the highlight of Universal Audio’s system is that it interacts directly with their software.

What does that imply?

It’s simple… You can actually host your plugins INSIDE your Universal Audio interface. Compared to audio interfaces with multi-effects processors, you can actually control these using your computer and you obviously have much more selection.

It’s better than that though because we haven’t even talked about Unison preamps!

These revolutionary preamps can accomplish three things:

  • Match the preamps impedance to match that of the analog modelling plugin’s
  • Recreate the analog circuit response of the modelled analog hardware
  • Dial-in that perfect gain-staging sweetspot (for tube-like saturation)

In layman’s terms, these Unison preamps are like “shapeshifters”. They literally BECOME the hardware they emulate. The illusion is even more convincing because of the onboard DSP. You can record into some of the most iconic tube/solid-state units in real-time (zero-latency).

That’s why UAD plugins are on an entirely different level.

You’ve heard of analog modelling software, but nothing comes close to this hybrid solution.

Finally, Thunderbolt integration is like the cherry on top of the cake. I’ve talked a lot about the difference between USB and Thunderbolt audio interfaces, so I won’t bore you with the details in this post. All you need to know is how much you’ll benefit!

Considering that Thunderbolt devices can bypass your computer’s CPU and write data straight onto your storage (HDD/SSD), audio latency will be significantly reduced. The fact that this protocol doesn’t use drivers means your computer’s overall performance won’t really have an impact on speed.

If you’re interested in finding out more, I suggest reading my blog post entitled “which Universal Audio interface do I need”.

I personally use the Arrow (you can read my review over here).

Recording electric guitar at home using amp modelling software

Now, before exploring the possibilities of UAD plugins, we need to understand why traditional amp modelling software won’t yield the best results. The best way to record electric guitar at home involves using amp modelling software that can produce the same quality as physical guitar amplifiers.

Products such as Guitar Rig, Amplitube and even Logic Pro/GarageBand have pretty decent amp simulation, but we’re looking for EMULATION.

universal audio friedman amp

Although they can get the job done, you’ll never be capable of replicating the same characteristics as tube/valve amplifiers. Even if you had some of the best analog modelling software, you’d still be limited by your audio interface. From experience, everything prior to Universal Audio was disappointing (and I’ve used it all).

At some point I gave up and actually purchased an excellent vintage tube amplifier.

I learned that recording an amplifier at home with microphones wasn’t that difficult. However, the types of microphones (dynamic) I was limited to made it difficult to obtain the sound I was truly striving for.

The other problem with tube amplifiers is you need to get them loud enough in order to harness their full potential.

Attenuators were an option, but you’d still be limited to recording during the day if you lived in an apartment building (you may work during the day).

So once I found out about Universal Audio, I immediately decided to give them a shot. Their famous UAD plugins can truly replicate the analog sound more than anything I’ve ever used. They’ve got an excellent collection of amplifiers to choose from (two of which are included with all their devices)!

Believe me or not, every guitar I plugged into the Unison-enabled preamps sounded better.

Whether it had passive and/or active pickups, the instrument sounded at its best without even needing to adjust the input-gain (it’s automated with Unison-enabled presets). The only thing you need to think of is adjusting your guitar’s volume knob.

That being said, I was capable of capturing the sound of my tube amplifier without worrying about volume levels.

Everything is optimized when you use UAD hardware/software. I started playing guitars I hadn’t touched in years because typical amp modelling software never did them justice.

Okay, let’s talk more about the software!

Recording electric guitar at home using Universal Audio software

Working in perfect synergy with the hardware, the best way to record electric guitar at home involves using Universal Audio software. If you don’t have access to their hardware though, you won’t be able to use their plugins.

Either way, it’d be pointless because you wouldn’t be benefiting from the full experience.

14 Arrow Unison Guitar Plug Ins

Once you purchase your Universal Audio interface, you get immediate access to…

  • Console (virtual mixing console)
  • LUNA (digital audio workstation)
  • Realtime Analog Classics Bundle (UAD plugins)

That’s plenty of value if you ask me and the quality is higher than any included bundle of software you’ll ever get (I never use any of it).

So, starting with Console… This is probably the most important piece of software you’ll be using. It essentially acts as the bridge between your Universal Audio interface and your DAW. If you decide to use LUNA though, you won’t be needing it (more on that coming up).

Basically, you’ll be using Console to host all of your UAD plugins and perhaps using it to control your audio interface.

Just so you know, everything that happens in Console is actually happening INSIDE your audio interface. This means that anything running in Console uses DSP and anything you record through Console is permanent.

What I mean by that last one is the plugins you use are recorded pre-mixer, not post-mixer like you’re accustomed to using in your DAW.

You can also host your UAD plugins post-mixer in your DAW, but I’ve got something better to propose to you. We’ll be covering that in the last section!

Moving on to LUNA, it’s essentially like a combination of Console and Logic Pro X with a few extra features. To be completely honest, I don’t use it because I don’t have the time to learn new software right now, but it’s better than any other DAW (seriously).

It’s kind of like what Avid did with Pro Tools and their audio interfaces except LUNA is included with your purchase and is actually much better in my opinion.

Focusing on the Analog Classics Bundle, it’s not too little and it’s not too much.

Here’s what’s included:

  • Marshall Plexi Classic
  • Ampeg SVTVR Classic
  • Teletronix LA-2A Classic (compressor)
  • 1176SE/LN (compressor)
  • Pultec Pro EQ
  • RAW Distortion (ProCo Rat)
  • RealVerb Pro (reverb)
  • UA 610-B Tube Preamp & EQ

I bolded the plugins that will be useful to us electric guitarists!

