The process of creating your first recording as an artist or band can be very exciting and rewarding. After recording three albums in the past few years, I’ve compiled a few tips here to help other guitarists achieve the best sound possible in their first studio recording.
Do whatever you have to do in order to have access to the best equipment possible in the studio. Borrow from friends, rent from stores, put in some extra hours and buy it – whatever. The quality of your instruments and all accessory equipment will set the foundation for the overall recording quality. All the studio magic in the world cannot save a tone that is poor from the source. Also, ensure the quality of your equipment. Change the strings on all your guitars, and be sure to replace batteries for any active pickups. You may want to consider having a technician perform a full set up and intonation. If you have a tube amp and don’t mind putting down the cash, have all your tubes changed to ensure a great tone.
Be sure to tune your guitar between every take, to absolutely ensure the tuning quality of your tracks as time progresses. To really play it on the safe side, ensure that any other guitars and guitarists tune their instruments through the same tuner, to eliminate the possibility of any variance between tuning devices.
Unless you are doing an extremely delicate, soft recording, there will most likely be some instance in which you want to beef up the sound of your tracks. Layering or “double tracking” can be a very effective technique to achieve this. To get the best sound out of your multiple layers, be sure to implement a few of these tricks: Alter the tone of your guitar/amp slightly to avoid any “phasing” effects, and to add some subtle colour and richness to the track. If you are using a heavily distorted sound, you may want to consider reducing the distortion slightly on your layered track. Layering a clean track with a slightly overdriven track can create a nice complexity as well.
Reamping is a great way to work with your guitar tracks after the recording is already done. The process involves separately recording your source guitar track, before it is processed by the amp. Now, the producer can take that raw guitar signal and try it out through other amps or processors their studio might have. The reamped track may also be processed through a different amp from your own, and then applied on a separate track to blend the tones.
5.) Dampening the Strings
Now, this one is bound to get some disagreement, and I will explain my position on this in a moment. Placing a sock or hair elastic around the strings, where the first fret meets the headstock can dampen any loose strings that may be ringing out and reducing the clarity of your tracks. This can be particularly helpful during difficult solos, where note clarity is crucial. This trick allows you to focus %100 on the notes you need to be hitting, without worrying too much about blocking out the notes you don’t want. Now, obviously some will view this as cheating, at least in part. I certainly do not advocate using this trick in order to achieve a quality that you could not otherwise attain. Where I do find this useful is as a way to save time, knowing that many first recording projects are done on a tight budget. Your recording should be the best representation of your playing, so if a part is not impossible, but gives you difficulty, this technique can be used with a clean conscience.
6.) Never Settle
This is probably the biggest thing to take care of, and I can attest that failing to do so will bug you forever. When I recorded my first album, I was quite young and inexperienced. As a result, I often would settle on a take that I knew in my heart was maybe not the absolute best I could have done. When I listen to those recordings now, I still hear the little mistakes and imperfections that I heard in the studio, and it drives me nuts. Budget is often an issue during one’s first recording project, and so mistakes will slide for time’s sake. But I assure you, time spent on perfecting a take is not time wasted – time spent trying to edit out the mistake certainly is.
Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you to achieve the best possible sound on your first recording project. Be sure to effectively communicate your desires for the overall sound and direction of the songs to your producer. Without your input, the producer can only take the quality so far. It’s your recordings, and you have to listen to them for years to come, so don’t be shy about what you want to accomplish. Good luck!