Get Started Recording Metal Guitars
Recommended Electric Guitar Home Recording Setup
You’ve decided to jump into the home recording market and now you want to make your metal guitars sound brutal and slamming. You’ve got the guitar, it’s set up, you put on some new strings, and now you’re ready to record it. How in the heck do you go about recording metal guitars with a home studio recording setup? Here is your answer. To record metal guitars in a home studio, you will need, at the very least:
- - An instrument cable;
- - A direct injection box (DI box);
- - An audio interface;
- - An XLR cable;
- - A digital audio workstation (DAW);
- - A pair of decent studio monitoring headphones for tracking.
In my Udemy course, The Complete Guide to Metal Guitars with Amp Simulators, I talked briefly about what you’d need in order to record metal guitars at home. With this article, I’d like to talk about the gear that I use in more detail and where you could find it.
Picking Your First Audio Interface for Recording Metal Guitars
The first question you might have is, “Why do I even need an audio interface?” There are three answers to that question.
- 1. The first answer is that on-board sound card on your motherboard is woefully underequipped to handle the types of input connections you’ll need to record music. If you want to record a guitar, you’ll need a high-z audio cable. Seeing as on-board motherboards would only have a Line In or stereo headphone output, you’d have to buy an adapter just to plug it in. If you wanted to record a microphone, you’d need an XLR input. (I’ll explain more about what these types of inputs are later on in the article.) Basically, on-board sound cards don’t have these input connection types.
- 2. You will encounter ridiculous latency – even if you’re using ASIO4ALL. On top of not having the correct input types, on-board audio is not at all up to the task of dealing with all the audio information that will be passing back and forth. For example, if you want to playback the sound of your guitar through a digital amp simulator while recording it and have the other instruments in your song also play all at the same time, you’ll be in for a real rough experience without an audio interface.
- 3. Lastly, plugging directly into your computer will be extremely noisy. There is a whole industry out there based on the creation of audio recording products that reduce electrical noise and interference. Plugging directly into your computer is one of the worst things you could do.
Now that you know why you need an audio interface, let’s start talking about the interface I used for recording the Udemy course I just mentioned.
PreSonus AudioBox iTwo Audio Interface
This is the second audio interface I’ve used in the past few years. The first one was a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (First Generation.) You can see from my photo here that it has two inputs. I use the first one for my guitar and I use the second for my microphone. It’s comfortable doing it this way because I can keep my settings where they are for both inputs and I don’t have to mess with them each time I use a different instrument. I have found the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo to be a very capable audio interface for recording metal guitars. When paired with the DI box, it’s very easy to dial in the levels I need for recording and latency levels are acceptable. Should you be looking for an interface for recording guitars, I can recommend:
- - PreSonus AudioBox iTwo
- - Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (Second Generation)
- - Focusrite Scarlett Solo
You may have noticed that I said “Second Generation” after the Scarlett 2i2. If you get the first-generation version, you’ll 100% have to buy a DI box as the interface, incredibly, is not capable of recording high impedance signals; even with turning the input gain completely down to zero. This was a known problem that the manufacturer itself never addressed until the Second-Generation audio interface came out. The 2i2 is a great audio interface, just make sure you get the Second-Generation version.
In any case, there are a lot of places you can grab these online. If you're interested in the PreSonus one, Amazon has it and it's even cheaper than what I paid for it a year ago. Click here to check that out. For Europeans, you can check it out on Thomann by clicking here.
Okay, why would I want a DI Box?
These audio interfaces, for the most part, could handle recording metal guitars without any other pieces of equipment. That said, I’d recommend you highly to grab yourself a DI box. You’ll need to buy an XLR cable along with the DI box, but it’s worth it.
DI boxes can help solve grounding issues that are leaking nasty frequencies and noises into your guitar tone. It’ll also convert the high impedance guitar tone into a microphone level output. (This is the only way to record guitars effectively with a First-Generation Scarlett 2i2.) This is important because if you just take your guitar and throw it into the First-Generation Scarlett 2i2, you’ll realize that the guitar just lost its high-end clarity – plus it’ll be far noisier than you expected.
