by Rich Tozzoli
Whether you’re recording in your bedroom or at a high-end studio, these very simple recording techniques can have a huge, positive impact on the sound you lay down.
1. Put the mic directly on the cabinet.
To get an in-your-face sound, try taking a classic Shure SM57 and jamming it right on the cabinet, just to the right or left of the cone’s center. You’ll get a little proximity effect, which is basically some added bass response. Use it to your advantage and try to keep the EQ’ing to a minimum.
2. Axis, Bold as Tone
By taking that Shure SM57 (or similar) mic and just slightly changing its angle in relation to the speaker, you’re miking “off axis.” The tonal character will change a bit; and at this point, experimentation is key. If you can, have a friend move it a little at a time as you listen on headphones or in the control room. You’ll hear that magic spot. When you find it, take pictures so you remember the exact positioning.
3. Change your tubes.
If you’ve got a tube amp, don’t just assume the tubes are good. You’d probably change your strings in anticipation of a recording, right? Give your tubes the same consideration. Always have a second set on hand, and unless you’re a complete traditionalist, try a set from a different manufacturer than your originals. All tubes have slightly different attack and breakup, even amps of the same type and rating. Use your ears and don’t get lazy.
4. Use more than one mic.
Even if you’re recording for yourself, don’t settle on using just one mic. If you have to, borrow an extra mic from a friend. It doesn’t have to be a vintage Neumann. Place the second mic either on the cabinet next to the first one or farther back in the room. Any functioning mic is worth a try. You’ll have more tonal options when it comes time for mixdown.
5. Compress the room.
When that second mic mentioned above is used as a room mic, place it at least 3 feet away from the cabinet —preferably even farther back. Then, when listening back, try applying a massive amount of compression to that room mic. Make sure not to compress the attack out of the notes; just get enough so that it squashes the peaks down a bit. You can always use the compressor’s makeup gain to get more volume.
6. Use wide panning.
When it comes time to mix your two amp-mic tracks together, pan the two tracks oppositely; that is, pan one hard left and the other hard right. You’ll notice the soundstage in the Left/Right field opening up. Then experiment with putting a very short delay on the room mic, around 30-50 ms. A very nice stereo image can be had using just two simple mics and a delay.
7. Use more than one amp.
If you’ve got the gear for it, split your signal (either with a stereo FX pedal or DI) and run your guitar into two different amps. Like having two mics, the two separate amp sounds give you more options at mixdown. When recording heavily distorted parts, try to minimize the distortion on a second amp and increase a bit of treble, which helps the pick attack cut through a dense mix.
Rich Tozzoli is a Grammy-nominated engineer, mixer, producer and composer. He has worked with artists such as Ace Frehley, Al DiMeola and David Bowie, among many more, and is the author of Pro Tools Surround Sound Mixing. Rich is also a lifelong guitarist and composer. His work can be heard regularly on FoxNFL, HBO, and Discovery Channel, and he’s recently released the full-length Rhythm Up.