To be honest it’s enough to get started, but I didn’t really like the Marshall Plexi Classic for the genres I was working in. What most people don’t tell you about UAD plugins is that each one can be tested for 14 days (what they usually tell you is how expensive they are).

Although the plugins can be on the pricier side, the multitude of sales usually makes up for that at which point I find them VERY reasonably priced (for the quality anyway).

If you ever get the chance though, I will certainly be recommending the Friedman Amp Collection. After trying all the amps, this collection proved itself to be the most versatile and the best sounding (that’s only my opinion though, they’re all the very good).

And to be completely honest, I usually record using the Friedman BE100 and that’s that!

how to reduce audio latency - universal audio dsp-powered plug-ins

I don’t use any other effects because it sounds so freaking good on its own. I do some essential post-processing afterwards like EQ, compression, etc… But, these plugins sound so good that they already sound like the final product.

That being said, the best way to record electric guitar at home isn’t complete without this very important last step… 

Recording electric guitar at home using direct boxes (DI box)

For those seeking maximum efficiency, the best way to record electric guitar at home involves using direct boxes (DI box). Most sound engineers use direct boxes on-stage and/or in the studio to enhance the quality of the signal.

The resulting signals are balanced/impedance-matched for optimal performance.

Untitled design 3

However, since audio interfaces began implementing high-impedance (HI-Z) inputs… High-impedance instruments such as the electric guitar didn’t require direct boxes for this purpose anymore. The audio interface’s preamps were designed to accommodate these types of signals, although the signal remained unbalanced (that’s okay though).

So, why do I still use direct boxes? Should you do the same?

The reason I still integrate direct boxes into my recording system is simple… I use it to duplicate my signal. To accomplish this, your direct box will require an important feature known as the “throughput” (or bypassed output).

As its name suggests, it simply bypasses the direct box’s internal circuitry.

Basically, the unbalanced/high-impedance “throughput” goes into my audio interface’s HI-Z input (input 1) while the balanced/low-impedance XLR output goes into my remaining input (input 2).

My duplicated signal is used for the following:

  • Replacing the main track (input 1) if I want to change the sound
  • Layering another sound on top of the main track (input 1)

In other words, I use my main track to record straight into my amp modelling software.

Since the signal was recorded THROUGH the plugin (pre-mixer), there’s no going back! Most of the time I get it right, but if I want to make changes down the road I simply delete the main track and insert the same amp modelling plugin on my duplicate track (post-mixer).

Since it’s been recorded “clean”, it’s essentially the same thing I recorded minus the plugin(s).

I can basically record using the sound I’m going for (even if it’s 99% of the way there) without worrying too much. My duplicate/backup track is simply used in case I need to retrace my steps or create more derivative versions of the original signal.

It’s like preserving the “essence” of my performance without any form of processing.

I hope you can see how using direct boxes in this manner can save you lots of time and energy down the road. You’re essentially making sure you’ve got everything you need and more to make as many adjustments as you see fit without needing to re-record any parts.

It’s eliminated lots of stressful situations for me and I hope it does the same for you!

How I personally record electric guitar at home for best results

If you haven’t heard of Universal Audio before, I’m really glad to have been the one to introduce you to one of the most important companies in the industry. They’ve literally revolutionized music production and home recording… 

They’ve also provided us with the best way to record electric guitar at home!

It’s very easy to settle for mediocre equipment with all these “budget” alternatives out there. The truth is though, the last thing you should compromise on is the quality of your studio equipment. I’m not saying to go out and buy the most expensive gear.

What I’m saying is to look for genius and recognize once you’ve found it.

There are lots of folks who talk badly about Universal Audio, but you’ll notice the same arguments each time…

  • It’s too expensive
  • The plugins aren’t good

When you purchase one of their devices, you’re not getting any free software. It’s included in the price! Similar to Apple computers, you’re paying for everything that comes included (including GarageBand and iMovie).

With Universal Audio, you get… Console, LUNA and some plugins.

It’s not like receiving Ableton Live Lite or Pro Tools | First with your device (these things are ACTUALLY free). You’re getting instant access to exclusive software and services that would otherwise not have access to.

Those who say that their plugins aren’t good clearly don’t know of or respect one of the most successful sound engineers; Dave Pensado.

I proudly use the Universal Audio Arrow and Console to produce music for the TV/Film licensing industry.

If you want to know my exact setup, here it is:

  • Radial Pro48
  • Universal Audio Arrow
  • Console (usually the Friedman BE100)
  • Logic Pro X

That’s it, nothing complicated about that!

If you’re interested in acquiring some this gear for yourself, then you can follow these link:

The best Thunderbolt audio interface, the Universal Audio Arrow…

The best active direct box, the Radial Pro48…

I hope you’ve at least learned something new about home recording today. Whether you decide to record electric guitar at home with an amplifier and microphones or using my method, it’s good to know that there are affordable alternatives that don’t compromise sound quality (if anything, they may even provide better results). I personally believe Universal Audio is worth the investment and until someone provides anything similar, I’m sticking with them! If you’ve enjoyed learning with me, please consider subscribing to my weekly newsletter for more great content like this. Thanks for taking the time to read!

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2 Responses

  1. Great article!  I’ve always wondered how they record at home.  I like how simple your site is to read and to navigate. You seem very knowledgable and I’m glad this has changed your musical lifestyle for the better.

    I guess recording at home costs less than going to a studio but is it as good of quality?  Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey AlyseS,

      I appreciate the kind words!

      The gap between home/studio recording is officially closed. I believe anyone with the tools and knowledge available can create professional-sounding recordings right in the comfort of their own home. Technology has come a long way, so there’s no need to spend thousands on studio sessions.

      Basically, home recording studios can now be professional recording studios!

      Thanks for stopping by, take care.

      – Stefan

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