Recording electric guitar has never been easier than it is today. The days of high-quality guitar recordings being exclusively limited to professional studios are long gone.
With the help of guitar plugins, creating professional-grade guitar recordings has become incredibly accessible and convenient. With just a few essential pieces of equipment and a bit of know-how, you can capture your guitar performances with exceptional quality right from the comfort of your own home.
In this guide, we will cover four methods to record an electric guitar:
By the end of this guide, you'll be equipped with the knowledge and techniques to create high-grade electric guitar recordings that truly showcase your musical vision.
How to record electric guitar with plugins
Guitar plugins, also known as amp simulators, are pieces of software that emulate the sound and characteristics of physical guitar amplifiers and effects. They can be loaded into digital audio workstations (DAWs), giving you a wide range of amp models, cabinets, microphone simulations, and effects pedals to choose from when recording.
Recording electric guitar has been revolutionized by guitar plugins. They allow you to record guitar tracks practically anywhere, as long as you have your guitar, computer, audio interface, and a set of headphones with you. Plugins also allow you to conveniently record at low volumes.
Building a collection of physical guitar gear can be expensive. Plugins give you a budget-friendly solution to access the tones of some of the most coveted guitar equipment out there. From the rigs of top musicians like John Petrucci, Tom Morrello, and Tim Henson, to ultra-rare amps such as the Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+, Tone King Imperial MKII or Fortin NATAS, plugins give you access to professional-grade tones without breaking the bank.
Additionally, recording with plugins gives you unmatched flexibility in post-production. By capturing your guitar signal as a direct input (DI), you have the ability to tweak and refine the tone of your recorded tracks with no limitations. Swap between amp models, fine-tune their settings, experiment with different cabinets and microphones, and add and adjust effects - all after the initial recording.
Moreover, plugins ensure consistent results. Once you find your desired settings, you can save and load them for future recording sessions. This allows you to recreate the same tones and settings whenever needed, making it effortless to maintain a consistent sound across different recordings or during live performances.
What do you need to record with guitar plugins?
To record electric guitar using plugins, you'll need a few essential pieces of equipment and software. Here's a breakdown of what you'll need to get started:
Your computer is the heart of your recording setup. Ensure that it meets the minimum system requirements of the guitar plugins and recording software you plan to use.
Generally speaking, any Windows PC or Apple Mac that’s not more than 5 or 6 years old will get the job done. However, a computer with a fast processor, ample RAM, and a good amount of free storage space will provide a smoother recording experience.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A DAW is an all-encompassing music production software program that enables you to record, edit, and produce digital audio. There are several DAWs on the market, such as Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Cubase, Pro Tools, or REAPER just to name a few. Read our guides on the fundamentals of DAW’s and choosing the best DAW for your needs for in depth information.
An audio interface is a device that connects your guitar to your computer, converting the analog guitar signal into a digital format that can be processed by your DAW. If you don’t already have an audio interface, refer to our guides on choosing an audio interface and connecting a guitar to a computer with an audio interface.
A guitar and an instrument cable
You'll obviously need an electric guitar to record. Additionally, use a high-quality guitar cable to connect your guitar to your audio interface.
A guitar plugin
Neural DSP has a wide range of guitar plugins that suit every genre and playing style.
If you’re looking for metal amps, consider trying the Mesa Boogie Mark IIC+ Suite, Archetype: Gojira, Archetype: Petrucci, and the Fortin Nameless Suite. Read our article on the best metal amps for a detailed rundown.
If you’re looking to add interesting guitar effects to your recordings, experiment with the pedals in Archetype: Tom Morello, the Overlord Synth in Archetype: Rabea, and the Multivoicer in Archetype: Tim Henson.
All of our guitar plugins come with a fully featured 14-day free trial. Try them all and find the one that’s right for your music.
Step-by-step guide to the recording process with guitar plugins
Here's a step-by-step guide to setting up your gear and recording chain:
Step 1 - Connect your audio interface to your computer and set it up
To get started, connect the USB or Thunderbolt cable that came with your audio interface to an available port on your computer. If needed, install the software provided by the manufacturer. Once the installation is complete, your computer's audio settings should recognize the audio interface as an available input and output device.
