I just finished mixing a tune for my upcoming record. It’s a heavier song, mainly driven by a pair of fairly distorted electric guitars.

As is my custom, I mixed the song for a couple of hours, then I emailed the first version of the mix to a few friends to get their opinions. [Side-note: I cannot stress enough how important this is. I’m always really excited about the first “draft” of a mix, but there are always glaring issues that I just don’t hear until a friend points them out. My mixes are MUCH better after receiving critique from friends.]

Jon over at Audio Geek Zine wrote back. He always gives me really good, helpful ideas. And he’s honest, which I actually appreciate. [Another side-note: Don’t ask for opinions if you don’t handle criticism well. ;-)]

One of the things he said was

Lead guitar is kinda ragged and too loud. Too much distortion, don’t think you can change that at this point though.

After listening back, I realized he’s absolutely right. When I was recording the lead guitar part, I was “in the moment,” rocking away with everything cranked. However, as it turns out I could have achieved the same amount of energy with less distortion.

My only option at this point was to either accept it and deal with it or go back and re-record the guitar part. I chose to deal with it. Luckily, I was able to deploy some secret ninja EQ tactics to tame the lead guitar into submission.

However, had the guitar part been completely un-salvageable, I would have been stuck, and I would have HAD to play the part again (or worse, have a guitarist come in and play it).ย  If only I had recorded a copy of the dry guitar signal, I could simply re-amp it, dial in the correct tone, and be done with it.

Why Record the Direct Signal

I’m not saying you have to use guitar amp plug-ins to get your tone. Guitar amps are amazing, and you should definitely record them. However, try your best to also capture a copy of the direct, unprocessed guitar signal. You don’t even have to listen to it. It’s just nice to have it there in case of emergencies.

A few examples of why you’d want to have the direct signal:

  1. The guitarist loves the guitar tone, the producer and everyone else hate it. By recording the direct signal and re-amping it later, you can keep the guitarist happy (he doesn’t have to know), and you can make everyone else happy after the guitarist leaves.
  2. The guitar tone is great, but you want to try a different stylistic approach. Perhaps the guitarist’s tone is too bright, and you’d like to darken it up. Or maybe you just want to double the guitar part, but play it through a Vox amp instead of a Fender. With the direct signal, you can.
  3. The guitarist doesn’t have the right amp. Here’s a fairly common scenario, the guitarist is really good, and his performance is great, but he doesn’t own a really good amp, or at least not a good amp for the style of the song. You can record him, capture that performance, then re-amp through your buddy’s really nice amp a few weeks later. Just borrow your buddy’s amp for a weekend.

There are plenty of other scenarios, but you get the idea.

How to Re-Amp the Signal

It’s really as simple as it sounds. First off, you can just use an amp plug-in. Done.

Otherwise, you can route the direct signal out of one of the analog outputs of your DAW and through your favorite amp. The best way to do this is to run it through something like a Radial X-Amp, which converts a line-level signal back down to a high-impedance guitar signal (which is what the amp really wants to see).

However, you might still get results by just running the output directly into your amp. It’ll take some extra tweaking, but if you don’t have an X-Amp lying around, it might still work.

Don’t Go Crazy

While re-amping is cool and gives you lots of options, don’t over-do it. Having too many choices and options can kill your productivity. If you can, get it right at the source.

We live in an imperfect world, so in the off chance that you don’t get a great guitar tone on the first try, re-amping might be your hero.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know. You guys have been slacking on the comments lately. ๐Ÿ˜‰

[Photo by jdtornow]

28 Responses to “Why Record Direct Electric Guitar”

  1. Smart US

    great post. going in DI direction after years recording amped guitars… its just too loud at home.

  2. Ryan

    Hey Everyone,

    I have some questions if anyone knows. I compose music and play drums and keyboards but I don’t play guitar…yet.

    All of my guitar tracks up until now I’ve used Shreddage 2 by Impact Soundworks, which is a simulated guitar plugin. I double track the guitars and run them through various plugins (Revalver, Guitar Rig, Rammfire, – Anvil – Great free preamp plugin by Ignite Amps).

    Now, I am interested in learning electric guitar so I can lay down live tracks.

    My interface is a Presonus Audiobox going into Studio One Pro. It has two mic and 2 1/4″ inputs. Because of noise issues I need to avoid buying an amplifier (sucks, I know), so I want to run it direct and then just model the amps and pedals using my plugins within the DAW.

    1.) Can I just buy a cheap guitar since most of the signal is going to be “modeled” anyway?

    2.) Do I need anything on the “Line In” before it enters the audiobox (like a DI Box)?

    3.) Is there anything else you think I might need (besides a good guitar teacher)? ๐Ÿ˜›

    Thank you so much for any responses.

  3. Adicus Ryan Garton

    Good post. One thing I’d like to point out is that you can buy “smart” audio interfaces, that deliver impedance based on what is expected. I have a Infrasonic Quartet that does just that. Nothing else required other than to set up the internal routing, and the guitar I recorded is ready to go into the amp. I actually didn’t know about this feature when I bought the interface, and I did a few recording experiments to see how the audio-interface-to-amp-input sounded like, and it worked great. (And then I remembered to RTFM.)

  4. Hillel

    Hey Joe, I’ve been going through different options of how I should be recording guitar, Just curious, I know there’s a million plugins out there for this (including the stock ones with pro tools) but because I’m completely lost I wanted to ask someone who is a guitarist and records: is there any amp/effect simulator plugin that you would recommend? Something that you seem to use a lot whenever you’re not recording the amp?

    -as long as I’m here anyway just wanted to let you know that I’m hopefully gonna be springing for the VOX amp you recommended to me on the Ask Joe podcast (Hope that’s coming back soon) and I have a quick question about that too: Is there any reason to go with the head/cab option over the straight little amp?


