How To Record a Guitar Amp?: The Complete Guide
Recording a guitar amp can be a daunting task because the wrong method will end up with a terrible audio clip. However, there are a couple of ways that you can record your amp with only a couple of cables, an audio interface, and a microphone.
To record a guitar amp, place a microphone in front of the amp, then plug the microphone into an audio interface. Connect the interface to your PC, then open your desired digital audio workstation to record it. You can also plug the amp directly into the audio interface if you want to skip the mic.
In this post, I’ll explain how you can record a guitar amp with or without a microphone. I’ll also show you all of the equipment and software you need.
1. Place a Microphone in Front of the Amp
Proper mic placement is everything. If your microphone isn’t positioned correctly, you’ll end up recording too much bass or treble and not enough of the other. Lewitt Audio reports that the further you get from 90 degrees (perpendicular to the amp), the less treble you’ll record.
Follow these tips to get the most out of your mic placement:
- Keep your mic between one to four inches (2.5-10 cm) from the amp or 6 to 10 inches (15-25 cm) if you have two mics.. The mic should never touch the amp because it’ll alter the sound and make it more likely to shake and rattle. Start around an inch (2.5 cm), then slowly move the mic away from the amp until you like the results.
- Make sure your mic can’t move around or vibrate against another surface. I suggest using a mic stand, but you can also use a shock mount if your mic is clipped to a table. Not only will it prevent unwanted thuds if you bump the mic, but it also stops the microphone from moving away when you’re trying to record.
- Change the mic’s angle to adjust the sound quality and frequency. Pointing the mic toward the middle of the amp will make the treble much more noticeable. If it’s pointed away from the amp, it’ll sound a bit muddy and hard to hear. However, a mix of the two directions can help you introduce unique tones.
- Avoid bidirectional or omnidirectional microphones when recording your guitar amp. Both of these mic styles pull sounds from multiple sources, including directions that will undoubtedly cause white noise. Your guitar amp recording will sound clouded and you’ll likely hear fans, computer noises, and other issues.
Your microphone should always be set to its unidirectional option. Some microphones have multiple settings, such as the Blue Snowball mic. Point the mic’s grate toward the amp at all times.
Check out our guide on the Best Microphones for Guitar Amps
2. Choose an Audio Interface
There are many types of audio interfaces, including various brands and connection ports. For example, you could choose one with XLR cables, TLR cables, or USB connections for easier computer compatibility. Audio interfaces are essential for high-quality audio recording through a guitar amp.
Here’s how you can choose the right audio interface:
- Consider which connections and cables you need. If you have a mic with XLR cables, make sure you get an audio interface with XLR inputs. These ports allow you to connect high-quality microphones. In most cases, an XLR mic will sound better than a USB mic.
- Determine how many inputs and outputs you’ll require. If you’re recording your guitar amp with two microphones (also known as multi-mic’ing), you’ll need two or more outputs. The same goes for recording multiple instruments simultaneously with various inputs. Keep in mind that digital audio workstations let you layer multiple tracks.
- Look for numerous brands to find out which quality suits your taste and budget. I prefer
Focusritebecause they’re budget-friendly and easy to use. Avoid drop-shipping brands if you want better quality. A high-end audio interface can make a world of difference, even if you use all of the same settings.
- Find out how much power your microphone needs. If you have a high-end condenser mic, you might need 48V power. Fortunately, the vast majority of modern audio interfaces come with a 48V power button. If yours doesn’t have one, you’ll have to get a different mic. Additionally, 48V power AIs don’t work with most smartphone DAWs.
- Decide if you want to connect your headphones to your PC or your audio interface. I recommend plugging your earbuds directly into the audio interface because you can hear the amp, pickup, AI, and DAW simultaneously. This setup allows you to make the quickest edits without swapping headphones or using Bluetooth.
Audio interfaces are much more budget-friendly these days. I use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Audio Interface (available on Amazon.com). It comes with two inputs and a USB-C cable that connects to a computer. This interface is significantly better than my previous Behringer interface because it doesn’t sound nearly as tinny, toyish, or digital.
