How To Record From An Amp
Once you get to a certain level of playing, you’re going to want to record your playing to see if it really sounds as good as it feels. Recording your own playing is actually a great way of setting about improving your playing and getting that bit more professional.
Don’t think that because you don’t own a recording studio or a bunch of fancy recording equipment, that you can’t record your playing in high quality.
Being professional is not all about the best expensive equipment, it’s more about making everything work to the best of your ability with the tools you have right now.
How To Record Directly From An Amp
If you already own an electric guitar, an amp and a computer, you’re almost at the point where you can record directly from the amp. It is possible to connect the amp to your computer if the amp has a headphone socket or line-out socket.
All you need to do is connect the amp’s headphone/line-out to an input on the computer’s audio interface.
On some amps there is a USB connection which allows you to output audio directly into the computer using a USB cable.
We recommend using an audio interface because the sound produced even on a cheap audio interface will be far superior to connecting the amp to the mic socket on your computer.
Connecting directly to the amp’s headphone socket or line-out socket straight from your audio interface is known in the trade as a DI (Direct Input). This method will only work on certain amps, namely those with a headphone socket or a line-out socket. So it’s not suitable for everyone.
Audio Recording Software
You’ll now need some software on your computer to record the audio that’s coming in. For this, you have a couple of options and we will now explain the benefits of each.
- FL Studio
This is a really good option if you want recording software like the pros use. It’ll make recording from your amp easier than free options but will come at a nominal fee.
This is another good option if you’re looking for free software to record. It’ll be a bit less “user friendly” than the other option, but great if you’re on a tight budget.
Poor Sound Quality
There is a potential problem using a DI to record directly through the amp. The problem is, you’re bypassing the speakers, which means the sound you’re recording is different to the sound you can hear when you play your guitar normally.
This is why you’ll get a far better quality of sound if you use a microphone placed in front of the speaker.
The microphone is connected to the audio interface via an XLR cable and the sound produced is far better than using a DI. However, there are a few ways you can get around this issue without using a microphone.
This is an output that’s integrated into some amps, that simulates the sound produced by the speaker via a circuit board. Not all amps have a speaker-emulated output and in all honesty, some sound better than others.
Impulsive Response (IR)
If you are using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), it’s possible to use IR software. Impulse Response software captures the sound of a particular speaker in the room. They sound great (for the most part) and have become increasingly popular.
Recording An Amp Directly To A Computer Using USB
Many of the modern amps have a USB socket. As long as you have the correct USB cable, you can connect the amp directly to the computer. Of course different amps allow different functions but the only function you really need is to output audio.
Recording From A Load Box
If you have a separate tube (valve) amp head you’ll know you should never turn it on unless it’s connected to a speaker cabinet. To do so could seriously damage the head. The load box creates a load similar to that of the speaker allowing you to safely turn on the amp head.
If that load box has speaker emulation, you can:
- Connect the load box input to the speaker connection on your amp head
- Connect the load box output to the input on the audio interface
- Connect the audio interface to the computer
The speaker emulation will make the amp head sound like it’s running through the speaker.
Obviously this will not work on a combo amp, only on a separate amp head.
Recording From A Speaker Using A Microphone
If you play acoustic guitar or you’d prefer to record your guitar playing as it actually sounds this is possible too.To record your guitar playing in this way entails using a microphone, either attached to the acoustic guitar or placed in front of the speaker.
It will take a fair bit of trial and error to ensure the microphone is placed in the best position to capture the sound at its best. Below are a few tips to help you to get the best from recording your guitar.
Recording a great guitar sound, starts with a great sounding guitar. Obviously we’re not suggesting you go out and buy a really expensive guitar, however you can do your best to make your existing guitar sound at its best. You need to set the guitar up using a fresh set of strings and tuned to perfection.
Achieve Your Best Sound
Before you even think about a microphone, get the guitar’s sound as good as it can be in your ears. This can be helped by;
- Fine tuning your amp and pedal settings
- Reposition the amp to different locations in the room to see where it sounds best
- Set the drive, EQ and overall levels
Once you’re satisfied that everything else is ready, it’s time to move onto the position of the microphone in relation to the speaker.
Where To Place The Microphone
Once the guitar, amp and pedals all sound at their very best, where to place the microphone is the next very important part in the recording puzzle. The sound you record can change drastically depending on where you place the microphone.
For instance you can change the tone from bright and happy to dark and brooding just by moving the microphone. To record the brightest sound, you’ll need to place the microphone so that it’s facing the exact centre of the speaker. The further out from the middle, you place it, the darker the sound becomes.
The distance the microphone is set at makes a huge difference too. If the microphone is very close to the speaker, all you will record is the sound from the amp in detail. Move the microphone further away from the speaker and you start to capture the sound of the room, which will add depth to the recording.
The Type Of Microphone
The various tonal qualities captured during recording can be left to chance. Or you can weigh the odds in your favour by using the right tools for the job. Which in this case means, using the correct type of microphone for the sound you’re trying to achieve.
If you want to place the microphone close to the speaker cabinet, we recommend using a dynamic microphone. Using a dynamic mic, you’ll have no problem with the Sound Pressure Level (SPL) which allows you to place the mic as close to the speaker cabinet as you like. This technique is known in the trade as “close miking”.
If you’d prefer to capture the sound of the room as well as the sound of the speaker, a technique known as “ambient miking”, you need to move the microphone further away from the speaker. This is where the condenser microphone comes into its own. The extra frequency response and sensitivity will give you a full sound at a greater distance.
The Best Of Both Worlds
Of course it’s also possible to combine these two techniques by using two separate microphones. This allows you the best effect from both positions which can be balanced in the final mix. The problem with this technique is what is commonly known as “phase”.
If you’ve ever used a phaser pedal, you’ll already be familiar with this. The phase between the two microphones will create a hole in the sound. It can be set at a certain frequency and can then be used to create a richer or thinner sound.
As soon as you record using two microphones at different positions, you’ll experience phase. It’s inevitable, however, it can be lessened by always placing the second microphone (ambient) three times the distance of the first microphone (close).
Frequently Asked Questions
You can record from your amp to your computer using the amp’s headphone socket or line-out socket. Connect the headphone or line-out socket directly to the input on your computer’s interface. Some amps even have a USB connection which allows you to output audio via the USB cable directly to the computer.
A load box is an external box that plugs into an amplifier to provide a dummy load. This allows you to turn the amp head on without it being connected to a speaker cabinet without damaging the head. The load box can also be used for recording from the amp by connecting the load box to the amp and the audio interface and then connecting the audio interface to the computer.
The difference between dynamic and condenser microphones is the way they capture sound. A dynamic mic is best for close miking which is where you place the mic directly in front of the speaker when recording. A condenser mic is best for creating ambient sound by placing the mic further away from the speaker to record room sounds and tones as well as those directly from the speaker.