Next, connect your studio monitors and / or headphones to the audio interface. To confirm that everything is working correctly, play audio from a web browser or any other application on your computer to ensure that you can hear the sound through your connected monitoring devices.
Step 2 - Connect your guitar to the audio interface and set the input type and input level
Plug one end of your instrument cable into the output jack on your guitar and the other end into the input jack on the audio interface. Make sure to set the input type to "instrument" for the specific input on your audio interface that your guitar is connected to.
Next, it's time to adjust the input level. The input level is the strength of the audio signal being received by the audio interface's input channel. Setting the input level is very important to achieve optimal recording quality.
The input level is typically set using a gain knob or control on the audio interface. Most audio interfaces have an input level meter or indicator that helps you monitor and adjust the input level in real-time.
In general, it’s best to set the input level as high as possible without clipping (which is usually indicated by the level meter or indicator turning red). Set your input level by strumming / picking the strings of your guitar at the hardest velocity you would play them and monitoring the level meter and making sure it never clips.
The exact method of adjusting the input level can vary depending on the audio interface and software being used, so it is important to consult the manual or online resources for specific instructions.
Step 3 - Download and install a guitar plugin
All of our plugins have a fully featured 14-day free trial, so try them all out to find the one that is most suitable for your project.
Step 4 - Launch your DAW and configure the audio settings for your audio interface
Launch your DAW and open the audio settings. Select your audio interface as the audio device.
Note: On Windows computers, select “ASIO” as the audio device type.
You may also need to specify the appropriate inputs and outputs that align with your setup. Select the input your guitar is plugged into. Select the output channels that your headphones / studio monitors are connected to.
Set the sample rate to 48000 Hz (unless you specifically require a different sample rate). Set the audio buffer size to 128 samples or lower. Increase the buffer size to 256 samples if you have an older computer.
Step 5 - Create an audio track and load your plugin onto it
Most DAWs automatically scan for new plugins when you launch them. This means that once you've installed a guitar plugin, it should be available in your DAW without any extra steps.
However, if you can't find the plugin in your DAW's plugin list, you can manually rescan your plugin folder to locate it and make it available for use.
When you see your plugin in your DAW’s plugin list, create a new audio track and load your plugin onto it. For DAW specific instructions on how to do this (and how to manually rescan for new plugins), refer to our guide on how to install plugins to your DAW.
When the plugin is loaded, arm the track for recording to start capturing your guitar signal.
Step 6 - Set your track volume
After arming your track for recording, you will hear the output of your plugin when you play your guitar. The track strip in your DAW will have a level meter that shows the audio level of the track in real-time. When the audio level approaches or reaches the top of the meter, it will change color (or display a warning depending on your DAW) indicating that the signal is clipping. Clipping occurs when the audio signal is too loud for the system to accurately reproduce, leading to distortion and unwanted artifacts.
Adjust the track volume to a level that doesn’t clip when you play.
When setting the track volume, you want to ensure that it is set at a level that provides enough headroom for processing and mixing while avoiding clipping. Headroom is the difference between the loudest part of the audio signal and the maximum level before clipping occurs. You should leave around 6 dB to 12 dB of headroom to allow for processing and avoid any clipping during the mixing stage.
Alternatively, you can use the output knob of your plugin to adjust the overall output volume of it.
Note: Adjusting the track volume and audio interface input level are two separate actions. The track volume controls the output level of the plugin within your DAW, while the audio interface input level adjusts the level of the audio signal coming into your audio interface. Both are important steps, but they serve different purposes in the recording and mixing process.
Step 7 - Test and fine-tune your sound
Before recording, test that everything is working correctly. Play your guitar and carefully listen for any unwanted noise, latency issues, or technical glitches. If you encounter any problems, adjust your audio interface, DAW settings, or plugin parameters as needed to achieve the desired sound and optimal performance. This step ensures a smooth recording process with clean, high-quality results.
