Computer Recording for the Guitar Player- Part One
Besides the instrument itself, the most
important aspects of recording guitar or bass to a computer are the analog-to-digital
conversion, and the tone or sound produced. The conversion is accomplished with
an audio interface. The higher the quality of this conversion,
the more accurately the natural sound of your instrument will be captured and
reproduced. This conversion can be made quite "elegantly" with a good-quality,
general-purpose audio interface, but for the purpose of this article I will
concentrate on some offerings designed with guitar (or bass) in mind.
These interface packages bundle software and/or
plug-ins made specifically for guitar or bass with an audio interface featuring
the appropriate guitar/bass inputs. Many plug-ins use
modeling technology to replicate the sounds of various amplifier/speaker
combinations, distinguishing them from the "general use" audio interfaces,
and provide the player with the other crucial aspect of the process, the tone
or sound of the instrument. A few of the most inexpensive options for guitar interface
packages are the Behringer Guitar Link UCG102, The IK Multimedia StealthPlug, The Line 6 POD Studio GX, Native Instruments Guitar Rig Mobile and Cakewalk Guitar Tracks Pro 4 USB all under $150.
The Behringer is the lowest-cost, most basic
option covered here. It is a small USB 1.1 interface with a ¼-inch guitar input,
and a ¼-inch stereo headphone output
that can also be connected to a monitor. A
built-in USB cable then sends signal directly to your computer for recording 16-bit
and processing with the bundled software. Energy XT2.5 BEHRINGER Edition is
included for recording, Native Instruments' 'Guitar Combos' amp-modeling plug-ins
(30-day trials of three, choose one for free) for processing, and Audacity for
editing. This package features basic hardware and a basic software package.
The IK Multimedia StealthPlug bundle is also
quite cost effective. It has a ¼-inch input on one end and USB 1.1 on the other,
and records at 16-bit 44.1 or 48kHz. It features an arrowhead-shaped plastic
section near the 1/4-inch side, which houses a stereo 1/8-inch
headphone output, volume control, and a green "USB active" LED. The StealthPlug
is bundled with AmpliTube 2 Live, standalone and plug-in versions. AmpliTube
features 15 guitar and bass amp models, 11 effects, mic modeling, a built-in
tuner and over 128 custom user presets.
The standalone version also features
SpeedTrainer, a really useful audio player with pitch and speed control that
can assist you in learning your favorite guitar parts. The package also
includes Tracktion (audio/midi sequencer), T-RackS 3 EQ (6 band mastering EQ), SampleTank 2 SE Sound
Workstation, plus access to 500MB of Sonic Reality audio loops. This package
features basic hardware and a really complete, varied software package.
The Line 6 POD Studio GX is a small single-input,
low-latency USB recording interface bundled with the Pod Farm Plug-in. The
interface is quite easy to use and features a single ¼-inch input, a 1/8" headphone/line output, and a volume
knob. The Pod Farm plug-in features over 80 guitar amps, bass amps, stompboxes and preamps—capable of delivering to you most
any tone or sound you can imagine. The hardware also separates itself from the
pack with a high signal-to-noise ratio and the ability to monitor a processed
tone while recording a dry signal, which means you're free to audition tones
until you're ready to mix. This package includes simple—but quite capable—hardware,
and a focused, comprehensive software package.
Native Instruments Guitar Rig Mobile is
an ultra-compact, bus-powered USB 2.0 audio
interface. The package features Guitar Rig 4 Essential Amp modeling software
and award-winning 24-bit/192 kHz Cirrus Logic
converters, perhaps the highest-quality converters of
these lower-cost bundles. As far as connectivity, it includes one instrument
input and one ¼-inch stereo output. The unit is about the size of a pack of cigarettes,
there are dials for the levels, and the input LED turns red if you clip the
included software package includes 8 amps for guitar or bass, 19 cabinets and
27 effects, providing the player with quite a varied palate of classic tones to
work with. You get: Dynamic Effects—volume adjustment pedal,
stomp compressor, noise gate; Filters—auto filter, real wah,
graphic equalizer; Time Based Effects—studio reverb, delay man; Modulation Effects—chorus/flanger, phaser nine; and Distortion and
Overdrive—skreamer, demon. The software expands its functionality by
including helpful tools such as 2 onboard tape decks, a tuner, a graphic EQ and
Cakewalk Guitar Tracks
Pro is a multi-track recording and editing package designed for guitarists and
bassists. Its approach emphasizes ease of use, and gives you the option of adding
virtual bandmates with programmable drums, bass, keys, and strings—built in. The
package includes loads of effects, great editing capabilities, CD burning
software, notation, and the ability to record and mix up to 32 audio tracks and
64 virtual instrument tracks. It works with Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7.
Guitar Tracks Pro 4 ships with several
instructional videos with industry heavy hitters such as Joe Bonamassa, Dave Mustaine
(Metallica), and Jimmy Herring (the Allman Brothers, the Dead, Widespread Panic)
sharing some of their vast knowledge of
anything guitar related.
