10 Things To Do Before Recording Guitar

You’ve written an amazing song and now you’re ready to record. Whether you’re a solo act or part of a band, recording electric guitar or acoustic, there are many things to consider before hitting the record button.

From obvious points such as practicing your parts to the often overlooked like checking your equipment, as a guitarist, you should have considered each before you record your final tracks.

To make sure you don’t miss anything and to help you record the best possible tracks you can, we’ve compiled this list of 10 things to do before recording guitar. Check them out:

Before Recording Day:

1. Practice

First up is practice. This is the most obvious point yet it still goes overlooked. Every type of musician is guilty of this. When it comes to recording, you need to practice, practice, and practice. Then, practice some more.

If you really want to record a tight song, you need to practice your parts over and over again until playing them becomes second nature.

This is not only going to make your song tighter, your recording session is going to go a lot faster since you won’t waste time rerecording any sections where you messed up. If you’re recording at a professional studio, time is money and the quicker you can record, the less you’ll spend.

Additionally, you should practice to a click track or metronome before recording. It’s surprising how many musicians have never practiced or recorded to a click before heading to a studio.

When you lay down your final recording, 99 times out of a 100, you will be recording to a set tempo (which means you should also decide on a set BPM before you hit the studio). Very few bands record songs that don’t stick to a set tempo.

Often, drums are recorded first when tracking a full band. However, there are times when guitar is recorded first. In this case, you better be prepared.

Either way, practicing to a click will allow you to play in time and get used to the song’s tempo.

The overarching theme here is that you want your playing to be as tight as possible and you don’t want to waste time in the studio. For most rock songs, and even many other genres, guitar is double tracked. This means the same part is recorded twice and then panned left and right in the mix.

Sloppy playing will only be amplified when your guitar tracks are doubled. So make sure to practice as much as you can.

2. Make Sure Everyone is On the Same Page

If you’re recording with a full band, especially one with multiple guitarists, it’s best to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Recording in a studio can be the first time other band members really hear what you’re playing and vice versa. At practice, it can be tough to hear and focus on what everyone else is playing when you need to concentrate on your instrument.

Come recording, you might find that the bass player is playing something out of sync from what you’re playing and one of you will need to adjust. Additionally, if you’re in a band where two guitarists are supposed to play the same part, you may notice that the two of you are playing something slightly different.

Lastly, for solos, some players have the mindset that it’s best to “freestyle” and come up with an amazing solo the day of recording.

However, very few professional guitar players actually do this. More than likely, that guitarist is just going to waste time and money to create a solo that’s less than stellar.

To combat all of these issues, it’s best to make a final decision on all parts before heading to the studio. If you can, record everyone’s individual parts. It doesn’t need to be fantastic quality. You just need to clearly hear what everyone is playing.

Then, sit down with your band and listen. This way you’ll be able to identify any problem areas and decide on the parts everyone should be playing.

3. Change Your Strings

Next up, it’s time to consider the age of your guitar strings. Do you know the last time you changed them?

You want your guitar tone to sound full, not flat and dead. Playing on old strings can kill your tone, so it’s a good idea to change your strings before any final recording.

Personally, I like the tone of my strings after I’ve played a new set for a few hours and they’ve had some time to settle in. This will depend on the type of strings you use and the tone you’re looking for, but I would recommend doing the same.

Change your strings the day before or a few days before you plan to do your final recording. Then, play your guitar for at least a few hours between then. This will allow your strings to settle and also you won’t have issues with constant tuning.

4. Check Your Equipment

The last thing you want to find out when you get to the studio is that something in your signal chain doesn’t work. Here are a few things to check, from your guitar all the way down to your pedalboard:

  • Check your guitar’s intonation. You want to make sure that everything sounds in tune across your entire fretboard.
  • Check the inputs on your guitar, amp, and pedals. Make sure there are no loose connections. This can cause buzz, crackles, and/or popping noises.
  • Check your cables. Make sure that the ends of the cables are intact and that there are no kinks in the cable. Additionally, make sure you have a few longer cables with you just in case.
  • Hook up your entire signal chain and listen for buzz or hum. There are a lot of things that can cause these types of noises and you don’t want them in your final recordings. Bad cables, loose connections, and even electrical noise from outlets can be the culprit. You will want to identify and eliminate these issues before recording.

5. Decide on Guitar Effects

Many guitarists like to use effects on their tracks. However, when it comes to recording, you typically have more options than you do when playing live. You can use plugins, a multi-effects pedal, or individual analog pedals.

You should take some time to make a decision on the type of effects you want to use and note the settings.

Since I do a lot of home recording, this allows me to adjust effect settings after recording a guitar track. Whereas if I use a pedal, I would be stuck with that tone and I’d have to rerecord whenever I wanted to adjust a setting. You may find that a similar setup works for you.

6. Learn How to Use a Recording Program

Whether you plan to record your final tracks at home or in a professional studio, learning how to use a recording program (often referred to as a “DAW”) will help tremendously.

You’ll be able to record demos, gain experience recording, and get used to “punching in” (which means to record a specific section of the song).

Pick the recording program that works for you. There are many powerful DAWs and some are easier to learn than others.

If you’re having a hard time choosing a DAW, this article will help.

