As technology advances, it’s becoming easier and cheaper for the semi-pro and hobbyist guitarist to have his or her own high-quality recording rig in their own home. Long gone are the days of futzing about worrying about losing fidelity from too many bounced tracks on your 4-track (or if you were really a big-shot – your 8-track cassette, reel, or ADAT)! Recording interfaces and software are becoming ever more affordable, while amp and speaker emulation software is progressing to the point where it’s becoming difficult for all but the untrained ear to differentiate between emulated tones and actual recorded amps. As a result, a guitarist without the benefit of a degree in recording engineering can produce their own demos with surprisingly decent-sounding results, and the convenience factor and overall cost-savings can’t be overstated. Not to mention it’s FUN!
Meet the Bomber! by jhale667
There’s a multitude of recording platforms available to suit guitarist’s needs at all skill levels; from something as simple as Garageband all the way through Logic, Nuendo and what is still considered the industry standard, Avid Pro Tools. Some come with their own guitar and bass amp/speaker emulation plug-ins, or there many others to choose from like Line 6 PODfarm, Amplitube, AcmeBarGig Headcase, etc. just to name a few. Most come with built-in speaker emulations, or you can go a step further and use another plug-in such as Recabinet (my personal favorite) for your cabinet emulations. These software systems afford a variety of tones the average guitarist doesn’t have at their fingertips, and couldn’t even if they borrowed all of their friend’s amps and rented a few more on top of that. It’s amazing how many useable choices are available. The majority of these systems will run on PCs as well as Macs, further increasing your flexibility and ability to stay within a budget for your project studio.
You can of course buy a commercially available ready-built Mac or PC, but being a guitar builder myself, a few years back I decided to try my hand at building a PC. It was so much fun I did it again recently. With both builds, I looked at what at the time were the system requirements for Pro Tools and built a system well above the minimum specs. Still, I look at the rigs of other SD posters, people like Keith Merrow, and am in awe – my Pro Tools system is much more simplistic, but is still quite powerful and versatile, capable of writing in both PC and Mac friendly .WAV and .AIFF formats, wiith proably more tracks (96) and effects than I’ll ever use on a single tune. It was and continues to be a great success, as well as a great (ongoing) learning experience.
When the time came to upgrade software and processors recently, I knew exactly how I wanted to go about it: An Intel i7 processor, 16g of RAM (minimum is an i5 and 4g for Pro Tools 10) so I’d never have to worry about CPU-lag when using multiple effects and tracks. You’ll also want to check the chipset and connection requirements for whatever HD you’re going to be using as an external recording device, as certain system configurations (PC vs Mac) prefer USB 2.0 to Firewire, etc. Get more HD space than you think you’ll need, because audio files are HUGE. Check for compatibility with all the components you intend to use so there’s no costly mis-matches later; this is especially frustrating if you don’t find out about an issue until that moment you’re totally inspired to record a new idea only to find you can’t… avoid the serious bummer moment! This time, like the first, I ended up spending around a grand in components, but well worth it. I now have a system that runs Pro Tools 10 (with all the plug-ins that come with the crossgrade from LE) EZdrummer, Line 6 PODfarm, Recabinet and anything else I can throw on a session with no issues. It’s also got plenty of room for expansion, as I plan to get into drum programming and MIDI in the near future. In fact I just purchased EZdrummer while writing this piece as well to have a stock of programmable kits, beats, and loops at my disposal. And lest I forget, it’s worth mentioning that for some of these software platforms you’ll also need an iLok key to manage your software licenses.
Whatever you decide on for your own computer, get as much as you can afford, and more than you think you’ll need. Once you’ve done that, you’ll then need some basics for recording and playback. You’ll need an interface and some sort of powered speakers if you want to listen to your work on something other than headphones – and while you’re at it, invest in a decent set of those, too. Most music retailers have pre-fab recording packages for whatever software platform you decide to go with that will include the interface and speakers, as well as in some cases a decent quality microphone as well (which you’ll of course need to record vocal and non-emulated tracks). Research what you think will work best for your needs, and then either go with one of those packages. Or you can use them as a springboard to assemble your own. I upgraded a bit over the standard package, but my original set up was still well in the $700 price range. YMMV. Spend some time checking out the online tutorials for your platform of choice to get the basics down – it’ll make things easier in the long run and you’ll be able to work faster out of the gate. I’m still a relative novice, but I’m hooked! Whether you intend to record for fun or are writing your magnum opus, you’ll be amazed at how having the ability to get your ideas down quickly and easily will free up your creativity and inspire you in ways you hadn’t imagined. What’s your ideal home recording set up?