Whether you’re a novice guitarist or have years of experience, you need to know how to record guitar. Quality audio recordings can help you listen and better your skills or provide you with an excellent sample for producers. No matter your reasoning, use the following tips to get started.
How to Record Guitar with Your Smartphone
To record guitar, you don’t always need a fancy set-up with tons of expensive equipment. Smartphones can give you a high-quality, balanced recording – as long as you complete a few simple steps beforehand.
However, do keep in mind that recording your guitar with your smartphone may not be the best option for any professional setting. If you need to present a sample to a producer or post a song on Spotify, you may want to steer away from using your phone. Still, some artists enjoy the sound of a phone recording.
So, take some time to explore what you can do with your phone and whether you like it or not. It’s a great step until you can get more equipment for professional recordings!
To make the most of your phone recording, here are some great tips. Keep in mind that the following points are for recording with just the microphone in your phone, not with an added external mic.
1. Invest in a Recording Application
When you want to record something, what app do you open up on your phone? You may be tempted to use the generic voice memo app that is preinstalled on your phone. However, those apps will significantly limit what you can do with your guitar recording.
Your best bet is to download a recording app – or better yet, several – before trying to record your guitar.
The two main types of recording apps are single track and multitrack apps. A single-track application records only one audio input, while a multitrack app can record several inputs and track them separately.
2. Don’t Place the Phone Too Close – or Too Far – from the Guitar
For any type of recording, whether it be instrumental or vocals, the type of microphone and its placement are crucial. If you don’t have any external microphones and just want to record your guitar with your phone’s mic, you need to understand your smartphone’s capabilities.
First, do some research about your phone’s mic – if you aren’t familiar with it already. In general, phones aren’t designed to do professional musical recordings, so the mic can quickly overload if the placement is incorrect. However, some phones do have a more professional internal microphone.
Still, even some of the best phone microphones are for voice recordings, not guitars. So, what’s the answer to a quality recording? Placement and practice. We’ll give you some basic guidelines for the perfect phone placement, but make sure to try out some variations to see what works best for your phone’s internal mic.
Put simply, don’t put the phone too close or too far from the guitar. Extremely close proximity will likely cause the mic to overload, while a farther placement can pick up too much ambient sound.
Start with the phone about a foot away, not directly in front of the soundhole, but more facing the base of the neck. Then, play with the distance a bit until you get the recording sound you desire.
3. Adjust Audio Settings
For a top-notch phone recording, you’ll need to become very familiar with the intricacies of your phone’s audio settings. Numerous settings affect a guitar recording, but we will just touch on a few briefly here. Don’t be afraid to dive deeper on your own and play with the settings.
Once you choose which recording application you would like to use, open up the audio settings and review the following sections.
- Gain: The gain setting controls the input level – not the volume level – of your recording. If you hear clipping or the sound sounds strange, try adjusting the gain.
- Lossless Audio: Some recording apps include the option to create lossless audio, which produces a compressed final audio file.
- Noise Reduction: If you don’t have an external mic, this feature could be quite helpful. The noise reduction option can identify any background noise that could interfere with your music.
- EQ: As a common audio setting, you may be tempted to adjust the EQ levels first. However, since you’re recording on a phone, you don’t want to adjust the application’s EQ levels since it will only affect what you hear on your phone. Other people will listen to your music on different devices, so they won’t have the same audio experience.
How to Record Guitar with Your Computer
For most situations, recording your guitar with a computer is the best option since you can connect more microphones and equipment and use professional production software.
Of course, with a more professional recording system comes a more complex system to learn. Here are just a couple of tips to get you started recording your guitar with your PC or Mac computer.
4. Use Multiple Microphones
Using a computer to record your guitar usually means you have more flexibility on how many mics you can use. So, if you have the capability of adding in more microphones, why not take advantage of that?
With more than one mic, you can pick up on different parts of the guitar’s sound. For example, you can use one microphone to record the intricate plucking sounds while another one picks up the resonance that bounces around the room.
Essentially, utilizing more than one microphone gives you the freedom to record every part of the guitar’s music and manipulate the recording.
5. Pick a Quality DAW
Of course, you won’t be able to adjust the microphones’ recordings much without a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Like a recording app for your smartphone, a DAW is computer software that gives you the ability to have a mini recording studio on your PC.
Some of the best and most popular DAWs include FL Studio (yes, there’s a PC and app version!), Studio One, Audacity, and Pro Tools. When you review each of these options, check to see if they are compatible with your PC, how much they cost, and what they offer.
6. Connect to a Computer with an Audio Interface
Whether you want to connect your guitar directly to your computer to record or use microphones, you’ll need an audio interface.
You’ll find dozens of options available, ranging in size and capability. A few great options include the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 with four inputs and the iRig HD 2, which is a small, portable option.
How to Record Acoustic Guitar
Considering the type of guitar you have is key when planning your recording. An acoustic guitar is unique because it produces a wide variety of sounds. From the twang of the strings to the slaps on the guitar’s body, every sound adds to the fulness of the song.
You want to prepare your recording set-up thoughtfully so you can capture all of those sounds in your recording. Take into consideration the following tips for the best results!
7. Avoid Using Amps
Even if you can hook up your guitar to an amp, try to avoid that when recording. Your acoustic guitar has a natural amplifier called the soundhole. The best way to capture the beautiful, full sound of an acoustic guitar is by simply recording it with a carefully placed microphone.
Take advantage of the natural resonance; by hooking your guitar up to an amp, you can unintentionally distort the sound or produce low-quality music. With one or two mics, you can easily pick up enough sound to create a well-balanced recording.
8. Carefully Consider Your Recording Environment
Since you will ideally not be using amps to record your acoustic guitar, you need to consider how the sound waves emanating from the instrument impact the recording.
