Not long ago we wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of using a virtual guitar rig on your recording software. While you won’t quite achieve the exact sound of a real guitar amp, today’s virtual amps provide a pretty accurate replication, and many guitarist and engineers are going the virtual route for the amount of flexibility it provides in the recording process -- not to mention the huge amount of sounds that are available.
In fact, the virtual sounds even suit some songs better than a real guitar rig. So for those that are recording with virtual guitar amp replication, we want to provide some tips on making those sound the best they can.
Since you will be plugging your guitar directly into your audio interface, it is important to use a balanced connection. While some guitars have a balanced Hi-Z, high impedance input, most will have the unbalanced 1/4” input. In the latter case, you’ll want to run the guitar through a direct box to convert the signal to a mic level signal before it goes into your interface.
Typically when you are miking an amp, you don’t have to worry about balanced connection because you are using a microphone to record the amp. However, an unbalanced connection can lead to many problems and make your track sound “off” from the very beginning. The balanced connection also can help reduce unwanted hiss and hum noise in the mix.
Put simply, latency is the short delay between when the audio signal is produced (when you play your guitar) and when it emerges from the audio system (when you hear it through the speakers). Latency has become less of a problem as computers have gotten faster, but you’ll want to have as low a latency level as possible, ideally 64 samples or lower.
The problem here is fairly obvious, as even though short milliseconds of delay are barely noticeable, they will affect your recording and timing. In fact, as you’re subconsciously adjusting for that delay, you’ll find that your entire playing style can change slightly.
One of the great things about virtual instruments is that they are set up cause the least amount of work for you as a mixer. For example, virtual guitar and keyboard sound typically come with preset EQ, compression and any other effects to more accurately reflect the recorded sound of whatever instrument the software is trying to emulate.
However, never be afraid to tweak those settings and add your own effects to the chain. This is particularly true of virtual guitars if you are going for the most “real” sound possible. Adding some slight EQ cuts and boosts to the right frequencies can significantly improve the “realness” of the sound.