Sometimes its just not necessary to haul in a huge, giant Marshall Full-Stack amplifier (pick your favorite amp) setup in-order-to catch that full guitar sound on your recording…If you have decent 5w practice amp, such as the Bugera featured in this post, you may have all you need to get a pretty decent tone.

Less can sometimes be more…

It’s the overall quality of the sound going “on to tape” initially that counts the most towards getting that good sound in the end… The whole, “garbage in – garbage out,” saying really applies to recording the same as it would for many other things in life…

Simply try to achieve the tone that you want first without reaching for the unbearably loud sound, to just see what you can come up with… Plus, you won’t have lug all that extra gear around – just grab you little 5w box with one hand, guitar in the other, and you’re on your way to the studio (or wherever)…

Take These Seven Steps…

Here are seven steps to take with a smaller amp that, if you take your time with them, you can achieve “big sound” results:

1. Get your desired tone before pressing record

Dial in the tone you want straight out of the amp. You want the best sound possible being recorded right from the get-go. It’s much harder (and sometimes not even possible) to try to correct tones after the fact.

Start with a clean tone, then slowly dial in the effects you want to ad – less is better in most cases.

2. Experiment with mic placement

Usually an SM57 up close and personal should get a good recording. A stereo recording with one mic real close, low and to the left or right, and the other (same type and model of mic) a few feet to several feet back, at the same height, but left or right slightly of the close mic could be useful. You can always audition the two and delete one later if you don’t want a stereo recording…

3. Try some hefty pickups?

A guitar with humbuckers versus soemthing like a Strat with single coil pickups will make creating a fatter sound in a small amp much easier.

Also, if you’re not too awfully concerned with pushing the smaller amp, a heavy weight guitar (one with a couple of humbuckers) can sometimes give some very cool distortion in small amp when its pushed to its limits.

bugera-5w-guitar-practice-amplifier
The Bugera 5W Practice amplifier

The Bugera above can handle quite a bit and its a challenge to cause that kind of over drive without getting very loud, which is not really that desirable, but there are amps out there (perhaps some a little older) that you can over drive.

stephen ruppe with fender squire guitar
stephen ruppe with fender squire guitar and this stuff called “hair” on his head…

For example, the solid state Peavey in this photograph above that you can probably barely make out, had a real nice distorted sound when I would a play a friends Epiphone SG through it… (I don’t still have the amp – 25+ years ago)…

4. Once recorded, get surgical with your EQ

Again, hopefully, you achieved the sound of the guitar you wanted prior to this point. Now is the time to start seeing how the other elements of the recording are competing with the guitar (like with any other recording) and tweak them accordingly.

5. Perhaps try double tracking the guitar

We mentioned possibly making a stereo recording above; however, double tracking is another method of doing a very similar thing.

During the initial mix, maybe you had to sacrifice a little more than you wanted to on the low end side to make it blend in better. Now you can lay down another track played exactly the same (for the most part) which could kind of thicken up the guitar a bit like a stereo recording (but not)…

You more-than-likely still cannot boost the low end much, but the thickness should help with the overall power / level of the guitar.

6. You can try splitting your guitar signal when recording

One, recorded direct and totally clean with the other “miced up.” Both takes are recorded at the same time on two separate tracks. The clean signal you doctor up however you feel once the recording is complete, or you can delete it.

A basic splitter box is passive device (no power required) designed to do just exactly that – split your guitar / bass signal into two separate outputs. So you would need three instrument cables to use one of these.

The two outputs from the splitter can go into two different amplifiers, or use them as we mentioned just a second ago… A splitter is just a handy device to have around…

Having that backup, clean recording just gives you additional options to help with the overall sound in the end. It could just be a very subtle reverb, delay, or distortion left very low in the background… who knows…

Having a clean take of the guitar left “one the side” was popular technique (maybe still is) in the past. This way the guitarist skillful playing was captured on tape and could later be put through (re-recorded in a sense) other amplifiers, or in this case change out some plugins…

7. Start going for the pan knobs

As with most any other type of recording, panning is your friend. If the recording is a four piece band (with drums / percussion), start with the drums and bass, and just find out where everything fits best…

If you recorded multiple (two) guitar tracks, pan one hard (all the way) left and one hard right. You really have to experiment a bit…

 Hope this helps…

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