The Secrets Of Recording Guitar In The Studio

by Tom Hess

If you want to become a very successful professional musician and increase your chances of getting into a real PROFESSIONAL band (such as a band that sells hundreds of thousands or millions of records), there are many things you will need to know and do.  One of the realities you will have to deal with in the process of reaching this goal is learning how to record guitar well in the studio.  To increase your chances for success in this area of the music industry you must develop the ability to record your musical parts at a high level while staying within established deadlines and without going over budget. 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of guitar players (including many highly advanced guitarists) never even begin to think about developing their studio recording skills until they realize how much they lack them.  Regardless of how well you are able to play guitar in your bedroom (or even live, in front of an audience), walking into the studio for the first time to record an album will quickly make you aware of the weaknesses in your guitar playing that you never knew you had.  The reason why is because the ability to record well in the studio requires a highly specialized and unique set of skills that most guitar players never take the time to develop.  As a result, most guitarists who are new to recording often end up in a frustrating situation of having good general musical skills but struggling greatly with recording even simple guitar parts "flawlessly" in the studio. 

Why do you need to learn how to record well in the studio?

When your band decides to make an album and walk into a recording studio, studio costs for you (and your band) can run anywhere from $50-500 per hour (depending on the quality of the studio where you are recording).  The longer it takes for you (and other musicians in your band) to record the parts for your songs, the more money your band (or the record company) has to pay in studio time.  In addition, if your band spends hundreds of hours recording an album and the musical parts are STILL not recorded up to the expected standard of quality, the studio engineer will have to spend time AGAIN editing the takes that were less than perfect (charging you the same hourly rate the second time to fix the mistakes that could have been prevented in the first place). 

The reality for most bands with a finite recording budget is that they either have to settle for a less than ideal sounding recording in order to avoid exceeding the budget, or (more common) the record company may bring in session players (studio musicians) who can record the needed parts quickly, reliably and accurately for the band's album instead of using the actual members of the band.  This happens A LOT more often than you may think, even if this fact is never publically revealed to the fans or the media. 

Fortunately, you can avoid this "expensive headache" by learning how to prepare yourself for recording your guitar parts quickly and consistently in the studio.  This skill is something you must practice, just like you practice other areas of your guitar playing.  The problem is that the ability to "record" guitar parts well needs to be practiced in a different way than your other musical skills.  This partly explains why many highly advanced guitar players struggle greatly to record even simple things PERFECTLY in the studio. 

Spending more time simply "practicing to record" will help you to some extent, but unless you know what the common recording mistakes are and how to avoid them, you will have no way of measuring your progress in this area. 

To help you avoid the common frustrations of teaching yourself how to record in the studio, check out this free studio recording guide for guitar players to learn about the most common mistakes guitar players make when recording their music and how to fix them. 

By far, the hardest part about recording an album in the studio is getting the rhythm guitar recordings to be totally "tight".  Most guitar players only think about playing "in time" when they think about playing rhythm guitar.  Although playing guitar in time is obviously very important, it is only one of many things you need to pay attention to while recording guitar parts.  Here is a partial list of what goes into creating a perfect rhythm guitar track:

  • Making the palm muting totally consistent on all of the guitar tracks. 
  • Having the recorded guitars be in tune and intonated perfectly with the other instruments, especially orchestral instruments.  Hint: If you tune your guitar for recording in the studio in the "normal" way you do for regular playing, you will have a VERY hard time doing this!  Get this free studio recording guide for guitar players to learn how to avoid this common problem. 
  • Having the guitars be in time with the drums and bass. 
  • Having the notes of all the chords be perfectly "stable".
  • Minimizing or eliminating excess string noise (that comes either from sliding between power chords or from the strings that you are not playing). 
  • Controlling the level of pick articulation and the tone that comes from the pick attack. 

None of the above listed elements are all that hard to pay attention to and control in isolation.  However, when it comes to recording in the studio, you must do the following:

  1. Get ALL of the above elements (not just 1 or 2 of them) to be absolutely PERFECT on all of your tracks, leaving no room for imperfection.
  2. Record each guitar part perfectly at least TWICE to double track (or 4 times to quad track) the rhythm guitars.
  3. Do steps 1 and 2 for all of your guitar parts in as little time as possible in order to save you, your band and your record company A WHOLE LOT of money in studio costs!

When you begin recording guitar parts in the studio, you will quickly realize that doing all the steps above can be very challenging if you do not yet have a lot of experience of recording albums on a professional level.  Fortunately, there are several steps that you can take to greatly improve your skills in this area. 

  1. First, test yourself to find out where your studio recording skills are at this moment.  Use this free studio recording guide for guitar players that will help you to determine if you are making any of the most common recording mistakes.
  2. If you are like most guitar players (including myself years ago), you will realize that you have a lot of work ahead of you.  When you discover your specific strengths and weaknesses for recording guitar in the studio, begin taking actions that are needed to improve in this area of your musicianship (the free guide above will help you to get started with this).
  3. Do not become frustrated!  Remember that learning how to record well in the studio can be mastered just like any other area of your guitar playing.  Although this skill is typically one of the most "under practiced" for the vast majority of musicians, you CAN improve it to the same level as your other musical abilities.  Stay persistent and continue working on it.  As with all areas of your guitar playing, you will make faster progress with developing your studio recording skills by studying with an expert guitar teacher. 

Consistently working on your recording skills will put you many steps ahead of the vast majority of other aspiring professional musicians and will make it much easier to reach your music career goals. 

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