Two of the most common things to record in both home and professional recording studios are electric guitars and vocals. But suppose you wanted to record an electric guitar and vocal at the same time as one performance. How would you go about it?
The best way to record electric guitar and vocals at the same time is to record the vocal with a microphone into one input of your interface, and directly connect (DI) the guitar to another input on the interface. This method will minimize bleed from the guitar into the vocal mic.
There are several ways you can record electric guitar and vocals as one combined performance. Let’s take a look at those methods, then go through in detail what I consider to be the “best” method, laying out the steps required to record the guitar and vocal.
If you are interested in checking out the best recording gear such as audio interfaces, studio monitor speakers, microphones, etc., you can find them at Amazon by clicking here.
Recording electric guitar and vocals together – 3 methods
There are three main methods to record vocals and electric guitar at the same time.
1 Room mic recording vocal and guitar amp
This is the simplest, but least versatile method. You simply place one microphone somewhere in the room, press record, then play/sing! That’s it with this one – there is nothing else to it. You could even use your phone, or a digital audio recorder rather than the traditional computer and interface.
You will only get one track, and that track will contain both the guitar and vocal. You will probably have to experiment with the position of the microphone or recording device to get the best sound and balance between the vocal and guitar. This is important with this method as you can’t alter the balance between the instruments after recording in the mixing stage, as you only have one track. All you could do is make it louder or quieter.
You might use this method if you wanted to get the feel of watching a live performer play at a show. This is of course how we watch musicians at concerts; our ears are effectively the room microphone.
2 Vocal mic into one channel, mic’d guitar amp into another
This method requires 2 microphones, and 2 channels on your audio interface. One mic is for your vocal, and the other is used to mic up your guitar amp. Your guitar is connected to the amp in the usual way. When you record, you will get 2 tracks in your DAW; one from the vocal, and one from the mic’d up guitar amp.
The potential issue with this method, is bleed from the guitar amp into the vocal microphone. See the section on “bleed” for details.
3 Vocal mic into one channel, DI’d guitar into another
This method is similar to method 2 above, but with one key difference. Instead of using a mic’d up guitar amp, we are not using a guitar amp at all here. We are plugging the electric guitar straight into a channel on the interface (a so called DI), with the vocal mic plugged into another channel. So we only have one microphone using this method – the vocal mic.
This allows us to use an amp sim on the computer if we want to provide the sound of a guitar amp. But because the sound of this will just be in our headphones, there is no guitar amp sound for the vocal mic to pick up. Hence, there is no bleed from a guitar amp into the vocal mic.
There will still be a little bit of bleed, from the acoustic sound of the guitar strings. There are ways you can minimize this, discussed below.
All the above methods assume that the vocalist and guitarist are the same person. If they are not, then the bleed problem goes away – just position the guitarist a good distance away from the vocalist, maybe even in a separate room. The rest of this article assumes that the vocalist and guitarist are one and the same, and that they are singing and playing the guitar at the same time.
Whatever method you choose, it is of vital importance to get the recording level right! If you don’t, you risk ruining an otherwise excellent take. That’s why I highly recommend checking out my article on getting guitar recording levels right every time.
The main issue – bleed from the guitar into the vocal mic
The main issue when recording electric guitar and vocals together is bleed from the sound of the guitar into the vocal mic. This applies to methods 2 and 3 above, with it being less of a problem with method 3.
Imagine you are in a room, and you have your microphone on a mic stand in front of you. You are holding your electric guitar, which is plugged into an amplifier behind you. The amp is mic’ed up, and this mic is going into one input on your interface, with the vocal mic going into another.
When you record, your vocal mic will pick up your voice as you sing. But it will also pick up some of the sound from the guitar amp. The guitar amp mic will also pick up a bit of you voice, but this is less likely to be an issue as guitar amps are louder then human voices.
Is the vocal mic picking up some of the guitar a problem? Well, that depends on what you’re going for. If you want two completely clean tracks, where the vocal track is just the vocal, and the guitar is just the guitar, then this method is not going to work. The only way to guarantee completely clean tracks is to record them separately.
