If you are like me and have been searching for the answer, you have probably bumped into many articles online about how to get the best guitar tone for your tracks without having a full guitar setup including guitar amps, microphones, microphone preamps, outboard effects and without having to deal with room acoustics and setting up a proper studio environment while also having to deal with isolation…
There are great articles but most of them are just listing lots of tips on how to use the VST amps, reverb effects, EQ, gain staging, tips on mixing and doubling techniques. You will also see that people have been discussing how to microphone their guitar amps with a specific microphone stand so they have the best sounding guitar tracks around 🙂 But for the sake of simplicity, I will provide you with the best and only tip for you to spend your hard-earned cash so you will not have to sell your gear and make another purchase soon.
Believe me, I have spent a ton of cash and countless amount of time of my life on being a gear freak and try to record my electric guitar’s tones as good as possible. Results? Yes, you will have results even with a small practice amp and a microphone, and the more you invest the better it will get (most probably).
My G.A.S. Infected Years!
I started playing the guitar in 1999 and was almost immediately into recording myself. First thing I did was to get a plug adapter to directly insert my guitar cable into my soundcard, using Guitar FX Box. Then I started using other software such as ReValver (yes, the very first version!). I was amazed how I was able to get an overdriven guitar sound using only my PC. Next, I used my PC microphone to mic my shitty amp. Then I got myself a Digitech RP3 processor and combined it with my amp.
A few years later, after I managed to get a custom guitar built by Erkan Sızarlar. I had also saved for a Rocktron Voodu Valve preamp, M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 PCI soundcard and started capturing much better sounds. When I got my Rocktron Voodu Valve, I thought that was it! I thought I would never buy another piece of equipment because I had the most powerful unit under my control. But it never ended. I gave up on Rocktron and go for an actual amp which was a Tech 21 TM60. Pros would mic it, so I bought an SM57 clone, hey? It requires a mic preamp. So I got an M-Audio Audiobuddy mic preamp. Soon, I would be giving up M-Audio Audiobuddy and upgrade it with a Tapco Blend6 mixer, because I needed more inputs.
I really liked what Sansamp technology was offering, fully analogue signal and being able to emulate classic amp sounds within the same amp or device was excellent. Since it was difficult to boost it up because of noise (you know this when you live in an apartment), I thought I should go for a more compact, silent solution. So I sold my amp and got myself a Tech 21 Sansamp PSA 1.1. 🙂
After a while I didn’t like it, not that it wasn’t able to produce the same kind of excellent sounds but switching from playing with a full 12″ speaker to multimedia speakers probably did the trick for me to give up on this as well. I thought I should sell it but still had to have Sansamp sound, so got myself a Tech 21 Tri-A.C.
I thought this was it again! But no, I sold my amp, my mixer and all these stuff. Found a Koch Pedaltone All-Tube preamp. Since it had tubes, it must be the end, right? Nope! The speaker simulation which placed on one of the outputs of this preamp was quite limiting and you would be able to adjust anything. Then I discovered impulse responses (IR) where you use wave files containing the response of a specific guitar cabinet. But very soon I would be discovering that now the more important thing is to have a much better computer because working with impulses was a demanding task for any PC.
Are you still reading?
Hey, are you still here? Can you see how often I used to switch gears through those years because I believed in the gear? We, guitar players are cursed with this “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” (G.A.S.) and always think that the answer is the next pieces of gears that we are planning to buy!
Before I relocated to London, I was only able to bring my guitar and my Koch Pedaltone preamp as I had sold everything I owned in order to save some money. In the following years, unfortunately, I also had to sell these too. But one day, I visited one of my guitarist friends who had a lot of equipment (many different electric guitars, all-tube guitar amps, processors, pedals, midi controllers, audio interfaces, reference monitors…etc) and just before I was about to be infected with another G.A.S. virus (AXE-FX!!!) he told me to calm down and gave great advice. If you are not going to perform live on a huge stage, if you don’t have an isolated studio for your loud guitar amps, if you are only to record songs at home, go for an audio interface!
It was the best tip I had ever had in my life as a gear freak. Because I wasn’t really aware of how advanced virtual amp technology had become for bedroom guitarists. Even without spending a cent on software, you can have excellent, dynamic and very real feeling guitar tones just on your computer.
So you might say, the only advice I am giving you is that you should just forget about every single gear you want to buy and go for an audio interface? It’s partially true. But there is another aspect of this approach that I want to share because again I spent lots of money and time on which audio interface to go for! 🙂 Keep on reading!
So which audio interface should you go for?
I have had the chance to own and use many audio interfaces, both PCI and USB ones. Back in the day, when USB interfaces were looked down because of the latency they’d offer, we would all go crazy about PCI interfaces. My first audio interface was an M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 PCI interface. It has only two inputs and two outputs but doesn’t have any onboard preamp which means if you want to directly plug your guitar into this card, you would have to have a preamp in between. I was really amazed by the quality when I combined this interface with my Rocktron Voodu Valve preamp. Switching from an entry-level Creative interface to this setup was a huge jump for me.
Then I had some years spent on music without an actual interface but eventually wanted to come up with a solution without spending too much! This is an important point because it is going to provide you with the core idea. While I was living in London, I thought I should get a cheap interface and just move on. So bought a Lexicon Alpha Studio interface and suddenly found out that it wasn’t able to playback audio via a media player software and let me play my guitar with VST amps. Drivers were not really stable and got many problems with it. In the end, I had to return it.
In short, I suggest you go for an audio interface rather than spending all your time and money on many different guitar gears. But which one? During my service at MyDukkan, I was also responsible for keeping a technical service report for every audio interface returned by our customers. I would test them under the same conditions with the end user and report anything to various technical support companies.
So I can assure you I am talking about the real life experience and have tested M-Audio, Focusrite, Roland, Presonus, ESI, Alesis and Tascam interfaces. How come did I have a chance to test all of them? Because somehow they had failed in one way or another under given conditions!!!
What do I have for my own use? Not any of them! Note that I’m neither trying to put these brands down nor trying to praise my favourite interface. Since I had myself an RME Babyface, later RME Babyface PRO, I don’t recall any single problem regarding drivers, latency, crackling noise issues..etc And also note that I’m not affiliated with RME brand, I’m just a die-hard fan of their stuff!
Of course, you can go for any brand you like and see for yourself. But the only, long-lasting tip for you to get the best guitar sounds out of your computer is that NOT to go for entry-level interfaces! Instead be patient, save some more and jump up to the level I’m talking about!
You’ll be amazed by the sound clarity, definition and the joy of being able to play and record in real time with almost no latency!
PS.1: At the moment, I’m working on a full RME Babyface PRO review and will soon release it, let’s stay in touch! 🙂
PS.2: Don’t be discouraged by one-star reviews made by people who can not use an audio interface. Here you are getting the most honest and open reviews made by a gear freak like you and you won’t be disappointed! 😉