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On Recording Day:

7. Warm Up

On the day of recording, take some time to warm-up. If you’re recording at a professional recording studio, give yourself enough time to warm-up before heading over. This way, you won’t waste time at the studio.

Stretch your fingers, get your hands warm, run through any practices and warm-up exercises you like, and then run through guitar parts you will be recording.

If you don’t have any favorite warm-up exercise or stretches, here a few good ones to check out.

8. Dial in Your Amp Tone

Next, make sure to spend time dialing in your amp tone. Preferably, you should do this before heading to the studio or at least have an idea where you typically like to set your amp’s dials.

Then, you can do some fine tweaking at the studio. Your tone will be affected by the type of microphone used to record your cabinet. So some final adjustments may be necessary.

After that, if you’re recording electric guitar through a tube amp, make sure to allow some time for the tubes to warm up. A tube amp sounds best when the tubes are hot. So turn your amp on as soon as you get to the studio and spend some time playing before your final recording.

9. Choose Your Recording Equipment

Before your final recording, you should also spend time deciding on the recording equipment you will use. This includes:

  • Deciding on an individual speaker to mic. No one speaker sounds the same. If you have a cabinet with multiple speakers (such as a 2×12 for 4×12), mic up each speaker, and decide which one you like the best.
  • Decide on a microphone and mic placement. A standard for recording electric guitar is the Shure SM57 but that doesn’t mean it will be your favorite. If you have time and your budget allows it, try to run through a few different mics to see which one you like best.
  • Choose a room to record in. The room you record in can have an effect on your sound too. If you’re recording at home, you may want to test out a few different rooms. Especially, if you’re recording acoustic guitar. Some rooms may have a drier sound than others.

For specific guitar recording tips such as microphone placement, I’d recommend checking out this article.

10. Tune Your Guitar

The last thing you want is to record the perfect take only to find out that your recording is out of tune. When you get to the studio, make sure to tune your guitar.

You should also routinely check the tuning of your guitar throughout your recording session. This will ensure your guitar is in tune before every take.

The sound of your out-of-tune guitar will only be amplified and more noticeable when double tracking. So you need to make sure everything is in tune. Run your guitar through a tuner pedal, keep a tuner clip on your guitar neck, or keep open a tuner plugin on the computer screen when recording.

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Rebecca10 Things To Do Before Recording Guitar

7 comments

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  • George O'Gorman - May 17, 2018 reply

    …in A440, or the rest of the instruments will be out.

  • Lori Lynn - May 17, 2018 reply

    My husband and I have been writing and recording songs together for about 11 years, all of these points of advice are very valid…some of which were a great learning curve. Definitely learn how to record at home with recording software…we like krystal …it is easy to use. Also if you can buy a recording device you can directly connect your cables and mics right into one device rather than have to go through two or three connections into a computer, this gives a clearer more professional sound…Then you can import the recordings into a computer for mixing and mastering.

  • Stäni Steinbock - May 17, 2018 reply

    “Very few bands record songs that don’t stick to a set tempo.” The Rolling Stones is one. 🙂

    Lori Lynn - May 17, 2018 reply

    what about prog rock…which is full of tempo, time, and key signature changes.

  • Marie - May 18, 2018 reply

    I actually prefer to record guitar without a click track. For me, it sounds more real because we all know not everyone is on top of each beat perfectly. It’s more authentic that way and gives it more feeling.

  • Edward Davis - May 18, 2018 reply

    all great points! wish i had gone over these with my band before attempting to record them! now i know that when i record a band, i pretty much have to give them this checklist otherwise it’s a pretty big and frustrating waste of time. i will say that recording to a metronome is a more modern thing though. many of the classic bands didn’t do that. they either recorded all parts at once, or the drummer set down the groove first, and everyone else matched their tracks to that. oh, and the prog rock and djent people DEFINITELY record their stuff to a metronome- for the fella asking. it’s just a programmable metronome that changes often as does the time signature. if you ever get a look at a prog rock/metal bands recording tracks, they are a nightmare of takes, punch ins, and such. very, very, very few sections of songs are played in one take or pass. personally, i prefer the natural sound of a humans sense of rhythm to a metronome if the drummer is good enough to lay it down. but it still surprises me how few musicians can play to a metronome, and it should absolutely be practiced before going into a studio. one thing the old rock bands had was that they sounded organic, because they were playing by feel rather than by mathematical mechanical perfection. (ei. metronome) the advantage of a metronome is that you can cut and paste different takes together because they are all at the exact same tempo and rhythm. metronomes are useful for musicians that come to the studio not being able to play their parts because the takes are all at the exact same tempo and rhythm. you can splice just the second or so of good playing(s) together to make a full song later in editing. but it does end up sounding too perfect and mechanical to some. plus it’s a LOT more work for the recording engineer. by the time their done splicing together all of the crappy takes, they are too tired and frustrated to actually mix the song well!

  • Wayne - May 20, 2018 reply

    Being a solo writer/musician/performer I tend not to use a click track, of course that being said, it is true cutting and pasting can have it’s issues. I do tend to think I have more freedom for “feeling” the song without that hard timing of a click, but I do record at home though, and would probably rethink this approach if I were paying for studio time.
    All the other points hear are valid, practice, practice, practice, change your strings, and for God’s sake keep that thing in tune. Nothing worse than listening back to a great recording to hear that one note that will drive you crazy forever.

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