Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW

How To get Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW

 In this article we’re going to cover the basics on how to get great guitar sounds in your DAW.  We’ll cover the following topics:

  1.  Getting a quality signal into your DAW
  2. Eq’ing Guitars – Making your guitars cut and shine without harshness
  3. Amp Plug-Ins – What they do & Why you need them.
  4. Guitar Compression – Tame those transients
  5. Guitar FX – Make those guitars launch out of the speakers.



How To Record a Great DI Guitar

 The first thing to address is getting your guitar into the computer.    As we all know, great tone starts at the source.  We’re talking about high quality guitar lead, reasonable quality Soundcard and a well tuned guitar that’s in good condition.


Level wise we don’t want to clip (distort as too loud) but at the same time we want a relatively positive signal to noise ratio. 


Gain up your signal on the Soundcard so it’s as loud as possible but with room for spikes in your playing and velocity changes. 



Best Amp Plug-ins & Cab Sims


 The DI you just recorded will potentially sound a little shrill and fake but that’s OK.  That’s where the amp & cab comes in.   

In this example Rich reaches for the GTR by Waves.

This simple, cheap and easy to use plug-in is great for getting great ‘In The Box’ guitar sounds.


Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW_AmpPlugins


The guitar sounds we recognise are heavily affected by the amp & cab choices.  Both of these units imply a certain level of character, compression and EQ to the guitar sound, making appear richer and fuller.  By driving the input we’re also able to add some distorted and harmonic character to the signal, a character we want when reaching for vintage tones. 


How To Mix Using Guitar Pedals


How do I EQ My Guitar?

OK so we’re starting to make progress but there’s still work to do if we’re to achieve a great guitar sound in our DAW.  So.. EQ!


Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW_Eq_Guitars


By utilising an ‘analogue style EQ’, Rich can both shape and sculpt the guitar sound he wants.  These are the areas we went for and why:


100Hz + 4dB – This adds weight to the recording, but avoids the muddy low mid’s of 200-400Hz


1.5Khz +2dB – This is the main area of the guitar allowing it to ‘cut’ through your mix.  The API EQ combined with a guitar is a match made in heaven!


 15Khz -2dB – We’re rolling off the top end to remove any harsh, brittle frequencies.


Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW_Pedals


 How Do I Compress My Guitar?

 Before we talk about compression a few rules of thumb you should follow:


  1. Is the signal distorted? If so, does it need compressing?  Distortion and Overdrive naturally ‘clip’ and compress the signal.  If that’s the case then adding more compression won’t achieve a great deal of benefit. 


If the signal has transients... let’s talk.


Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW_CompressGuitars


The size of the dynamic range and style of the part will dictate what type and how much compression we need.  A staccato part or funk rhythm might need more compression as it needs to be pinned in place, maintaining a groove.


A free flowing, emotive piece may require a gentler touch as to not lose all the dynamics and ‘feel’.


In our example rich is using an SSL style compressor with the following settings / reasons:


Medium slow attack – We don’t want to lose the initial transient, but instead we want to control the dynamics so we let the transient through with the slow attack then clamp down.


Fast release – We’re looking for the compressor to return to 0 before the next section.  This setting felt exciting and appropriate with the tempo of the section.   

2:1 ratio – Nothing too aggressive here, just enough gain reduction to control the part.

Second Compressor – In the mix we spotted a touch more control was needed, the LA-3A is super simple, offers a little aggression as well as control.  


Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW_CompressGuitars_02 


Adding FX To Your Guitar Recording

As we’re looking to acquire not only a great guitar but also one that oozes with vintage character and vibe, we need to choose our FX wisely. 


To maintain that classic sound, we’re reaching for a Spring Reverb, and in this case ‘Springs’ by AudioThing does a great job.


Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW_SpringReverb_Guitars


The characteristics of a great spring reverb fit perfectly with our brief, offering a touch of 3-D’ness that drips with character.  It’s a sound we all know and love so is a vintage guitar must have.



Final Touches

We could easily stop there and if that’s the sound you want, then you’re done.  BUT, for us we wanted that extra touch of psychedelia.


Great Guitar Sounds In Your DAW_AutoWah


This is where the 'auto-wah' comes in.  The Wah allows us to open and close the filter as the sound plays.  Iconic with the sound of late 60’s / 70’s prog rock & psychedelia, this is the finishing touch what is a great guitar sound in our DAW.