Recording electric guitar at home: without an amp


There was a time when the only way to record electric guitar was to plug a guitar into an amp, put a mic up to the grille cloth and press record on a tape machine. Nowadays, guitarists have a wealth of options to choose from when recording their instrument, including many that don’t involve a guitar amp at all.

Here are some of our favourite options for recording electric guitar at home without an amp.

1.   Using an interface and plugins

This couldn’t be simpler: plug your guitar into your interface and hit record in your DAW.  The idea here is to use the processing power of your computer and plug-ins to build a digital “amp-plus-effects” signal chain.

The best example we’ve seen is Pete Thorn’s demo using nothing but the Apollo Twin interface, UAD plugins and his old Strat.  Awesome.

Using our own Apollo systems, we have got some good Marshall-y tones using the Softube Vintage Amp Room Half Stack, which comes as part of the suite of UAD plugins with Apollo interfaces.

Want to go smaller?  Plug your guitar into your smartphone or tablet via a small interface like the Line6 Sonic Port or IK iRig, pop in your earphones and hit record, anywhere, any time.  Paul has previously covered tablet/smartphone recording on this blog.

2.   Using a guitar processor w/ DSP

The Fractal Audio Systems AxeFX was probably the first all-in-one digital solution that had guitarists selling off their pedal boards and Marshall stacks for this 2U black box and a powered speaker.  Live and in the studio, it was a game-changer.

Because the AxeFX has processing power on board (does not rely on computer DSP) guitarists can craft their guitar tones during recording/rehearsals, saving presets as they go, and then take those same tones with them out to live shows.  And because the AxeFX connects to computer via USB, it serves as a sophisticated and powerful recording interface.

Likewise, the AVID Eleven Rack has stood up admirably since its release in 2009, and, like the AxeFX, serves both as a recording interface and stand-alone guitar processor for live use.  We have had good results from “Stereo Matches” (Matchless MS30 amps in stereo) for clean, jangly single-coil sounds or “Outfoxed” (Marshall Plexi) for overdriven Marshall rhythm sounds.

A less expensive and still useable option would be recording direct via USB from a multi-effects processor like the Boss GT-001, or the Boss ME-80, as our very own Matt Davis shall now demonstrate.

3.   Using an amp/speaker simulator

The idea here is to replace your combo amp with a pedal: let’s face it, it’s a big call.  None the less, the Tech 21 Character series pedals are worth a look, from the originators of the “sans-amp” (sorry) concept.  Here’s an example using only a pedalboard and the Tech 21 Liverpool (AC30-style) pedal direct into a recording interface. Close your eyes, and I’m not sure I would have guessed there was no amp involved.


So there you have it…three options for recording your guitar at home without even powering up your amp.  Recording this way is likely to appeal to guitarists already familiar with a DAW environment, and who want the option to mix their guitar tones after the performance.  Yes, it can be a bit fiddly auditioning sounds and, yes, it is a departure from traditional recording methods, but recording without an amp can yield authentic and pleasing results.

Oh, and all these options give you the ability to achieve cranked up, overdriven sounds at bedroom volume – your family and neighbours will thank you.

How do you record your guitar currently?
Which bits of gear are your favourites?  Which ones have you found useful or given you good results?
Which bits of gear have I missed? 

Next time we’ll take a look at options for recording electric guitar at home with an amp.

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