Step 8 - Hit the record button
Once everything is set up, press the record button in your DAW to start capturing your playing. Since you are recording the direct input (DI) signal of your guitar, you can tweak the plugin parameters even after recording your takes. This allows you to fine-tune the guitar tone and experiment with different settings after recording.
How to record electric guitar by micing a cabinet
Recording electric guitar by micing a cabinet involves positioning a microphone in front of the cabinet of a guitar amplifier to capture the sound. Micing a cabinet requires careful placement and experimentation to find the sweet spot that captures the tone you’re looking for.
What do you need to record guitar by micing a cabinet?
This can be either a guitar amplifier head or a guitar combo amplifier.
Guitar cabinet and a speaker cable
If you're not using a combo, you'll need a guitar cabinet to project the sound of your amplifier along with a speaker cable to connect your amplifier with your cabinet.
Dynamic microphones are commonly used because of their ability to handle high sound pressure levels. If you’re new to recording, you can’t go wrong with a Shure SM57. Condenser microphones capture a more detailed and transparent sound. Read on for more information on choosing a microphone for your recording setup.
You’ll need a microphone stand to position your microphone accurately in front of your cabinet.
Use high-quality XLR cables for connecting your microphone to your audio interface.
Understanding the recording chain
The recording chain starts with connecting your guitar to your amplifier using an instrument cable. The amplifier drives the guitar cabinet, which projects the sound. To record the sound, a microphone is positioned in front of the cabinet and connected to an audio interface with an XLR cable. The audio interface then converts the analog signal from the microphone into a digital format, allowing you to record and process the audio in a DAW on your computer.
Step-by-step guide to the recording process of micing a cabinet
Here's a step-by-step guide to setting up your gear and recording chain:
Step 1 - Set up your recording room and amplifier
Find a suitable space with good acoustics to set up your amplifier and cabinet. Position the amplifier and cabinet in a secure and stable spot to prevent any vibrations or accidental movement during recording. Placing them on top of a carpet can help minimize any rattling noises.
Connect your guitar to your amplifier using an instrument cable.
Step 2 - Position your microphone in front of the cabinet
Using a microphone stand, position your microphone in front of the cabinet, pointing it towards the speaker. At this stage, the focus is on setting up your recording chain. Fine-tuning the microphone position and finding the optimal sweet spot for capturing the best sound will be addressed in a later step.
Step 3 - Connect your audio interface to your computer and set it up
Connect the USB or Thunderbolt cable that came with your audio interface to an available port on your computer. If required, install the software provided by the manufacturer. After that, connect your studio monitors and / or headphones to the audio interface.
Step 4 - Connect your microphone to your audio interface and set the input type
Connect your microphone to your audio interface using an XLR cable. Make sure to set the input type to "mic" for the specific input your microphone is connected to.
Step 5 - Launch your DAW and configure the audio settings for your audio interface
Launch your DAW and select your audio interface as the audio device.
Note: On Windows computers, select “ASIO” as the audio device type.
You may also need to specify the appropriate inputs and outputs that align with your setup. Select the input your microphone is plugged into. Select the output channels that your headphones / studio monitors are connected to.
Step 6 - Create an audio track with your microphone as the input
Launch your DAW and create a new audio track. Select the input source as the audio interface input that your microphone is connected to. Arm the track for recording to start capturing your microphone’s signal.
Step 7 - Adjust the position of your microphone
Now that you have set up your recording chain, it's time to adjust the position of your microphone. This step is crucial as it significantly impacts the captured sound on your recording.
Begin by setting the microphone at a 90-degree angle to the speaker cone, pointing directly towards the center of it. Position it around one inch away from the speaker grill. If the speaker cone is not visible through the grill material of the cabinet, shine a flashlight onto it to help find its position.
Play your guitar and ensure that both your audio interface and DAW are picking up the microphone input. Use your headphones / studio monitors to hear the sound that’s being captured by the microphone.
At this point you should also adjust the input level of your microphone. The input level is typically set using a gain knob or control on your audio interface. Audio interfaces also typically have an input level meter or indicator that helps you monitor the input level.