Is the bleed really a problem though? It may add a certain “live” feel to the recording. For many years, bands recorded live in the studio and accepted the bleed from other instruments into their mic as part of the process. For them the slight lack of control you get over each instrument was worth it to capture the feel of a band playing together in a room.
If you decide the bleed is a problem for you, read on for ways to combat it. You won’t eliminate it entirely, but you can take steps to minimize it.
While I have your attention, you are obviously interested in recording electric guitars if you are reading this article. Electric guitars are often recorded “double-tracked” to give a full, wide soon. Take a look at my article on double-tracking guitars to learn how to get a big guitar sound using this technique.
Minimizing bleed into the vocal mic
Let’s assume you decide to use method 3, detailed above. So you have your vocal microphone on a mic stand in front of you. The mic is connected to an XLR input on your audio interface. Your electric guitar is strapped onto you in the usual way, and is connected directly to a jack input on your interface. There is no guitar amp involved at all.
This will be the best way to minimize the bleed into the vocal mic, as the only sound that can bleed is the acoustic sound from the guitar strings as you play them.
Here a few other things to try that can help minimize the bleed…
- Stand up whilst singing/playing. This will place the greatest distance possible from the guitar to the vocal mic (if you’re sitting down they will be closer). You could try lowering your guitar strap a little as well to try and increase the distance.
- Use a less sensitive mic. A dynamic microphone is likely to pick up less of the guitar strings than say a condenser microphone. Maybe you could try something like a Shure SM58 or similar to record the vocals.
- Experiment with mic positioning. Microphones with a cardioid response pattern reject most of the sound coming from the rear. So maybe you could try pointing the mic up and singing down into it, so the rear of the mic is pointing at your guitar. Careful though; this may negatively affect your singing performance.
- Get your mouth closer to the mic. The closer the sound source is to the microphone, the lower you can set the gain on your audio interface. The lower you can have the gain, the less the sound from the guitar is likely to be picked up by the mic. Unfortunately, getting very close to a mic activates a “proximity effect” where the low-frequency content captured is emphasized. This might not be an effect you like, or may be something you can compensate for post-recording using EQ in your DAW.
- Edit gaps in vocal track post-recording. Any spaces in the vocal track after it has been recorded can be deleted in the DAW. This means the only sound from the guitar strings will be while there is actual singing. Hopefully, the singing will be loud enough to drown out any guitar string noise, effectively eliminating it.
Step-by-step guide to recording electric guitar and vocals
What follows is a step-by-step guide to recording electric guitar and vocals at the same time, using method 3 detailed above. This method is where we use a microphone to record the vocals, but directly connect the electric guitar to the audio interface.
- Set up the vocal microphone on a mic stand, and connect the mic via an XLR cable to an input on the audio interface. Standing up to record is recommended, due to the increased distance from the guitar to the vocal mic minimizing the bleed.
- Check the input level on the interface for the vocal mic. Make sure clipping does not occur, even when you are singing your loudest. Don’t forget to switch on phantom power (+48V) on your interface if your microphone requires it.
- Create a new track in your DAW for the vocal, and check the input level on this track is ok. I suggest not letting it peak above -10dB.
- Plug your electric guitar into another input on your audio interface.
- Check the input level on the interface for your guitar. Make sure clipping does not occur, even when you are playing your loudest.
- Create a new track in your DAW for the guitar, and check the input level on this track is ok. I suggest not letting it peak above -10dB.
- (Optional) Add an amp sim to the guitar track. Spend a bit of time getting a sound that you like. This step can always be done post-recording if you prefer. Make sure that the input level in the amp sim is ok, and not clipping.
- Enable recording on both the vocal and guitar tracks.
- Record a test take to make sure everything is working correctly. Adjust anything that needs it accordingly.
- Press record, then perform!
- (Optional) Edit out the gaps in the vocal track, so you delete all the parts of the vocal track where there isn’t any singing. This helps minimize the bleed from the guitar strings.
