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Barry’s Guide to Recording Guitars: Capturing the Sound of a Guitar Amp

We’ve covered several different aspects of recording guitars in previous TTOTDs. Today, we come to the most popular sound for recorded electric guitar: miking the cabinet in a live space. Different amplifiers have different sounds while speakers and cabinets have their own response characteristics as well, particularly when we use them in various combinations (e.g. A Mesa Boogie head with a Marshall stack). The myriad ways in which amplifier, cabinet, room, and microphone can be combined is what modelers put so much time and effort into.

Now we’ll be able to add the characteristic sound of the amplifier and speaker cabinet to the picture, plus we can add the acoustic sound of the room that the amp is in.

Mic Techniques
Using a mic to capture the sound of the guitarist is not as simple as just selecting the best mic. Where we place the mic and where we place the amp can be equally influential on the final sound of the instrument. Although there are hundreds of different microphones available from many manufacturers, they essentially all fit into three basic categories: condenser, dynamic, and ribbon. Traditionally, condenser and dynamic mics are the most common of these three, although now, with the advent of ribbon mics that can handle the high SPL’s of guitars, such as the Royer 121, the highly detailed sound of the ribbon mic is finding its way back into studio and live performance.

What Mics Do I Need?
If you want to achieve professional results, it is probably necessary to have at least one good dynamic mic and one good condenser mic. This will allow you to record effectively in most situations. I also recommend finding it in your budget to own a decent stereo mic. (More on this later.)

Setting Levels
Set the level of the guitar amp. If the level of the amp is too low, the amp won’t respond properly. Most guitar amps come alive with the volume set fairly high. (Set for stun, not kill.) Generally, you can rely on guitar players (assuming you’re using their amp) to know which level their amp responds properly, otherwise, and as ever in recording, use your ears.

What Mics Do I Use and How?
Rhythm guitar amp is usually miked with a cardioid dynamic from up close. Being up close however, presents some problems because the sound becomes extremely variable as we get within a few inches of the diaphragm of the speaker. Therefore, it is necessary to find the right position to achieve the right spectral balance and quality. If it’s possible to pull the mic back about 18 inches, out of the near field of the amp, those problems go away. (A Royer 121 ribbon mic is particularly effective in this scenario.)

If the amp you are miking has more than one identical speaker, point the mic at one of the speakers. Point the mic at the center of the speaker to get a sound with more bite and edge. Point the mic more toward the outer rim of the speaker to capture a warmer, smoother sound.

If you’re miking a speaker enclosure with separate tweeter, midrange and bass speakers, you’ll need to move the mic back two or three feet just to get the overall sound of the cabinet. This gets us into a situation where the room sound becomes an important part of the recorded sound.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of this Tech Tip tomorrow!

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