The included drum parts were played by some of the best drummers in the business, including
John Blackwell (Justin Timberlake, Prince), Jerry Marotta (Paul McCartney,
Peter Gabriel), Nick D'Virgilio (Genesis, Tears for Fears), Ed Greene
(Steely Dan, Barry White) and Danny Gottlieb (Sting, Pat Metheny Group).
The package also includes
Cakewalk Publisher so that you can share your music online, Virtual Amp to
carve out your tone, Virtual Drummer, Bassist and Electric Piano and String
Highlights for parts you play or pre-recorded accompaniment, and much more.
The UA-1G interface
included with the package is a compact USB digital audio interface. It features
a 1/4″ jack with Hi-Z option for recording guitar and 24-bit/96kHz Stereo I/O for playback. This package features the most
complete software of the hardware/software bundles and one of the more basic audio
the budget for your setup is a bit higher, there are many more-expensive
interface options. The Native Instruments Guitar Rig Session, the IK Multimedia Stealth Pedal, the Apogee Gio, the Line 6 PODxt Live, the Line 6 BASS PODxt LIVE, the Digitech GNX4
and Digidesigns Eleven Rack are all worth consideration. I will cover options for larger budgets in a future article.
Although many of these options include decent recording
software, many may want to upgrade the lower end programs bundled for recording
to (at least) reduced cost lite versions of industry standard recording
software (If not the full versions). If this becomes a career for a beginner,
it will be advantageous to have spent your time learning software that is
commonly used in studios worldwide.
(Mac only), Ableton Live Intro, Cubase Essential, Pro Tools M-Powered Essential and Cakewalk Guitar Tracks Pro 4 (PC only) are all "lite" versions of
industry standard software and are my suggestions in place of or in addition to
some of the bundled recording/sequencing packages. All these packages are
available for direct purchase except Pro Tools essentials which is available
only as a package bundled with specific M-Audio hardware such as the new M-Audio Fast track.
Logic Express is quite a bit more full
featured than Garageband but lacks a few of the features found in the flagship
Logic Studio 9. The user experience is however quite similar to that of Logic
Studio 9. Some of the high end features are Flex Time (a collection of features that lets you
manipulate timing and tempo of audio) and Drum Replacer. For guitarists/bassists you get Amp Designer (25 amps, 25 speaker cabinets, and 3 mics), Pedalboard (30
effects stompboxes), notation, chord grids (tablature) and hundreds of presets which
give you Amp Designer and Pedalboard classic sounds that are instantly ready to
go. You also get over 1200 royalty free loops, 2500 plug-in presets and over
1000 sampled instruments. It is often
quite easy to forget you are using the lite version of this software. In my
opinion Logic Express feels more like a full version than any other
"lite" version software package.
Live Intro replaces Live LE in the Ableton product line and represents new ways of
thinking about audio recording and sequencing. It is full featured, quite
"Live" performance friendly and cost effective to boot. Live Intro allows you to utilize up to 64 audio and unlimited
MIDI tracks, and supports audio of up to 32-bit/192kHz. A 7GB library of sounds
is included, and those new to Live will appreciate the comprehensive built in
tutorials and Live set templates.
Cubase LE is quite close the full Cubase 5 software, and utilizes the same interface
and audio engine. New features for this version include HALion One, which
contains almost 240 instrument sounds, Beat Designer and the PitchCorrect
plug-in. This is an entry level application but one can easily do professional
work in it.
Pro Tools M-Powered Essential gives you access to many of
the same Pro Tools software features that are included in the full version. It
is easy-to-use and lets you create mixes with up to 16 mono or stereo audio
tracks. You also get 60+ virtual instrument sounds and effects including
built-in SansAmp classic guitar amp modeling and distortion effects. It even
comes with over 5.5GB of music-making tools including 3GB of Loops to play
of the options above you can use headphones to monitor while tracking and for
playback. Ultimately you are going to want a pair of good studio monitors but
what is suggested above will surely get you started.
In closing I'd like to mention a few things to
look out for. Before purchasing your hardware/software system, read the minimum
requirements suggested by the manufacturer for your computer. If you use a
Macintosh, any Intel based machine will likely run all of the software
mentioned above without any special configuration. Choosing and configuring a
PC is sometimes a bit trickier. Make sure to do a bit more research before your
play your guitar into your interface, the initial sound is analog. When you
hear that sound in the headphones or monitors, that sound is also analog.
Everything that occurs in between is digital and takes time to occur. The time
it takes for an analog signal to be fed into an interface, be converted to
digital at the interface, be sent up the USB cable to the computer, be processed
by the software layers and sent back to the interface to be converted back to
analog (so you can hear it) is referred to as latency and is usually measured
Finally, if you are a beginner, I cannot over stress how helpful a great teacher can be. Get out there and find yourself one. Have fun, and stay tuned.