Play your guitar the hardest you will in the parts you’re recording and adjust the input level so that the microphones input signal doesn’t clip at any point. Clipping is typically indicated by the level meter or indicator turning red.
Then, move the microphone’s position and listen to how the captured sound changes. Small adjustments can have a significant impact on the tone and character of the recorded sound.
Moving the microphone sideways
Moving the microphone’s position sideways towards the outer edge of the speaker will decrease midrange and upper-mid frequencies.
Moving the microphone closer and further away from the speaker
Moving the microphone closer to the speaker captures a more direct and focused sound, resulting in increased bass response. Moving it further away will reduce the overall bass response and capture more room ambience.
Off-axis vs. on-axis position
Positioning your microphone at a 45-degree angle (off-axis position) can reduce high-frequencies resulting in a warmer tone and reduced bass response. Placing the microphone pointing straight towards the cabinet (on-axis position) resulting in a brighter tone.
There are no fixed rules when it comes to microphone placement techniques. Trust your ears and take the time to experiment with different placements until you find the position that captures the tone you are looking for.
Step 8 - Hit the record button
Once you are satisfied with your tone, press the record button in your DAW to start recording your playing.
Choosing a microphone
When micing a cabinet, the choice of microphone will significantly influence the tone you capture. Microphones are grouped into three main categories:
Dynamic microphones are the most commonly used microphones for recording guitar cabinets. They are able to handle high sound pressure levels, making them ideal for capturing the loud tones produced by guitar cabinets. Dynamic microphones are also generally very durable, making them easy to handle.
The Shure SM57 is a legendary choice that has become a staple in micing cabinets. The Sennheiser MD 421 and Electro-Voice RE20 are also great choices.
Condenser microphones are more sensitive than dynamic microphones, allowing them to capture sound with greater detail and nuance. Their extended frequency response gives you a more transparent and pristine recording.
The Neumann TLM-102, AKG C414 XLII, and Audio-Technica AT2020 are great choices.
Ribbon microphones capture sound with high accuracy and depth. They excel at capturing the natural tonal characteristics of guitar cabinets, delivering a warm and full-bodied sound with a smooth high-frequency response. Ribbon microphones are often paired with dynamic microphones in recording setups.
Notable choices include the Royer Labs R-121, Cascade Fat Head II, and MXL R40.
Using a combination of microphones
Recording with multiple microphones is very common. Often, a dynamic microphone is combined with a ribbon or condenser microphone. This allows you to capture a richer and more dynamic sound.
Additionally, using multiple microphones gives you greater flexibility in the mixing stage, as each microphone captures a distinct tone that can be blended and shaped during the post-recording process.
Begin by positioning your primary microphone, typically a dynamic microphone like the Shure SM57, in front of your guitar cabinet. Next, position your secondary microphone at a different position, angle, or distance from the cabinet to capture a different tonal character. Experiment with placing it off-axis or further away to capture a wider sound image or to emphasize certain frequencies.
Create two tracks in your DAW and assign the microphones to separate tracks. Monitor the signals from both microphones through your headphones or studio monitors and make adjustments to the positions of the microphones until you get the tone you are looking for.
Recording your direct input (DI) signal alongside your mic’d cabinet with a DI box
Recording your direct input (DI) signal alongside your mic’d cabinet signal opens up a world of possibilities for manipulating your guitar tone after you have recorded your parts. Unlike the mic'd cabinet signal, which is colored by your amp and cabinet, the DI signal is the unprocessed sound of your guitar, bypassing the amplifier and speaker cabinet.
Having the DI signal can serve as a backup for your recordings in case of any issues or limitations with the mic'd cabinet signal. If there are technical problems, undesirable noise, or if you later decide to change the tone, having the DI signal allows you to re-amp and capture a new sound without the need for re-recording your parts.
Re-amping is a technique where you send the DI signal back through an amplifier and cabinet with a reamp box.
Alternatively, the DI signal can be used with guitar plugins. This lets you experiment with different amplifier settings, speaker configurations, and microphone positions during the mixing stage. Your recording can also have a blend of your mic’d cabinet sound with one from a guitar plugin to create a unique and rich tone.