  5. Music4602

    Guitar amp plug-ins have been a thorn for me. The number of choices of amplification that I’ve never played through, or also, don’t have the ear knowledge of what tone comes from which amp, leaves me unproductive because I stroll/scroll through most all the amps before being able to make a decision. I suppose the end result of all that listening will make me learn what amp generates what tone, but in the process of creation and early mix/edit it is cumbersome.
    Is there a faster way to get this information in my brain, or, am i having amp tone overload?

    • Joe Gilder

      I think you’re suffering from amp tone overload. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Having all those options is GREAT. It’s also bad. Too many options prevent us from actually completing anything. I would suggest finding 2 or 3 amp tones that you like, then only use those for a while.

      Get your focus back on recording and making music rather than tweaking presets.

  6. Ernesto

    I have an Mbox 2 pro and it has a DI input 1/4″, do I still need a DI box? also there are passive and active DI boxes which one would you recomend?

    thank you.

    • Joe Gilder

      A DI box wouldn’t be a bad idea. They tend to sound better than the DI inputs on interfaces. Active DI’s are good for guitars, but passive are cheaper and work fine, too.

  7. Al

    Re-amping? Absolutely!
    Lately I’ve been recording only the direct signal, and let me tell you; I’m so happy with the results. But, speaking of re-amping, I will probably going to buy a Eleven Rack by Avid/Digidesign.

    What makes that unique? 200%Compatibility with Protools! , no delay while recording, and u can use it on stage as a multieffect which I believe makes Line6 users to switch to this awesome product.
    So be sure to check that out at :

  8. Joe Rawls

    I use the Line 6 Vetta 2 Amp (It has a digital Re-amp feature) The Vetta 2 has an incredible sound (IMO)
    It also connects to the computer via MIDI cables. I can tweak the Amp just like it was a plug-in…I dial in a good tone that sits well in the mix… and then hit the record button.

    Also it works well on stage after, because I am using the same amp. I just save the tone and use it live.

    I am very happy with this setup!

  9. Ryan

    Behringer (i know i know, but try it out) makes a little DI Box (DI100) that is either 9 volt or phantom powered and has a “link” output they call it, to route a copy to wherever. The thing is a beast – had it for years and no problems. Got it for around 40 bucks. Has a ground lift as well and can attenuate up to -40dB.
    Good if your on a budget.

  10. Mike E

    I’m not only a noob, but primarily acoustic player. My buddy loves to play electric. This is a cool idea that I had never even thought of. Great post!

  11. STian Sylta

    I totally recomend the Whirlwind IMP 2 DI.
    Itยดs a passive DI (I think that`s what it`s called. Uses no power) sends a good signal via XLR to ProTOols, and sends a parallell jack signal to my marshall amp.

    Works great ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Kevin Blaine

    One thing I’ve learned since recording electrics for my record this past week is that in order to get a great guitar tone and big sound on stage, you crank the gain up to ten, and play like you’ve never rocked before through those 5 foot cabs. But, the only reason you need to do that is because you don’t have 6 guitarists available to play that awesome layered part that you did in the studio. So you have to cranks the volume.

    On the flip side, if you go into the studio with gain dialed in at 10, that one guitar has a really thin tone that isn’t big at all. I think to get that awesome wall of sound and electric tone in the studio, dial back gain, even a little bit under your personal taste, then layer. I think you’d be amazed at how big the sound can get while maintaining a clarity in the tone.

    If real estate is all about “location”, then recording electrics for me is all about “Layers! Layers! Layers!” ๐Ÿ™‚

    Happy recording!

  13. Alan Russell

    I’ve done more than a few tracks where I’ll record the miced amp and the direct signal, then run the direct signal through Guitar Rig or Amplitube for doubling later on. I’m not lucky enough to have friends with really good amps. But more often than not, the virtual amp version will end up being the “lead” with the miced amp signal being the “double” just for some texture and a bit of realism. It also keeps the guitarist happy when it sounds like his beloved ยฃ100 practise amp.

  14. David

    Sorry for the noob question, but is there an easy way to get a direct signal & amp signal? I’ve only recorded an amp (via microphone in front of the speaker) or via interface (Line 6 Toneport). I thought you could only get 1 signal at a time?

    • Sonic Valentine

      Almost every DI has two 1/4″ connecters on it. One you plug into, one that you can run to an amp. Then you just plug the XLR into a mic pre and you are all set.

      Surprisingly the only DIs that I have found without an output to an amp are the REALLY high end ones… which I don’t understand at all.

      Just get a 20 or 30 dollar DI and plug it in between the guitar and amp and you are all set.

  15. Sonic Valentine

    Great post!

    One more reason to record a DI is for editing later. If I am working with a young guitarist whose timing might not be great I always do this on rhythm tracks. Especially if it is heavier music that calls for lots of gain on an amp (plus generally, heavy music calls for tightness in the foundation tracks). Once you run a guitar through a dual rectifier cranked up the transients (visually) go away. If you have a DI track recording simultaneously (before any pedals and muted obviously) you can group them together and use the obvious transients on the DI track to edit. Plus like you said Joe, then you have the added benefits of re-amping and using it to double.

    • aLf

      Thatยดs a very good editingtrick, the thing with the transients. Cool, thanks man!

    • Dave Chick

      What he said! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I was saying the same thing on the segment I did for the Metal Shop Episode #25. The band I was mixing for had cranked overdrive/distortion on their amps.

      Since it was Metal, I wanted to make sure that everything was tight in the editing, but couldn’t do it easily with any transient (beat detection) editor because it was a wall o’ little peaks and valleys.

      I told the band that they should consider recording DI signals for all their guitars next time…



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