Before I begin to talk about the actual micing of a guitar amp, I want to deal with
some basics. First up, it's important to use a nice sounding guitar, with strings in
primo condition. No matter what you do with it, an axe with dead strings, or a poor
quality one, will just not sound good. Poor intonation will result from using old
strings. It's not a bad idea to check the intonation with a tuner in different hand
positions before you start, and if you get wildly differing results at the various
fret positions, then get it attended to. Make sure that you check the tuning before
you begin, as even a slightly off-tune guitar can make it very hard to fit with the
Next make sure you have a nice sounding amp as well. Your tiny practice amp is
unlikely to produce a killer recorded sound, but on the other hand a 200 watt
behemoth may prove difficult to get a really good sound without cranking it off the
Richter scale, and blowing the walls off the room! And speaking of rooms; make sure
you are using a fairly decent sounding one to record in, and if need be, add some
padding, or other objects round the place, to get it sounding right. I won't go more
into that here, as it's another subject altogether. But experiment with things like:
whether the amp sounds best: placed next to a wall, or in the middle of a room. If
placed in a corner, you may get an unwanted "boominess" from it.
Now one thing to note here on amp settings, is that what sounds good to your ears
while playing on stage may not sound good when recorded. Be prepared to fiddle with
knobs on the amp to get the right sound for the room, as well as the chosen microphones. Commonly, you may need to remove a bit of the bottom end, and boost the mids, and maybe the highs a bit.
One thing that makes me cringe is a poor tone, or poor tuning due to a bad playing
technique. If you are not Joe Satriani, Dave Gilmour or Ritchie Blackmore, then take
a listen to guys like them. Their bends are sweet and pitched beautifully. Make sure
yours are too! They use a nice vibrato on long held notes. If you can, make sure
you develop a nice one too. Be it fast, or be it slow - vibrato's the way to go!.
Talking lead guitar here. Make sure your slides are smooth and accurate, and your
notes are picked cleanly and clearly. Never sacrifice clarity for speed. Better to
play within your ability, than to end up with a messy sound because you are trying
to go beyond your capabilities.
And speaking of a messy sound, if you are using distortion or overdrive on your rhythm tracks, listen carefully what notes in a chord sound best without setting off unwanted, clashing harmonics. If you strum a full barre chord on a heavily overdriven guitar, it might sound bad, whereas if you hit just two or three srtrings of the same chord, the result may be much more pleasing to the ear. It is vitally important that you listen carefully to the tone as you play. Try to develop a good ear for it. For me the secret of good playing is captured in tone, feel and melody. These are the things you as a guitarist can do to help get a great sound.
Now for the recording engineer (who may or may not be the same person as the player), here are a few tips.
Should you record with effects, or add them later? Well, I use both methods depending on the song, the effect, and what I am trying to acheive. For rhythm playing, I often record with a bit of reverb from my outboard effects unit, sent into the amp's effects loop. Don't overdo it, because you can always add more later, but you can't take it away. Sometimes I record with a totally dry signal. One thing I never do is
record using an amp's built-in reverb, as they usually aren't that great sounding.
With lead guitar, I always record using effects. The reason being, is that I use the
effects to shape the way I play, and usually have a certain effect in mind from the
outset. Two things to note here though, are don't overdo the amount of reverb or
delay, as it can wash out the sound and make it hard to mix later, and try to set
any delay times to match the tempo of the song. I won't go into effects types here
as that's not the aim of this article.
I have tried all manor of mic arrangements when recording a guitar amp, but instead
of going through all the possibilities, I will just give you my favourite
configuration. It's easy to set up and it always works. It's a three mic technique.
First, I place two dynamic microphones at 90 degrees to each other, aimed at the
center of a speaker, close to the grille of the amp. These mics therefore, are 45
degrees from the center of the cone but aiming at the cone's body.
This configuration picks up the highs from the center, without so much harshness, and also gets the bottom end without so much boominess, as if they were placed straight on, at right angles to the cone and aimed the outer edge. Being at 90 degrees to each other,means the mics are less likely to create phasing problems. So if you imagine a triangle,the two mics would meet at the tip of one side of the triangle, and that tip would be at the center of the speaker cone.
As for mic choices, I always use one Shure SM57, and one mic with different characteristics. Experiment here. I most often choose a Peavey PVM580i as the second mic. The SM57 has a high mid range peak, while the PVM accentuates the lower mid range more. The third microphone I use is a large diaphram condensor mic, placed out in the room usually 6-10 feet (2-3 metres) away, at the amp height, and facing it. This gives a more airy room sound, and also has a broad spectrum frequency response. You can play around with the mic balances later, at mixdown, if you have recorded them all to seperate tracks. I can always get a good sound using this method. It is much less hit and miss than other methods I have used.
Well there you go. Hope this helps you to acheive good results at your place. Cheers
Tony Koretz is a musician, singer, songwriter and audio engineer, based in New Zealand. He is involved in all aspects of music production, from writing and playing music to recording, mixing and mastering.
He runs Rocksure Soundz Ltd, a recording and production company.