A DI (direct injection) box is used to split the signal from your guitar into two separate outputs.
Understanding the recording chain when using a DI box
In order to record a DI signal while simultaneously recording the sound from your cabinet, you plug your guitar into the DI box input. The DI box then splits the signal into two outputs; one goes to your amplifier for micing and the other is sent directly to your audio interface to capture the DI signal.
In your DAW, create two separate tracks. Assign one track to record the microphone signal used to capture your cabinet, and the other to record the DI signal from the DI box. Remember to monitor and adjust the input levels of both tracks to ensure proper recording levels and avoid clipping.
How to record electric guitar with a load box and impulse responses
You can use a load box and impulse responses to record your amp without a cabinet. A load box is used to capture the direct sound of your amp into your recording setup while impulse responses digitally simulate the sound of a mic’d cabinet.
This method gives you exceptional flexibility for tone shaping. With a vast library of impulse responses available, you can easily switch between virtual cabinet and microphone setups, all while using your own amp. Additionally, this method lets you record at low volumes.
A reactive load box is used to simulate the interaction between a guitar amplifier and a cabinet without the need for an actual speaker load. The load box absorbs the power output of the amp, ensuring that it operates correctly without a speaker load and protecting it from potential damage.
An impulse response (IR) is a digital representation of the sonic characteristics of an acoustic space, speaker cabinet, a microphone, and its position. With IRs, you can simulate the sound of different cabinets and microphones without physically owning or using multiple setups.
Neural DSP guitar plugins feature a comprehensive cabinet simulator module, equipped with hundreds of impulse responses (IRs) created by industry-leading engineers such as Adam "Nolly" Getgood, 5by5 Studios, and our own team at Neural DSP. The IRs are embedded in the user interface, making it easy for you to experiment with different cab / mic combinations. A unique feature is the ability to move the virtual microphones around the cab / mic graphic display, allowing you to easily experiment with different mic placements. The cabsim module also serves as a standard IR loader.
The recording chain when using a load box and impulse responses
Connect your guitar to your amplifier. Using a speaker cable, connect your amplifier's speaker output to the load box input. Using an instrument cable, connect the load box's output to your audio interface.
In your DAW, create a new track and assign the input to which the load box is connected to as its input. Load an IR loader plugin (or a Neural DSP guitar plugin with all the modules except for the cabinet simulator module disabled) to the track and load an impulse response. Shape your tone and experiment with different IRs. After that, you’re ready to start recording.
How to record electric guitar with a Quad Cortex
The Quad Cortex is the most powerful floor modeler on the market. It features an impressive collection of amplifiers, cabinets, and effects that have been meticulously modeled to provide an incredibly realistic tone. You can practically get any guitar tone imaginable with a Quad Cortex.
Recording with a Quad Cortex is incredibly simple. By connecting it to your computer via USB, it functions as an audio interface. It features 8 inputs and 8 outputs and is compatible with all major DAWs.
To record with a Quad Cortex, begin by plugging it into your computer via USB. On a Mac, no drivers are required. On Windows computers, download and run the driver installer.
Set the Quad Cortex as the audio device on your computer and DAW. You will hear your computer’s audio through outputs 1 and 2 and the headphone output.
Connect your guitar to input 1 on the Quad Cortex. Launch your DAW and create an audio track. Set the input to “Input 3/4" to capture the processed signal from the Quad Cortex. If you want to record a DI signal as well, create another track and set the input to “Input 1”.
Arm both tracks for recording and press the record button to start recording your playing.
Tips for recording electric guitar
Make sure your guitar is set up before you start recording
Before diving into the recording process, it's crucial to ensure that your guitar is set up for your upcoming recording session.
If your guitar is properly set up, you’ll ensure that it’s performing at its optimal level. A set up guitar will stay in tune better, won’t have buzzing frets, and will be comfortable to play. This allows you to fully focus on playing during your recording session rather than working on your guitar, which can eat away lots of time (and patience).
Begin by assessing whether your guitar requires any adjustments to its setup. This includes evaluating the amount of bow on the neck (neck relief) and the action (string height). Too high of an action can make fretting notes difficult. Conversely, an action that is too low may lead to fret buzz.