Do you really need to record at the same time?
So we now have a detailed process to go through to record vocals and electric guitar at the same time. We have some different options we can use, and some actions we can take to minimize bleed from the guitar into the vocal microphone.
But let’s ask just one question…do you really need to record the guitar and the vocal at the same time?
The big advantage that multi-track recording using a DAW gives us, is that it let’s us record one track, then another over the top, then another, and another, etc. This is the fundamental essence of multi-track recording, and you must have a good reason for wanting to work another way.
One reason that I can think of, is that you are making a performance video for YouTube. You are recording the audio into a DAW, as you want to get the best audio quality possible – a very commendable goal; audio quality is very important on YouTube. If this is a video of you playing the guitar and singing, then this article should have detailed a highly suitable method for you to use. Bleed from the microphone is not something I would worry about for a YouTube video.
Maybe you just want to get the live feel of playing the guitar and singing at the same time. This again is a commendable goal. Just be aware that you are going to have to sacrifice some of the flexibility of having completely clean vocal and guitar tracks. There will always be at least some bleed from the guitar into the vocal mic, however careful you are. This need not be a problem though; in some cases it can actually add a bit of character to the recording.
After you have recorded your guitar parts, you often want to make your guitars sound as big as possible during the mixing process. That’s why I wrote my “Tips to make guitars sound bigger in a mix” article, which gives you tips and tricks to get that big, full guitar sound in your mixes.
Recording using a hybrid approach
Perhaps a hybrid approach could be considered.
This way, you record the guitar and vocal tracks separately. Then, you record the guitar and vocal tracks again at the same time. You now have 4 tracks…
- Clean vocal (separate take)
- Clean guitar (separate take)
- Vocal (with some bleed from the guitar)
- Clean guitar (DI’d using amp sim)
You can then experiment with combining the vocal tracks in mixing. Maybe you decide that the completely clean vocal recorded separately gives you more of what you want. Or maybe you like the character of the vocal recorded at the same time as the guitar, and the minimal amount of bleed is not an issue. Or maybe some sort of blend of the two.
The key thing is to experiment and to find a method that works well for you, your style and your music.
Using 2 musicians
Your final option if you really want the feel of the guitar and vocal played together, but any amount of bleed is unacceptable to you, is to use two musicians.
One of you sings the vocal part, while another plays the guitar part. This allows you to record at the same time, while the distance you can put between the two performers should eliminate any bleed from the guitar into the vocal mic.
Yes, I know this is a compromise; you may really want to both sing and play the guitar yourself. But if you just want the parts recording together, this could be an option that works for you.
Thanks for making it to the end of this article! Before you go, here are a few other articles you may be interested in related to guitar recording…
- The complete guide to recording guitar with amp sims
- How to use your PC as a guitar amp – an illustrated guide
- How to connect your guitar amp to your computer
Here is some of my favorite home studio gear…
Thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful in your home music-making activities. Here are a few of the tools that I personally use in my home studio. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them I’ll earn a small commission.
Audio interface: My personal choice for audio interfaces are the Focusrite Scarlett series. I have been using these for years, and they have always given me great-sounding recordings. For a very reasonable price from Amazon you can buy the excellent Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, or if you don’t need MIDI capability the Focusrite Solo is a great choice.
Amp sim: Guitar amplifier simulator software has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, such that I record all my electric guitar parts using amp sims these days. One of the very best is the incredible Amplitube from IK Multimedia, which I have used on many of my songs.
Headphones for recording: My favorite headphones for recording are the Sony MDR-7506s, which I use for monitoring during all my recording sessions. They can also be found in many pro recording studios. Get the Sony MDR-7506 headphones from Amazon here.
General-purpose microphone: You can’t go wrong with a good ol’ Shure SM-57, one of the most versatile and ubiquitous microphones around. I’ve been using one in my home studio for as long as I can remember. Amazon offers the Shure SM-57 for a very competitive price.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you!