Check out our guide on the Best Audio Interfaces for Guitars
3. Connect the Audio Interface to a Computer
All you have to do is plug the audio interface into your computer’s USB port. If your computer has different ports, make sure you choose high-quality adapters; otherwise, they’ll severely reduce the audio interface’s quality.
Follow these steps for a secure AI connection:
- Type ‘Device Manager’ in your computer’s search bar (or look for ‘Devices’ if you have a Macbook).
- Choose ‘Audio Inputs and Outputs’ (Macbooks skip this step).
- Select your audio interface, then click ‘Connect.’
Note: Some computers won’t show the audio interface. Instead, they’ll list the device connected to the AI (such as the microphone or amp).
Additionally, you’ll have to register your audio interface on your digital audio workstation. Connecting it to your computer allows the DAW to recognize it much more quickly. It also prevents the DAW from randomly dropping the AI’s signal or thinking it’s not the default setting. In most cases, a DAW will naturally go to the computer’s built-in microphone and speakers.
4. Adjust Your Equipment
It’s important to note that a DAW and an audio interface won’t replace the adjustment you make on your amp, pickup, and microphone. Instead, digital changes layer on top of the settings on each piece of equipment. For example, an amp without any volume won’t produce enough sound for your DAW to edit.
Try these quick, simple equipment adjustments before using a DAW:
- Make sure there’s enough volume coming from the amp to make it sound like a live performance. Everything should be set as you’d want it to sound in the recording. You’ll be able to make plenty of subtle adjustments in the digital audio workstation, though.
- Check if your audio interface has special modes, such as Air or INST. Each AI has unique onboard settings. Air mode adds clarity, especially when you’re dealing with low-quality cables or a bad pickup. On the other hand, INST allows you to remove some of the impedance coming from noisy electric guitar amps.
- Check your computer to ensure the microphone has the desired input volume (not in the DAW). Most microphones have small gain and volume knobs. Make sure they’re high enough to hear them through the DAW. If your mic’s volume is too low, the audio interface will have to compensate with more gain.
- You won’t need to change the DAW too much if you have pedals or onboard effects. This is the best route if you want to record through the DAW without making any changes on the digital side. It’s also a great method for those who don’t know how to use digital audio workstations.
- Don’t forget to adjust the pickup. Your pickup is the start of the whole recording chain. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten to adjust the volume on my pickup before recording through a guitar amp. You don’t need to maximize the volume, treble, or bass, but a little bit of each is crucial.
5. Open a Digital Audio Workstation
Much like audio interfaces, digital audio workstations are extremely common and quite affordable. In fact, there are plenty of free DAWs you can choose from. Some of the most well-known DAWs include GarageBand, Cakewalk, Presonus, and Avid Pro Tools. You can use a DAW while recording any amp.
Remember, some amps have various effects and other settings that can alter the DAW. This is a huge component when comparing modeling amps vs. solid-state amps.
Here’s the process I go through when using a DAW to record my guitar amp:
- Change the gain and volume as needed. The outgoing volume shouldn’t be too high because it’ll make wearing headphones unbearable. I usually increase the headphone volume ¾ of the way, then make subtle adjustments to the gain and volume until it sounds good enough.
- Adjust the low, mid, and high on the three-band EQ. The low knob controls the bass, the high knob controls the treble, and the mid knob controls mid-level frequencies. Even the slightest EQ adjustments make a huge difference. Avoid changing them simultaneously.
- Consider adding some reverb and ambiance to widen the tones. Both of these options are great for making your recording sound more like a live performance. Much like EQ, a little goes a long way. Too much reverb can turn into a repetitive echo. Too much ambiance can overshadow the undertones in the music.
- Try different effects, including distortion, echo, etc. You can make more adjustments on a digital audio interface than you could with pedals and effects on modeling amps, tube amps, and so on. Many DAWs have tube amp effects that mimic old-school amplifiers for those who enjoy classic rock and jazz.
- Use some of the DAW’s presets if you’re a beginner. You can usually find various modes that alter the EQ and effects without the need for all of the knobs and switches. Click on these options if you know which style you prefer or which baseline you want to start with before making your final edits.