A DI box is going to help keep junk and noise from cluttering your signal. Stuff like hum and nasty metallic noises will be eliminated when you are using a DI box. It evens everything out so that your signals are compatible with any device you’re running through. (DI boxes are literally essential for playing live due to the very long cables.) The Countryman DI Box is highly recommended, but in my Udemy course I actually used the one you see in the photo above: a Behringer Ultra DI DI box. You can find this on Amazon often on sale for well under $100. Click here to check out the current price. Folks from Europe can check out the price on Thomann which is rather comparable and maybe even a bit better.
If you’ve heard the tones I created on that course or videos I’ve done on YouTube on the last year or so – the photo shows the exact chain I’ve been using to record them.
Sweet, I’ve got an audio interface and DI box for recording metal guitars. Now what?
You’ll need a DAW, or digital audio workstation. It’s a program where you’ll record, edit, and produce audio files. There are so many different DAWs on the market today that I’ll have to write a completely different article just to cover them all. Instead, I’ll recommend that you pick up Cockos REAPER 5. For a single license (that lasts for two versions), it’ll be $60. REAPER 5 is updated almost on a weekly basis, and does everything you’d need it to do. It’s also extremely fast when we’re talking about recording guitars.
I used Cakewalk SONAR Platinum and Cakewalk products in general for almost 20 years before Gibson shut them down. After that I spent about 7 or 8 months working in PreSonus Studio One 3.5, but ultimately ended up using Cockos REAPER 5 and I am completely satisfied with my choice. This DAW ticks off all the necessities that you need in a DAW.
- - It’s extremely lightweight – it’s still smaller than 15MB;
- - The developers and community are extremely active;
- - Constant updates and bug fixes;
- - Extremely customizable to your workflow;
- - Literally does everything you can think of.
The biggest downside of REAPER 5 is that there is no real “standard” look or feel of the program. Everybody can edit it to however they want. For this reason, when I did my amp simulator course, I made my REAPER 5 configuration file something you could download so that students could follow along more closely with the same layout.
If you’re not convinced and just want to try it out, REAPER 5 has a fully functional 60-day trial that you can take advantage of. None of the functionality of the DAW is disabled, and, truth be told, even after the 60 days, you can continue using the program after closing down a pop-up stating that the program isn’t free. It’s one of the very few programs that operate on merit and faith that the user will pay for good work. Literally, REAPER 5 can’t be beaten in my opinion.
What about studio headphones or studio monitors?
If you’re just wanting to record guitars and get started with that, you can definitely do that with a nice pair of studio headphones. When you want to upgrade to studio monitors – there are a lot of other factors you’ll need to take into consideration. (Room size, reflections, all that stuff.)
It’ll be faster and easier to grab yourself a good pair of studio headphones from the beginning.
I am a huge fan of the Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones and would, with no hesitation, recommend them to you as well. I use these headphones so much that I actually have bought multiple pairs. They are with me on the metro, on the train, the airplane, in my home – anywhere I go, these things come with me. After you get used to how music sounds in these headphones, you’ll really be able to start judging the sounds you have quite accurately.
Well, that about does it!
With the gear I’ve talked about this article, I’ve recorded and mixed a lot of music. Gone are the days of needing a $200,000 board. Technology has really come a long way and it’s put the power back into the hands of the musician. If you have the idea, now you can record them.
Getting started and the level of entry into recording music is so much easier than ever.
That said, get ready to practice and put a lot of time and effort into this. It won’t come easy, but finally, it’s not going to be because of the gear.
If you guys have any questions, you can contact me and I’ll be happy to help out as much as I can. Also, I’d really recommend that you check out my Udemy course about dialing in metal guitar tones with digital amp simulators. I think you guys would really find it helpful. (Not to mention, using the link on this site will get you a huge discounted price!) C heck that out by clicking here.
‘Till next time, have a good one!
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