Recording Part 3—Rhythm and Lead Guitars

 

      Recording part 2 dealt with laying down the basic rhythm section of drums and bass along with the scratch vocals. Recording part 3 will continue with the recording process by  beginning to fill in the spaces.  We’ll start with the rhythm guitar. Rhythm guitar provides a couple of functions in the construction of a song. Firstly, it continues to reinforce the rhythm of the song. This can be accomplished by strumming an acoustic, playing chord arpeggios, single note riffs or actually playing against beat established by the rhythm section. Secondly, the rhythm guitar gives the song some direction as far as melody and feel. Recording the rhythm guitar so that it fulfills both these roles is what we want to accomplish here.

      Recording acoustic guitar can be very challenging as the natural level can be very close to the noise floor. The first order of business is to eliminate as much extraneous noise as possible. If you don’t have the luxury of a vocal booth, use heavy blankets hung around the performer to provide separation. Microphone selection is important here. I like to use a large diaphragm condenser placed about 12 inches from the front of the guitar, pointed at the 12th fret as my main microphone. Then, depending on the guitar, I will either place a small diaphragm condenser on a boom stand behind the performer. The boom comes over the performers right shoulder and is pointed down toward the sound hole at about ear level. I also like to get a direct signal using a pickup that I can blend in with the tracks recorded with microphones. Good, quiet preamps are a must and a small amount of compression can be used during tracking. The only equalization I use at this point is a low cut filter at about 80hz. After tracking, I generally pan the track with the large diaphragm mic about 3 o’clock, the small diaphragm to about 9 o’clock and the direct signal right in the middle with a small amount of delay (1-2 ms). This results in a big acoustic sound. Equalize to taste.

      Electric rhythm guitar can be challenging to record because of all the variables. Hopefully, you’ve worked out all the kinks in the sound during preproduction, taking careful notes on amp selection, knob positions, room position, etc. Keep the effects to a minimum unless they are an integral part of the song. Again I like to get a direct signal in addition to the mic’ed one as it gives me more options at mix-down. I use a Shure SM-57 to mic guitar cabinets but there are other mic’s out there that will do the job just as well. There is no one correct way to mic a cabinet other than what sounds right. Take some time to experiment with microphone position. You can point the mic directly at the center of the speaker or towards the edge. The mic can be right against the grill cloth of the cabinet or a couple of inches away. If you have a cabinet with 4 speakers, experiment with each one to see which sounds better. It is very beneficial to provide some separation between the amplifier and your listening position so you can accurately determine what you are hearing. Otherwise, it’s a hunt and peck operation that can be very frustrating. If you want to add a room microphone, place it about 5 feet away from the amp with the mic at about ear level when seated. Once you're satisfied with the sound that going to be recorded, make sure the guitarist has a good headphone mix. When recording, make sure you don’t settle for a just “OK” take. The song is built on the rhythm section and if it’s shaky, you’re in trouble. After you’ve recorded the tracks, record them again on separate tracks and pan the first set of tracks right and second ones to the left or vice-versa. Then when you apply reverb, send the return from the tracks panned to right to the left and do the opposite with the tracks panned to the left.

      Recording lead guitar requires the same techniques as recording rhythm guitar but approach is different. Think of lead guitar as another lead vocal. Every nuance contributes to what the guitarist is trying to say. Your job at this point is to take off the producer hat and just let the guitarist play. If you can’t get that perfect take, try comping together a track out of several takes as you would with vocals. Let the guitarist learn it and then record it. As in every step of the recording process, never settle for “That’ll do”. The finished product won’t be any better than it’s weakest part.

Your Home Studio - a basic tutorial on home recording studio setup, including building a home recording studio, digital recording techniques, computer recording information, recording software information, how to buy equipment for a home recording studio and operating an audio recording studio at homeYour Home Studio - a basic tutorial on home recording studio setup, including building a home recording studio, digital recording techniques, computer recording information, recording software information, how to buy equipment for a home recording studio and operating an audio recording studio at home

 

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