I’ve been fortunate to record a number of legendary-status guitar players like Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Rush’s Alex Lifeson. Watching them work is truly an inspiring and educational opportunity; artists like these have accrued a wealth of real-world experience in manifesting instantly recognizable guitar tones. Being the captor of these tones, I’ll share some tips about recording electric guitars.
Right tools for the job: This is a no-brainer but is a common miss. Select gear and tone that works for the song and put your individuality into it. Want to get the right tone? Listen to it. Really. That means pointing the speaker right at your head, not blowing across your knees while you stand in front of a half-stack. Off-axis settings are brittle and don’t sit well in a mix.
Right mics: While there are a myriad of possibilities for micing an amp, I’ve had great success with a few favourite mics. First is the venerable Shure SM57. I’ve tried the Shure Beta 57 and, while it sounds similar, the polar pattern is so tight that finding the sweet spot in front of the speaker can be quite a mission. Other mics I commonly use include the Sennheiser 421, the Sennheiser 409, and the Earthworks SR30. Special mention goes to the Royer 121 ribbon mic. This workhorse mic sounds amazing for almost any electric guitar purpose from country to metal and the specially designed ribbon element won’t fry from the high SPL of close-micing an amp on 11.
Right place at the right time: Personally, I prefer to record guitars in more of a dead environment, although I’ve been known to track in extremely live environments (Joe Perry’s tiled bathroom for one) for effect. In all situations I have the amp lifted well off the floor to avoid troublesome reflections, and I don’t use anything hollow that could resonate (like a roadcase).
Right phase: For multi-micing, it’s important that the phase relationship between the mics remain consistent. Liberal testing of phase using the console’s phase flip button is a necessity when blending mics. For mics placed at various distances from an amp, comb filtering can result from the phase shift due to the longer time the sound takes to reach the more distant mic. Fortunately, a small company in the Los Angeles, CA area called Little Labs has a device called an IBP (In-Between Phase). It can shift the phase to any degree from 0 to 180 so it’s a simple task of dialing the mics into exact phase.
Richard Chycki is currently recording a new CD for Rush and has worked with Aerosmith, Mick Jagger, Seal, Pink, and many others in the past. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.