Plugging In, Episode 2: The One Where I Record with Electric Guitar for the First Time
It hadn’t occurred to me that recording with an electric guitar would be all that different from recording acoustic. I was wrong.
Over the years, I have developed a decent working knowledge of Pro Tools and have access to some nice mics. I’ve learned the proper mic’ing technique for recording acoustic guitar and have experimented with mic placement, mixing in the built-in pickup track, EQ-ing and more in order to get a pretty good acoustic recording.
I even engineered and mixed a whole album of my son’s elementary school principal singing and playing guitar with the kids for a fundraiser.
When I was invited to spend a couple of hours on the John Lennon Educational Tour bus to record one of my songs, I was super-excited. And since I had just jumped into the world of electric guitar, I was eager to see what would happen if I just walked in with my Fender Pawn Shop guitar and laid down a quick track. But hey, those bus engineers are pros; what if I wanted to do some recording at home?
Before I headed over to the bus, I was going to do a quick scratch track for the bus guys to hear, but then I realized I had no idea how to record electric guitar. And no time, either. So I headed over there cold turkey, determined to ask a whole lotta questions while we were making musical magic.
As we were setting up, we talked about options for recording electric at home. Of course, I could just mic my amp. I remember talking to producer Bob Rock, who recommended placing mics in the front and back of your amp and then mixing it to your liking. Cool idea, but I’d have to be really in love with my amp tone, ‘cause that would be forever imprinted in my recording.
What else? I could plug into my amp’s input and then go out from the line out or headphone jack. Then I could add effects and other fun stuff digitally later on.
I could beg, borrow or steal a DI box (Well, I wouldn’t steal). That little baby’s job is to boost the signal so it’s hot enough to record and to adjust the impedance. Sounds complicated, but no, it's actually quite simple.
I could use some other kind of modeling device that has a preamp, like a Line 6 POD. Or a multi-effects processor. Of course, I don’t have any of those just sitting around.
What about plugging into my iPhone with something like an AmpKit LiNK and then using an app like AmpKit to get a decent sound and take the out from that into my MBox interface? That would work, too.
Wow! So many possibilities, and there are probably a few more. I will try one (or all) of them when I have a minute to breathe.
For those of you unfamiliar with the fabulous, non-profit John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, this amazing vehicle is equipped with a dream recording and video studio. It travels to festivals and events and also visits many schools throughout the U.S. Sometimes they offer tours, and other times they invite lucky students to record projects. So they are used to maximizing time and getting tracks down quickly. In my two allotted hours, I was assured I’d get a recording plus a music video. Wowza!
I brought my trusty Solid Cables guitar cable and my favorite clip-on tuner, but other than that I was at the mercy of the bus’ awesome state-of-the-art Pro Tools HD system. I am spoiled for life now. Ryan, the engineer, plugged me into Avid’s Eleven Rack, a bitchin’ guitar interface with lots of cool amp and effect models.
We played around a little bit with sounds, but he assured me we could fiddle with it more later, that initially I should just pick a sound that felt good to me and dig in.
After a take to adjust my levels, we recorded the guitar part to a click track. Yuck. Note to self: Practice to a click track more. Getting the timing right on is hard, and I admit, we had to punch in a pesky C#m chord once or twice. But otherwise it went pretty smoothly. I was rockin’!
Next we did a few lead vocal takes using a beautiful Audio Technica mic. I swear, the sound was right for my voice almost from the get go. Very velvety. A few times through and then we played with some backing ooo’s and aaa’s and a few harmonies.
We Do Video
Next came the video part, and here’s where I made a mistake. I realized that when I play acoustic, I am almost always seated. And so I had been practicing electric seated, too. But when I stood up to play during the video recording, my hand position is slightly different. My conclusion? I need to practice standing up a whole lot more. It’s good for me anyway, ‘cause in addition to my lead singing duties, I’ll be jamming out on guitar with the band soon on a few songs. Yes, three guitar players in the band are just NOT enough!
I swear to you. I literally finished writing this song on Sunday, recorded it Tuesday, the bus guys came over for dinner on Wednesday with a rough video edit, and now here it is. Luckily I have no lyric regrets … you know, those “I SHOULD have said that word instead” stuff. There’s something to be said for spitting it out and laying it down.
Anyhow, here it is, dear readers. Remember, this was recorded in only two hours by a couple of magicians. I give to you my very first electric guitar recording, “Don’t Take It Easy.”
Next episode, I acquire a killer tube amp and show up at band rehearsal with an awesome rig. Girls love tubes, too.
Oh, and if you want to check out the bus a bit more, take the video tour!
Laura B. Whitmore is a singer/songwriter based in the San Francisco bay area. A veteran music industry marketer, she has spent over two decades doing marketing, PR and artist relations for several guitar-related brands including Marshall and VOX. Her company, Mad Sun Marketing, represents 65amps, Acoustic Bass Amps, Agile Partners, Guitar World and many more. Laura was instrumental in the launch of the Guitar World Lick of the Day app. She is the co-producer of the Women's Music Summit and the lead singer for the rock band, Summer Music Project. More at mad-sun.com.