How to Record an Electric Guitar or Bass without an Amplifier

Good day. My name is Mark Galang, and I am a freelance musician and composer from Paranaque City, Philippines. This is my first peer-reviewed assignment for Introduction to Music Production, a Coursera.Org course provided by the Berklee College of Music. Part of my work involves recording electric guitar and bass parts. Certain circumstances prevent me from recording with an amplifier (lack of a good room and neighbors), and so I usually record without one. This tutorial will teach you how to record an electric guitar or bass without an amplifier.

For this tutorial, we need the following equipment:

A computer with a DAW of your choice installed (I’m using a PC with a copy of Cakewalk Sonar)

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USB or Firewire Audio Interface (TASCAM US-122 USB Audio Interface)

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Electric Guitar or Bass

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Instrument cable with 1/4″ plug (at least one)

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Studio monitors and/or headphones

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Guitar/Bass effects pedals and extra instrument cable/s (optional)

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1. Before you begin recording, make sure that your audio interface is connected to your computer via USB or Firewire and that your speakers and/or headphones are connected to the line out/headphone out of your audio interface.

2. Set the level of your audio interface’s instrument input channel to zero. If you have a device that you can switch between mic and instrument mode (LoZ and HiZ), please switch it first to instrument or HiZ mode.

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3. Plug in your electric guitar or bass into the audio interface’s instrument input (also known as guitar input) using your instrument’s cable. If you have effects pedals, make sure you have connected them as well in between the instrument and the audio interface.

4. Open up your DAW and create a new project.

New Project DAW

5. Select one of your DAW’s audio tracks and assign the input device where your electric guitar or bass is connected.

Select Input for Recording

6. Raise and adjust the level of the input channel at the audio interface where your instrument is connected. Before recording, play some music with the instrument first to check the levels. Make sure that the level is not too high to avoid distortion. Most audio interfaces have an LED or display that allows you to check levels. If the level is above 0 dB, it goes into the “red” zone (or causes a red LED to flash) meaning that the level is too high and it will cause distortion (not the good electric guitar amp kind!) or clipping to occur.

7. If your device has a direct monitoring feature, switch it on so that you can monitor your instrument during recording in real time. Otherwise, you can turn on your DAWs live monitoring feature. Live monitoring on a DAW, however, takes up more computer resources to run and suffers from some degree of latency.

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9. Once you’ve set up the appropriate levels, arm the audio track in your DAW and then you can start recording.

Recording in Progress

Here below is a link to an example of guitar and bass work that used the procedures described in this lesson:

Prior to signing up for this class, I had learned how to record in this manner through trial and error. As a result, I’ve had my share of badly recorded audio. I accept those mistakes though as the part of the learning process. All in all, I think the entire process or recording without an amplifier went well. Nowadays, I make use of a Digitech RP255 multi-effects pedal to emulate a variety of amp sounds and guitar effects. With the combination of the direct monitoring feature in my audio interface, I can hear my guitar processed with the effects that I want in real time. When using the direct monitoring feature when recording, I prefer to switch the audio interface to mono mode so I can hear the guitar’s output on both speakers (since it’s only connected to one input). Previously, I was using VST amp simulators and effects plus live playback monitoring in my DAW. As described in the lesson, the problem with this is latency plus the fact that VSTs use up computer resources.

Thank you for taking the time to read and evaluate this lesson. I do hope that I have presented the lesson accurately. If you have any feedback or if there’s anything else I could have done to explain things better, I would love to hear from you.

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