Hello, my name is Bob Dreher and I've been recording at home for about 15 years now. I started out with a Tascam 246 4 track cassette recorder which I still use to this day when I'm not recording on my computer.

I would like to go over some fundamentals about recording guitar in general, and go into detail about the setup I use. I am in no way an expert, and I'm always looking for new things to learn.

I'm going to assume that you are using a 4 track cassette machine, which is the most common machine in home recording today. But the fundamentals are still the same with whatever format you use, with a few minor exceptions.

First things first...what you have to do is make the best possible sounds with the setup that you have. Like anything else, if you have a cheap, noisy amp and a cheesy out of tune guitar, thats exactly what it's going to sound like. You get what you play for, in other words. The tape is going to record exactly what you input onto it.

First, we gotta get it quiet...I'm talking about hums, buzzes, clicks and such. When you plug your axe in and turn your amp on, does all hell break loose? You must isolate the causes of your noise and correct it. Flourescent lights are a major cause of 60 cycle AC hum. If you have them in your recording room/studio, shut them off. Dimmer switches are notorious for causing noise also. Any power cables running close to your input/output cables are usual culprits too. Recording too close to your computer monitor will ugly things up a bit too.I have resorted to burning candles for light to get it quiet in my garage before. If you have looked into all these items and you're still getting a loud buzz, you may need to have a guitar technician make sure that your guitar doesn't have a loose ground, or a bad pickup or jack.

Once you have it quiet, you must choose the way you are going to input your guitar signal into the recorder. You will want to experiment, but I usually use a direct output on the back of my amp for recording. This is ideal for recording in the house and not bothering anybody else. If your amp doesn't have one, you will need to mic your amp. If you must mic your amp, I suggest that you invest in a good mic, the Shure SM57. They are only about $89 new, and this is absolutely the best all around microphone ever made.

Thousands of hits have had 57's put to work on them. It will work excellently for your vocals too. I use it for every need, it always comes through. You will never go wrong investing in a 57. If your recorder does not have a 3-pin XLR input, you will have to spend another $20 and get a Low/Hi impedance adapter. Experiment with mic placement in relation to your speakers. You will be surprised at the difference in sound by moving it around until you get a sound that you like. One word here, I'm gonna step up on my soapbox for a moment.


Music is subjective, so for you to be satisfied, YOU have to like it. Don't let anyone tell you that a certain sound is not good. If YOU like it, then it's cool.

These are the basics to getting your best signal to tape. Now, once it reaches the tape, we have to make sure that the input levels are correct. You should have either a VU meter or an LED meter that tells you what level your input signal is on your machine. You need to record as close to the red (clipping) lights as possible, without keeping the red lights lit all the time. A blink of red here and there is OK, but if they are constantly in the red, you need to reduce your input level. You will do this by adjusting your mic/line input knob on your recorder. Make sure that you are playing as loud as you will get during your song to set your levels. If you set your levels while you're playing a soft part, and then play louder during the song, you will have distortion. DISTORTION IS FOR GUITAR AMPLIFIERS, NOT RECORDING DECKS.

Digital recording

Digital recording, (such as into your computer) is a different animal.

You don't want ANY red lights flashing when your recording in digital, because once you see red, you have a nasty distorted signal. We won't go into detail with digital in this article...in fact, I already know what my next one will be :-)

A small bit here about the recording setup I use. I have an amp that computer models some of the greatest amps ever made. Mine is the Line6 AX2. If there was ever a amp that you could say " did it all", this is surely it. Computer modelling is where all of the nuances of a particular amp, say a VOX AC30 , are sampled into a very powerful computer and processed to replicate that amp and it's characteristics very accurately. ALMOST PERFECT.

The advantage of an amp like this are many. First, just about any amp you've ever heard of is modelled in the AX2. Second, it has built in noise reduction circuitry that keeps it quiet as a mouse. 3rd, it has a line output that is perfectly adapted for recording, and the sound out of it directly into a tape machine is awesome. The AX2 not only has many amps built into it, but it has an effects section with everything from digital delays, chorus, reverb, wah-wah (will make you sound like Mick Box, or better yet, Dave White!), distortion boxes, and just about anything else you can think of.

It also has computer models of different speaker cabinets, so you can mix and match amps with different speakers, from 4x12 Marshall cabs, to Peaveys and Fender Tweeds, the list is almost endless. The amp is a guitar players dream. One catch, it costs a grand.....still not bad when you think of duplicating all it's features.

All the amps modelled, speaker cabs, and effects would cost well past $30,000 to buy separate, and you still wouldn't have the flexibility of this amp. It is, at this point in time, the Holy Grail of amps. But the news gets even better.... Line6 now makes a unit called the "POD" that has many of the AX2's features, in a line output only version ( read that...no amp and speakers) for a little over $300.

Fantastic sound right to tape for the cost of a cheapo amp. Mick Box already has one, he told me! You could spend around $400 and have the best mic made, the SM57, and the most awesome recording unit out right now, the "POD" and you will be well on your way to making awesome sounds. With the "POD". you don't even need the SM57 unless you still want a good vocal mic.

Of course, you don't need either of these, but they will go a long way towards making your life easier, more enjoyable, and bypass a lot of the hassles involved in recording your guitar to tape. Shop around and see whats out there. OK, now we have a clean, undistorted signal getting to tape.

I think you know what to do now, Rock On!