In professional recording studios, the walls and surfaces are covered with paneling to reduce any echoes and unnatural sounds. However, when you record your guitar on your own, you’ll likely be in a room without paneling.
Any hard surface – like a table, desk, or wall – can reflect the sound waves and produce a recording that sounds a bit strange.
Try to pick a room that has softer surfaces to absorb the sound waves. However, no room will give you the same effect as a recording studio. You can make up for that with the mic placements and audio adjustments.
9. Record and Monitor Multiple Takes
With the intricacies of the acoustic guitar, you’ll need to take some time to find out what works and what doesn’t. Depending on how you play, the microphone you use, and where you record, you may need to make several adjustments.
There is no straightforward rule to successfully recording acoustic guitar since numerous factors come into play. As such, try different things, make multiple recordings, and be flexible. Learn from your mistakes, and take the time to find the perfect recording method – especially if you want to use your recording to promote your music.
How to Record Electric Guitar
Recording an electric guitar is quite different than creating music with an electric guitar. Since you need to connect an electric guitar to an amp or computer to get the full sound, you need to take a slightly different approach to recording.
10. Adjust the EQ
We mentioned that you shouldn’t adjust the EQ when recording with a phone, but for electric guitars, you will need to do so before recording.
Play with the EQ controls on the guitar and the amp until they are just right, so you don’t need to equalize the music later. While it may not seem like an important step, it can save you time when editing and produce a much cleaner recording.
11. Limit the Effects
Recording an electric guitar is completely different than performing or jamming out with your band. You may enjoy using effects like reverb or distortion, but try to limit those when recording yourself.
Think of it this way. If you record your electric guitar with all the added effects, there’s no way to remove them in the editing process. Plus, when you include things like distortion when recording, the effect often multiples in the recording. What you hear when playing is not always what you get in the final product.
If you want any effects in the final recording, add them in during the editing phase.
12. Consider an Amp Simulator
To record an electric guitar, you need to have an amp, right? Wrong!
The right amplifier – and mics placed in front of the amps – can be costly. If you don’t have a professional-quality amp, you can opt for an amp simulator, saving you money and space.
An amp simulator is a simple plugin that can give you the same sound quality that an amp would. While it may not feel the same as playing with an actual amplifier, it may produce a much higher quality sound than using your amp.
General Recording Tips
Whether you are recording an acoustic or bass guitar with your phone or computer, there are some generic tips that everyone needs to know.
Make sure to apply the following tips with the appropriate points above for the absolute best final product.
13. Invest in a Stand
If you are using your smartphone to record your guitar, a phone stand is crucial to getting a crystal clear sound.
Setting the phone on a table, chair, or even leaning it against an option can set you up for failure. Even the slightest vibration – from the music you’re playing or a notification – will become a part of your recording and interrupt the flow of the song.
To avoid any frustrations and potential disruptions, invest in a phone stand that will keep your phone still and steady.
Now, a stand isn’t just for people wanting to record with their phone. Microphone stands are equally as important. Don’t settle with setting your mic on a table or creating an intricate set-up to get the perfect placement.
A mic stand will make your recording process easier, allowing you to get the mic (or mics!) in the exact position you need for the fullest sound. Plus, your set-up will look and feel much more professional.
14. Mic Placement Is Crucial
Speaking of microphones, where you decide to put them can make or break your final product. We discussed where to put your phone when using its internal mic, but there are additional factors to consider when using external microphones.
If you are recording acoustic guitar, consider using one or two mics. Multiple microphones can give you a fuller sound, but you can still get a quality recording with only one.
No matter the number of mics you use, don’t place any facing directly at the guitar’s soundhole since the sound may come across as too full. The interior space of the guitar is meant to produce resonance and powerful sound – but at a distance.
Therefore, make sure to move the mic a little to the right, right where the neck of the guitar meets the body, so you don’t overpower the mic with powerful reverberations.
When using two mics, consider the XY configuration, which can eliminate any potential problems with phasing. This method places the mics so they are pointing to opposite ends of the guitar while sitting at a 90-degree angle to each other.
When recording an electric guitar with an amp, ensure that you place the principal mic right in front of the amp, so you only record the guitar, not any other sounds. A secondary mic can pick up room sounds for a fuller audio experience, but you should place it further away from the amp.
In addition to the proximity to the amp, consider the placement in regards to the speaker cone. If you place the mic closer to the center of the cone, you’ll notice that the tone becomes brighter. Likewise, if you put it near the edge of the cone – and amp – you’ll get a flatter tone.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you where you place the mics since the final product is your art. Try out various placements and see what works best for your playing style.
15. Get Some Gear
No, you do not need expensive, top-notch equipment for the best guitar recordings. As previously mentioned, you can create a powerful product with only your smartphone.
Nevertheless, a few pieces of quality gear can save you some time and effort while giving you smoother sounds. Here are some essential tools and a few extras to improve your recording set-up:
- Microphone: Quite possibly the most important investment, a quality microphone will be able to pick up every aspect of your music, from the deep bass notes to the intricate plucking.
- DAW plugins: Digital audio workstations are the software you use to manipulate the sound on your recording. Some options are free, and others only have paid options.
- Audio interface: When using microphones, you’ll need to get an audio interface to connect them to your computer.
- Monitors: When recording using a computer, a large, quality monitor can make your recording process easier on you and your eyes.
- Headphones: You can’t always hear the details of a song with just your computer or phone speakers. Decent headphones will let you listen intently to your music and pick up any problem areas in your recording.
- Portable Vocal Booth: These mini sound panels can reduce ambiance noise and create a cleaner recording.
- DAW Controller: Ranging from a keyword to a mini soundboard, these controllers connect to your computer and let you adjust your song even more in your chosen DAW.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.