After years of experimenting, I have finally found the best way to record guitar at home and I am very excited to be able to share it with you TODAY. This method will only require ONE piece of hardware that will provide you with everything you need.
When I finally got my first electric guitar, I had NOTHING to plug it into, so I learned to play WITHOUT any form of amplification. These were difficult times, but my father eventually decided to assist by providing me with an audio interface and some guitar amp modelling software.
Being the creative type, I was already beginning to compose guitar parts for my “one-man” heavy metal band (they weren’t that great). As a 13-year-old boy without any financial means whatsoever, I was very limited in terms of equipment, but I needed to find a way to capture my ideas so I wouldn’t forget them!
Keep reading to learn how to create professional-sounding guitar tracks from the comfort of your own home recording studio.
What do we need to record guitar at home?
There are 4 main components that we need to discuss in order to get our “guitar production line” up and running. My method will only require ONE piece of hardware that takes care of 3 of these main components (4 if you already own a guitar).
- Electric Guitar | Your instrument and ability to play it is the SINGLE most important component of this entire operation. Electric/bass guitars come equipped with pickups (single-coils, P90s, humbuckers, etc…) which are essentially a specific type of microphone.
- Audio Interface | We need a way of digitizing our guitar’s analog signal and this is only possible with the use of an analog to digital converter (ADC). Audio interfaces serve this very purpose and will allow your computer to “read” the now digitized signal for further processing.
- Amp Modelling Software | Since this method consists of replacing a “physical” amplifier with a “virtual” one, we need software that can provide a realistic emulation. Amp modelling software is revolutionary as it will allow you to track electric/bass guitar without disturbing your neighbours!
- Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) | We need a way of converting our digital signal back into analog sound, so we now need a digital to analog converter (DAC). Digital audio workstations all have one, so you can now HEAR the final product using monitors and/or headphones.
Although these 4 main components are the essential elements of our “guitar production line”, there are other important tools we may need to create PROFESSIONAL guitar tracks. Consider providing yourself with a high-quality direct box, some proper guitar cables and the best computer for music production.
You’re probably still wondering how ONE device can accomplish all this, so we will need to discuss amp modellers in-depth as they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Amp modellers: What are they?
Two of the most popular amp modelling software on the market are Guitar Rig and Amplitube from Native Instruments and IK Multimedia respectively. Even GarageBand has its own collection of virtual amplifiers, cabinets and stompboxes so with an audio interface, you now have access to more tones than you could ever afford
However, amp modelling software requires you to plug an unbalanced/high-impedance signal (your instrument) into a balanced/low-impedance input (your audio interface). In other words, you will most likely obtain a lot of noise and lose a considerable amount of frequency-response.
Not knowing about direct boxes at the time, I began to get frustrated with amp modelling software which is why I eventually saved up for a real amplifier. Keep in mind that this had NOTHING to do with the quality of the software I was using, but it had EVERYTHING to do with the absence of a direct box.
However, my method won’t require you to purchase a direct box or any of the amp modelling software I mentioned, so keep reading to find out why.
What about modelling amplifiers?
With the advent of amp modelling software came the creation of “physical” modelling amplifiers capable of MUCH more. For example, the Yamaha THR100H is a guitar amplifier capable of recreating 5 amp types, 5 tube types and of simulating a cabinet.
In essence, these devices are like guitar amplifiers with ADC chips which makes them a 2-in-1 solution, eliminating the need for an audio interface and amp modelling software (as long as it can connect via USB). Since their inputs are designed for unbalanced/high-impedance instruments, you won’t need to use a direct box.
If you plan to use this method in the long run, I recommend using a modelling amplifier over amp modelling software. Keep in mind that amp modelling software will most likely give you latency issues since it requires LOTS of processing power from your CPU.
Modelling amplifiers have a microprocessor designed to emulate the tone of a variety of different amplifiers with the utmost accuracy.
My “secret” weapon revealed
When I purchased my Zoom H4n Pro, I was simply looking for a field recorder for a sound design project. However, the H4n Pro exceeded my expectations by providing me with an audio interface, a modelling amplifier, a portable studio and all the software I needed.
I still use the H4n Pro as my audio interface since it actually delivers a decent performance when I connect it to my 2013 iMac. My operating system immediately recognized it and I haven’t experienced any issues regarding compatibility with my DAWs.
The H4n Pro also comes loaded with 50+ presets ranging from clean to high-gain amp models along with a variety of effects such as compression, flanging, chorus, reverb, delay etc… In other words, this device fits the 2-in-1 solution description of a typical modelling amplifier, but it has so much MORE to offer.
Unlike other modelling amplifiers, you can actually bring your H4n Pro with you and the fact that they include a multi-track recorder (MTR mode) essentially makes this a portable recording studio. You could accomplish EVERYTHING with this one device if you wanted to, but you would be limited in terms of manoeuvrability.
Luckily, Zoom includes a registered copy of Cubase LE with the H4n Pro which is an excellent DAW for both Mac and Windows (I used it for many years).
Record guitar at home the easy way
Bear in mind that the amp modelling in the Zoom H4n Pro is nothing compared to that of the likes of the Yamaha THR100H, so do not compare the two. I personally think the amp models sound incredible for practicing, recording demos and even have their place in certain projects, but I would not expect to hear them on any award-winning albums (let’s put it that way).
The best way to record guitar at home is simple and will only require the H4n Pro and your electric/bass guitar to create a fully functional “guitar production line” (that and your musicianship of course). This is actually the core of my home recording studio setup, but I personally prefer to track my guitar amplifier with a combination of microphones.
If you ever have the luxury of owning a real amplifier and perhaps a good microphone, you can then use the H4n Pro purely as an audio interface. A great compromise between the two would be a modelling amplifier if you plan to use this method in the long run as you may outgrow the H4n Pro’s amp models at some point.
I hope this article will broaden your horizons a little bit and I can’t wait to hear which method you have decided to go with. Let us know how you record guitar at home in the comments, feel free to share some of your tracks!