9 Tips for Six-Strings: Getting a Great Electric Guitar Tone at Home


You’ve written the parts, tuned your axe, and informed your neighbors that things are going to get loud. Now it’s time to record some electric guitars at home. But a question tugs at you: How can you, with your home setup, ever approach the sound of a top-notch studio?

We’re here to suggest some tips and tricks on how to do just that. If you’ve ever wanted a compendium of everything from gear options to recording tips, read on:

DI and software

If you’re reading this, most likely you’ve already got an interface, anything from the Apogee ONE to pro-studio preamps with Hi-Z inputs. Either way, plugging in directly (“DI” for “Direct Injection”) is the easiest way to go.


Two interfaces suitable for DIs

A DI might not sound as authentic as an amp with a microphone in front of it, but these days it’s a two-way street: as amp-modeling software gets better every day, the consumer’s ear is tuning itself to amp-emulations since pop productions utilize them more and more.

The key to getting a good sound in a DI is to keep it clean: no crackly cables, no dusty input jacks, and no clipping the interface. This is 24-bit digital recording; you don’t need to overload the meters.

Once you’ve recorded, play around with amp-modeling software like Overloud TH3, IK Multimedia’s Amplitube, and others. Some sounds you’ll love, some you won’t. Either way, here’s a tip for improving the timbre: Get your hands on some impulse responses (samples of real-world spaces utilized in convolution reverbs). Many people are generating great IRs of famous cabinets—oftentimes for free. There are great tutorials of how to use these IRs online.


Amp emulation software to sculpt your tone in the box

Speaker simulators

Do you have an amplifier you love, but don’t feel like putting up a microphone? In that case, use a speaker simulator to emulate your cabinet. Like software, they’re getting better all the time. Check out the Palmer PGA04P04 if you have a tube amplifier (it has the necessary load box), or the Radial Engineering JDX 500 if you’re using a solid-state amp. Plug the outputs into your interface and proceed just as you would with a DI, always making sure to stay below the realm of the digital red.


A load box for your amplifier

Profiling amplifiers

True story: since I’ve come to B&H, my manager has told me on a weekly basis that the Kemper Profiling Amp is “the bee’s knees.” I trust his opinion, as he is a man of taste.

A profiling amplifier is a hardware unit dedicated to emulating both amplifier heads and cabinets. But wait—there’s more: they often contain built-in effects, external effects loops, and USB connections for updates. If you’re willing to spend the money, a profiling amplifier might be the ticket to getting a more realistic tone without bothering with microphones, cable runs, noise ordinances, or police officers.


The Kemper Profiling Amp, for out-of-the-box amp emulation

Amped for the tried and true

When nothing else suffices, it’s time to mic your own amplifier. Here there are problems. Your amp is loud; you might bother somebody. Also, if you’re doing all the work, you might not be able to hear what you’re recording when you’re recording it—unless you try some crafty ideas listed below.

Putting a mic on a combo or cab has one advantage over most acoustic instruments—you’re blasting so much monophonic sound at such a close microphone range that your room characteristics become less important.

If you secure yourself some extra-long cables, you can put the amplifier in a different room, close the door, and have a better chance of knowing what you’re hearing through the headphones (most likely, it’ll still be too loud to use your monitors). This method works if you’re operating out of a large family house or a studio apartment (assuming you have a bathroom). You just need to make sure your extra-long cables won’t introduce signal problems. You might also need a buffer pedal if you’re recording through an array of stompboxes.

Once your amp is set up, here’s the tried and true method. Take a Shure SM57 and position it anywhere from an inch to four inches from the best-sounding speaker in your cab/combo. How do you know which one is the best? Experiment. Try out different speakers, different distances from the speaker, and different angles, until you get the sound you want.


Ingredients for miking your amp at home

While people also use ribbons and condensers on amplifiers, I recommend sticking with a unidirectional mic like the SM57, since you’re not going for a room sound (as you might with a condenser), and the polar patterns of the ribbon might not flatter an untreated room.

From there, you plug your microphone into your interface, always remembering not to overload the meters. Another tip: smaller amps can often produce bigger tones than full-stacks or half-stacks in recording, as you can drive them harder at lower volumes.

Also note that if you’re tracking an amplifier at home, you may capture a certain amount of buzz/hum, particularly noticeable as a sustained note/chord dies down. You can mitigate these in post, either with something like Izotope RX or by automating the buzz out with an EQ.


If you want to retain the authentic sound of an amplifier, but want to edit your best take beforehand, this is probably the best option for you, especially if you have high-quality converters. You record a clean DI, edit the takes to your liking, and then leave the digital world once again, routing out of your computer and back into an amplifier. Then, of course, you go back once more into the computer. It’s not quite as faithful as the real thing (you’re going through two stages of conversion, after all), but for lots of people, it’s the best of both worlds—perfect takes and perfect tone.

Now that we’ve covered logistics, here are some useful tricks to spice up the guitar tone you get.

Use different guitars while tracking

In music, sometimes the ear is tricked as much as it is pleased. One way to trick the ear is to use different guitars for different parts, or conversely, to double a part with different guitars. The harmonic content of multiple guitars creates a more complex picture for the ear to take in. If calculated into the arranging process, this technique works even better; it weaves a tapestry the listener perceives as expensive.


Three guitars on one song for different timbres

Use different… anything

If you only have one guitar, but you have different amplifiers, use different amplifiers for doubling or different parts. If you only have one amplifier and one guitar, use amp-modeling for one part and use the real thing for another. Conversely, try different pickup configurations. Any sonic difference between parts will create a thicker sound, and generally serve your purposes.


Different amps for different vamps

The acoustic-electric trick

An acoustic guitar in conjunction with an electric is especially useful, believe it or not, for heavy drop-D chug-a-thons. Simply double the part with an acoustic guitar, staying as close to the original as you can, and then edge the acoustic into the mix ever so slightly. This accomplishes two objectives: a different harmonic fullness to the low-mids, or more articulation/sparkle in the picked range. Try this out—it can really work wonders if done right.


Give your electric some acoustic treatment.

Prepare for your part!

Everything will ultimately fall to pieces if the part isn’t played well, so practice your part. But also, do whatever you can to maximize sonic heft. This might mean altering the guitar to emphasize its best tones (alternate tunings, capos), or changing your fingerings to accommodate the guitar’s resonant hot spots. Whatever the case, preparing yourself and your guitar is essential to the process.


How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!

Well, there you have it, some basic tips for recording your guitar at home. If you have any other ideas, please leave us a comment!