Ok, this is a biggie!
Where to start? So, I don’t know about you, but as a home-recording musician I’m always on the lookout for new ways to record electric guitars quietly. A nice tube amp turned all the way up to 11 sounds awesome, but if you want to record in your home, maybe even late at night and have thin walls or annoying neighours, sooner or later you’ll start to think about alternatives.
The way I see it there are four ways to record your guitars quietly in the comfort of your home:
- Use a DI box or an input of your soundcard to record your guitar tracks and then software to simulate your sound
- Use an amp that has a built in recording out
- Use an amp without a built in recording out with an external speaker simulator
- Use a digital or analogue pre-amp
@1: This is a very modern way to record guitars. Basically all you need is a good/clean DI and a software programm that allows you to tweak your sound. I know of Guitar Rig and AmpliTube – I used the latter for my test – but I’m sure there are plenty other on the market.
@2: This is a rather exotic option, as there are not that many amps out there that have a recording out/built in DI. The Hughes and Kettner TubeMeister 5 (head) is one of them. It has a build in power soak so you don’t have to connect a speaker (see 4) and let’s you record real tube sound easily and silently via it’s build in Red Box DI.
@3: Speaker simulators are a tricky thing. First of all you have to choose from a wide range of brands and products, then there are different units depending on the Ohm output of your amp, and even than you have to make sure your speaker simulator has a build in load box, or buy one seperately…in both cases, this is not the cheapest option and please note: connecting your amp to a speaker simulator without a load box can cause damage to your amp!
I choose two Palmer products, the Palmer PDI-03, apparently an industry standard that was used by a whole armada of artists both live and in the studio, and the Palmer PGA04, the successor of the PDI-03, that offers upgraded EQ and filter settings.
@4: I am sure there are many other options out there, but for my test I could only use what was available to me at that time, namely the Line6 POD HD.
In this test, I was looking for convenience (easy to set-up, EQ options etc.) and – even more important – a good sound! What good would be the easiest, most convenient way to record guitar tracks if they end sounding like shit?!
So I bought 2 packs of Chesterfields and a couple of energy drinks and made this little test.
The video explained:
Part 1 is just me playing around with the H&K TubeMeister 5 head, then the Palmer PDI-03 and the Palmer PGA04. Needless to say, I wasn’t focusing on my playing but tried to find out what all the different knobs and switches on the devices do.
Part 2 is where I tried to record the same guitar track with all the different units. There are three different samples – Clean, Crunch and Heavy – which naturally where all recorded with the same guitar, on the same pickup, with the same cable, the same pick even…you get the drift.
Sample Nr. 3 – Heavy – is a little bit different. It is from a song I was working at that time called In Circles, and I actually already recorded some guitar tracks for this song in a professional recording studio. We used an Orange Rockerverb 100 for the main track and a Fender Super Sonic with a Suhr Riot to fatten things up in stereo. Please note that these tracks are neither edited, nor mixed or mastered (just as the bass and the drums in the background aren’t). But still, I think they give a nice impression of what a musician gains when he chooses to go to a professional recording facility.
Conclusion: So there you have it. In my mind there is no question about it that the recording-studio guitars in Sample 3 sound the best! When it comes to Sample 1 (Clean) and Sample 2 (Crunch) things are not that clear. I really like the sound of the Red Box from the TubeMeister, and I wonder how it would sound with some pedals in front of the amp!?
Having said that, I wasn’t that impressed with the Palmer devices, I figure they are more for playing live shows than recording. I liked the PGA04 more than the PDI-03 though, just because it has way more knobs to tweak your sound, so if you have a nice tube amp you can’t live without maybe that is an option. Both Palmers are quite expensive though, so take that into consideration (you won’t need load boxes though, as both units have them build in)
It lies in the nature of things that I couldn’t really show of the possibilities of the Line6 POD HD or AmpliTube…being digital, these products have a gazillion of different sounds, but what you might hear in the video is the nature or the feeling of their sound. Compared to the Red Box for example you clearly hear that something is missing, even if you have trouble identifying what exactly. In my opinion both the POD and software like AmpliTube are great solutions when you want to jam around, look what guitar effects you fundamentally like and to record quick ideas or even demos with them. I wouldn’t record a song I really want to sound good with them though, but hey, what do I know? I am positive that people out there are gigging and recording albums with their PODs or some software simulations and sounding great…!
So there you have it, my 2 cents on this whole subject, and as usual…
…the Disclaimer: I don’t do these videos and reviews professionally and only use gear I can afford. The subject of this video/review is the gear reviewed, not my playing, thankyouverymuch. Please let me know what I could do better in future videos or what gear you would like me to review! Thanks for watching and reading!
Used gear: Fender Lonestar Strat MiM and/or Epiphone Les Paul with Seymour Duncan PUs, Scarlett Focusrite into Windows PC running Reaper. Drums by Toontrack.