Digital audio workstations have come a long way in recent years. They can add countless effects, letting you make your guitar amp sound much more professional. You can also use DAWs on your smartphone, including Apple’s GarageBand and BandLab for Android, Windows, or Apple products.
How To Record a Guitar Amp Without a Microphone
To record a guitar amp without a microphone, you have to plug the amp into an audio interface. Your AI can connect to a PC or a laptop, then you can record and edit the audio waves. Another option is to plug a microphone into your amp and play your guitar through the mic if you have an acoustic guitar.
Follow these steps to record a guitar amp without a mic:
- Make Beats 101 explains that you can connect your amp directly to an audio interface. Plug the XLR cable or ¼-in (0.6 cm) amp cable into the amp. Connect the other end of the cable to the audio interface, ensuring that you use the correct input (turn your audio interface to its stereo setting, too).
- Plug your amp into your guitar, then plug the audio interface into your computer. You’ll likely have the same ¼-in (0.6 cm) cable for your amp and the guitar pickup. There are many types of audio interfaces, so make sure you have the correct connections. Many modern audio interfaces use USB 3.0 and USB-C ports.
- Open your DAW and register your audio interface, then click ‘Record.’ You should be able to locate the amp in the same way you’d recognize the mic through the AI. It’ll always list the audio interface, so you won’t see anything about which amp or microphone you’re using to record everything.
- You can adjust your pickup, amp, and audio interface settings. I often set everything at the halfway point on my guitar pickup, then make the remaining adjustments on the amp and the audio interface. It’s best to make extremely small changes to the AI’s gain since it greatly increases the incoming sound waves.
- When you’re done, edit the audio in the DAW to fine-tune it. You can use preset EQ adjustments or alter various settings, just as you would if you were recording the amp with a microphone. Some DAWs come with microphone sound effects to make it seem like you recorded the amp through a mic.
Recording your guitar amp without a microphone typically sounds a bit more digital than some musicians like. I prefer recording my guitar amp through a microphone because it sounds much more natural. It also lets you position the microphone to highlight different tones rather than making it sound like a digital pickup.
What To Know Before Recording a Guitar Amp
Before recording a guitar amp, you should know that your audio interface can make or break it. Additionally, the DAW you’re working with will change the results. It’s also important to note that all other pieces of equipment still impact the sound, even though many of them have the same adjustment options (treble, bass, volume, etc.).
Let’s take a detailed look at these concerns:
- A low-end audio interface can ruin your guitar amp recording. Modern USB audio interfaces are significantly better than they used to be. Nevertheless, I recommend steering clear of those third-party AIs you’ll see on Amazon and other marketplaces. Look for well-known brands, such as
- Choosing an incompatible or low-quality DAW can ruin the recording. You should be able to identify your recording device right away (the device will either be an audio interface or your microphone). Cycle through some of your DAW’s presets if you’re not familiar with recording options.
- Listen to your amp recording with headphones to hear all of the nuances. You’ll hear everything a lot clearer than you would if you relied on your computer’s built-in speakers. Also, most people will likely listen to your recording through headphones. You’ll get a better idea of what they’d hear with this method.
- Some microphones require 48V phantom power when you plug them into audio interfaces. Make sure you have an audio interface that has a 48V button. Plug in the microphone, then turn on the 48V phantom power. Your mic won’t register in the DAW if you don’t use the proper power selection.
- Make sure you record in stereo mode. Mono recording will only record in one ear or speaker. You’ll hear half of the amplifier. Turn it on stereo recording in the DAW and on your audio interface. Make sure your microphone is plugged into the correct dual or stereo port on the AI, too.
The best way to learn the ropes of recording a guitar amp is to just do it. Plug your amp into your audio interface or use a mic, then start editing and recording. All digital audio workstations have EQ adjustments, so you’ll be able to make the necessary changes on your computer.
There are so many ways to record your guitar amp. You don’t need all sorts of fancy gear or a recording studio. In fact, many guitars have pickups that let you plug them directly into an audio interface without an amp.