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Four Basic Studio Guitar Tips

Updated: Mar 24

Ahoy! It’s Nick here, and today I’m going to be sharing some tips on one of the most fun jobs in the world… plugging in and recording electric guitar in the studio.


It took me a while to crack onto these things when recording guitar, and I wished I’d known them from the start – so I’ve written this tutorial with beginners in mind. But hey, if you’re a more experienced player… it can’t hurt to scrub up anyway.


1. Have a mixture of guitars on hand


No matter how much your heart is set on using particular guitar for a session, it could end up being completely wrong once you hit record. The sound might be off, or you might find your fingers aren’t gelling as cleanly with the neck as you expected… after all, the clinical nature of the studio will expose your technique a lot more than the loud, raucous environment you’re used to in the rehearsal room or on stage. Try to grab a few guitars with different pickups for sonic variety, and different scale lengths for finger flexibility. Many studios (including ours) will have a selection on offer, so factor that in too. And whatever you do – make sure the guitars are set up to play well.



2. Plug into two (or more) amps


To quote Frasier Crane: if ‘less is more’, just think how much more ‘more’ will be! One nice amplifier in the studio will certainly do the trick, but here at Island we’re staunch advocates of splitting the signal and playing through a couple of different amplifiers.


It’s a real treat to hear the different amplifier voices working together, and blending them to taste in the mix will help you shape your sound in truly unique ways. It can even help you decide on the right tone later – for example, if you’re not sure how distorted you want a particular guitar part to be while you’re recording, set one amp up with a light overdrive and another amp up with angry levels of gain, and then when you eventually mix the song you can figure out which one you want to hear more of.


See what amps are on offer in the studio to pair up – or if you have a friend with a nice amp that’s a bit different to yours, ask if you can borrow it for a session. But just a warning: don’t go running through so many amps that you make it impossible for yourself to settle on a tonal blend later. To quote Jerry Seinfeld: that’s not gonna be good for anybody.



3. Be judicious with your effects


Believe it or not, if you have a pedalboard full of fancy boutique effects to bring into the studio, you may be better off not using them. Common sound-shaping effects like reverbs, delays, and choruses might be ‘always on’ pedals when you play live, but using them in the studio means they’ll be permanently baked into your recorded track, and you can't adjust them later.


Many years ago, I recorded one of the best improvised solos I’ve ever played on a track, but I did it using a reverb pedal – and after the session was done, I realised the effect was far more wet and overbearing than I thought at the time. It sucked, and I keep that experience in mind whenever I’m messing with my sound in the studio these days.


Of course, there will be times when you are absolutely certain you know what sound you want because it involves a particular effect pedal that is essential to the part. Otherwise, though, it pays to keep your guitar tone fairly basic – clean or dirty – and play with effects blends when you’re mixing the song later. Same goes for any effects that are built into your amp(s).



4. Talk with your engineer


I’ll briefly finish off with a piece of advice that often crops up in Island tutorials, for good reason. Your engineer is an invaluable resource to help you get the guitar sound you want – so talk to them! If it’s too thin or fat, too bright or dark, too clean or dirty… they’ll help you adjust things and sort it out. Your engineer is also the first person besides you to hear your guitar tone on record, and that makes them a great source of advice on the impression your sound is making… for example, if you’re intending to give your listeners a real country-style twangy sound, tell your engineer that, and ask them whether you’re hitting the mark.


So that’s it for now – four simple things to keep in mind. Hopefully these tips help you take some useful ideas into your next guitar session, and get you working more productively. Stay tuned for more guitar-focused content (and of course other good stuff) to come right here in the blog zone!


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