Make sure your guitar’s intonation is set up correctly. Intonation refers to the guitar's ability to play in tune across all frets. If your guitar's intonation is not properly adjusted, you may notice that certain chords or notes sound out of tune, even when the open strings are in tune. Accurate intonation ensures that your recordings will sound in tune and harmonically pleasing.
Additionally, replace your strings with a fresh set before recording. A fresh set of strings will not only give you a better tone, but will also improve tuning stability and intonation, as well as feel better to play.
If you are unfamiliar with guitar setups or lack confidence in making adjustments yourself, take your guitar to a luthier or guitar technician for a set up.
Be well-prepared for your recording session
Spend a good amount of time practicing the parts you'll be recording, ensuring that you can play them confidently and accurately. Practicing your parts beforehand will save time during the recording session and allow you to focus on capturing the best performances rather than just nailing down the parts.
What bit depth and sample rate should you record with?
Bit depth refers to the amount of detail in each sound sample. Higher bit depth means more detail and a wider range of soft and loud sounds can be captured accurately.
Sample rate is the number of sound samples taken per second. A higher sample rate means more detail and a wider frequency range can be captured.
When recording electric guitar, it is common practice to use a bit depth of 24 bits and a sample rate of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz.
In most DAWs, the bit depth and sample rate is set in the project settings or preferences. It is important to match the settings in your DAW with the settings of your audio interface to ensure accurate recording and playback.
Take the time to test and adjust your input level before recording
Taking the time to test and adjust your input level before recording is an essential step in ensuring high-quality recordings. By properly setting your input level, you'll capture a clean and balanced signal that will greatly improve the mixing and processing possibilities in your recordings.
Whether you're recording with guitar plugins or micing a cabinet, it is crucial to ensure that your input level is not too low, causing a weak signal, or too high, resulting in clipping and saturation.
When using Neural DSP guitar plugins, you can use the input knob to adjust the level of the signal being fed into the plugin. If you recorded your DI signal too hot or weak, dial the knob to fine-tune the input level.
When micing a cabinet, make sure to properly set the input level of your microphone on your audio interface. Use the level meters in your audio interface and / or DAW to monitor the input level and avoid clipping.
Double-tracking adds depth to your guitar recordings
Double-tracking is a technique where you record multiple takes of the same guitar part and layer them together in a mix. By panning the takes left and right, you create a wider and more immersive sound, adding depth and richness to your recordings.
Enhancing your tone with effects
Guitar effects can greatly enhance your guitar tone and add a unique character to your sound. Experiment with effects when shaping your tone. However, it's crucial to use them in a way that complements the music and doesn't overpower it.
Use effects tastefully to enhance your overall tone rather than burying it under excessive processing.
With distortion, less is often more
A common mistake is to crank up the distortion, thinking that it will automatically make your playing sound heavier. Keep in mind that too much distortion will muddy up your tone, leading to a loss of definition and articulation.
Less distortion often sounds more aggressive. Find the sweet spot where your tone has a good amount of bite and aggression while still retaining clarity and articulation.
Trust your ears and enjoy yourself
There are no strict rules when it comes to recording music. What matters most is the emotion and feeling that you convey through your playing.
When recording, don't get too caught up in technicalities or the pursuit of perfection. Instead, focus on capturing the essence of your music and letting your creativity flow. Trust your ears to guide you in making decisions for your recordings, and above all, have fun.
Recording electric guitar has never been more accessible and convenient than it is today. With guitar plugins, you can transform your home into a professional-grade studio using just a few pieces of equipment.
When micing a cabinet, remember that the microphone you use and its placement plays a crucial role in the tone you capture. Experiment with different positions until you get the tone you are looking for.
Recording is a skill that anyone can master with time and practice. Embrace the learning process and before long you'll find yourself consistently creating awesome sounding recordings.
To start recording today, head over to our guitar plugins page and start a fully featured 14-day free trial of any plugin. If you're new to plugins, our getting started guides are there to assist you every step of the way.