Guitar Talk: Tone, DI, Amp Modelers and More

How’s it been, music fans? Hopefully your week went as good as ours and everyone out there is ready for a great start of the weekend, but before we do that, how about we talk guitar? We’re going to do things a little differently today from our usual format of tips and tricks. Think of today’s article as more of a discussion to get some of the less experienced home studio producers slash musicians out there thinking about the bigger picture as well as explore some common “misconceptions” when it comes to guitars, tone and recording. Alright, let’s get started!


The “Perfect” Guitar Tone

A lot of guitarists out there are always talking about searching for the perfect tone. Not just the perfect guitar tone, but THE perfect guitar tone – a seemingly mythical universal combination of gear and settings that is guaranteed to sound great pretty much anywhere. Nothing wrong with that, but what they often fail to realize that you have to think about the guitar track as part of the whole mix and not just a standalone product. If you compare music creation with another form of art such as painting, a color – let’s say, teal – might not look too good on its own but in a image, teal might be EXACTLY what you needed. The same thing goes with guitar tones, even the “awful” ones.

Let’s say you’re trying to look for a unique intro or climax for your song and something that sounds atypically “nice” just doesn’t seem to have the edge you might be going for. Well, that not too pleasant or just plain strange tone that you might have stumbled upon might be just the ticket – even if for shock value alone. I find that this is a glossed over idea that is very important to get a hold of – seeing tones as all the colors you can work with. And why limit yourself to just red blue and yellow when you can get everything in between? Well, if you have the gear that can give it to you that is, but that’s an entirely different story.

So going back to that “perfect” guitar tone; it simply does not exist in the form that some are looking for. A guitar tone can be “perfect” in the context of the song it’s being used in but can also sound completely off in another situation.


Think Big and Experiment!

The thing about recording a song from scratch is that there are so many variables that each plays a role in determining the settings or techniques that will work best. To get to the point, certain tips and techniques will work great for some but not so much for others. Unless someone can actually hear what you’re working with, they can’t give you any kind of explicit suggestions, so treat this article – as well as pretty much any other home studio advice from anyone – as general suggestions that you can try out and experiment with. It’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds, just keep an open mind and never be afraid of experimenting. You never know, that “perfect tone” for your specific track might just be a few tips away!


To DI or Not to DI?

I’m sure a lot of you guys out there have already heard this very question and it seems to always bring up the same answer: DI or amp to mic? Are you kidding? Amp to mic of course! DI sucks because it sounds too digital and sterile! Well, maybe not nearly as blunt as I laid it down but the popular perception of recording an electric guitar through DI is essentially that – unnatural, sterile and too digital. And I’ll be honest, most of the time, I prefer recording an electric guitar from mic to amp, but that in no way implies that there aren’t certain situations where DI is the better choice and that’s exactly what I’m trying to get at here. Do not simply dismiss a certain technique without first getting a feel for what it can bring to the table. You might not use it for a current project right now but you can always try it out later. But to give it to you straight and very oversimplified, this is what I find true most of the time about DI versus amp to mic:

DI with amp modelers is the easiest way to get good guitar sounds.

Recording a nice tube amp is a harder way to get better guitar sounds.

Take a moment to let that sink in and pay attention to the bold key words. Of course, like anything else, there are exceptions, such as recording through a high quality solid state amp instead of a tube can also produce very nice results, but your typical tube amp versus the standard solid state is almost always comparatively better as far as tone goes.

Anyways, if you’re looking for a quick clean recording and have some nice amp modelers in that DI box, you can quickly churn out a nice recording that’s clean, consistent and easier to mess around with during the mixing stage. Recording through a tube amp on the other hand has the potential to sound much better than DI – it just takes a lot more time, patience, skill and gear. Also, consider the single biggest complaint about going DI: It’s too clean they say, has no character and sounds way too digital. Well, what’s so bad about that? Maybe you want something clean and digital for a certain song. Daft Punk has made a killer living off of it. But even with that said, there are plenty of outstanding DI boxes with amp-modelers available that can actually replicate the sounds of very popular amp and cabinet combinations pretty well. The ADA MicroCAB and Tech 21 SansAmp boxes come to mind.

So, which of the two is right for you? Both, but it depends on what your current song calls for – or what you feel like dealing with. Unfortunately, there might be some of you out there who have no choice but to use one or the other. Those of us with very finicky neighbors might not be able to do amp to mic without getting the cops called in. Others out there might not have enough gear and or cash do record a good guitar track through DI. For those with the finicky neighbors who want to do amp to mic; have you ever thought recording with the amp in a closet? Sounds a bit odd, but one of my friends who is in a similar low noise tolerance situation does just that. You will most likely be recording the guitar using close mic techniques so the outside acoustic environment of a room doesn’t really play a factor here. Plus, leave the clothes hanging in there for even more noise reduction. Trust me, I’ve tried this myself and can tell you that an average closet should have enough room to accommodate this technique. For those of you out there who want to record using DI and an amp modeler but don’t have one – you gotta pay to play. Translation: if you are serious about recording than investing in a DI box along with a good amp modeler should definitely be a considered priority.


There are PLENTY more guitar tips and tricks to come. We haven’t even talked about compression or mixing! We will be getting that going next week but for now, it’s off to bet on the horse races! Not really, but we will keep things going with plenty more ideas to think about when recording an electric guitar after the break. But for now, keep the suggestions in this article close to mind the next time you’re out there painting that masterpiece. In the meantime though, why not check out some of our electric guitars or studio mics? Guaranteed lowest prices around! 

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