by Metal Mastermind

March 19, 2021

adding effects to recorded guitar tracks

There’s just something about the sound and tone of recording with a real amp. Sure, amp sims and processors have come a long way. But you’ve decided that you’re recording this record with your tube amp.

But there’s one question that you have. Can you add effects to your guitar tracks once they’re recorded? And if so, how?

The process of adding effects to your recorded guitars is simple:

  • Record your guitar amp (with no effects, and I’ll explain why later)
  • Go to the plugin section of your DAW
  • Choose the effet you want
  • Drag that effect into your guitar track

Now, there’s one specific effect that you absolutely need when recording guitars with a real amp and I’ll cover that below. But you can continue adding as many effects has you want using this method.

***You can watch the video version below but I also encourage you to read the rest of the post for more tips!

Wait…Can’t I Just Record My Guitar Using My Pedalboard Effects?

Before we get into adding effects to your track, you may be thinking ‘Why not just use my pedals that I use when I’m playing live?’

You can certainly do that. However, there’s a huge problem that you’re bound to run into once you get into the studio and start mixing…

  • You record your guitar amp using, let’s say some reverb and chorus
  • You sit down at your console and start listening to the recorded track in your studio
  • You soon realize that something just doesn’t sound right; there’s too much chorus and the reverb setting was not ideal

At this point, you only have two choices:

  1. Go back and re-record your guitar track (this could be a huge issue and extra expense if you went to another studio to record your initial tracks)
  2. Live with it

You see, once you record your amp, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever sound that the mic captured. If the delay is off, it’s too bad. If you used too much reverb or any effect, you’re stuck with it unless you’re willing to re-record your guitar.

This is one reason along with convenience why so many guitarists use amp sims and plugins. You can make changes at any time and even change the entire amp and cabinet you’re using.

And that’s not to discourage you from recording with your tube amp. Rather it’s to encourage to record as dry as possible and add your effects later, which we’re about to get into below.

How to Set Up Your Amp and Effects for Recording

EVH 5153 tube amp EL34 50 watt head with 2x12 cabinet

First, let’s go over the ideal setup for your amp and effects. There are actually some effects, or at least one, that you’ll want to use.

Here’s a basic setup for recording your guitar amp:

  • Amp
  • Cabinet
  • Mic
  • Noise gate
  • Overdrive pedal (this is if you’re playing through an amp that needs an OD)

In short, that’s really all you need to record metal guitars. And although those are technically effects pedals, they’re the necessities that come with recording your amp and capturing an awesome tone.

AKA you don’t want your mic to pick up the noise that’s coming from your high gain amplifier, so you use a noise gate. And many high gain amps require some sort of overdrive to ‘clean it up’ so to speak. You want to capture that tone (it’s difficult to clean it up after the fact, even in the studio).

Now, here are the types of effects you’ll want to think twice about when recording your guitars:

  • Delay
  • Reverb
  • Chorus
  • Pitch shifter
  • Flanger

Of course, there are more effects but I think you get the point. These are the types of effects that will alter the way your guitar sounds. Again, once you record your amp using these types of effects, you’re stuck with that exact sound.

There may be situations where you want to record effects using your amp. For example, if you know that you get a particular sound from your pedalboard that you simply have not been able to replicate with plugins, I say go for it!

Not to mention, some effects pedals sound better than studio plugins. But those should be for those rare circumstances that call for that specific effect. If you’re recording something like regular metal rhythms guitars and want a touch of reverb on that track, it’s probably best to record it dry and add the reverb in your DAW, after the fact. The same can be applied to lead guitars and delay.

Guide to Adding Effects to Your Recorded Guitars

At this point, you’ve recorded your amp based on the recommendations we’ve talked about. No effects, just your amp, noise gate, and maybe an overdrive.

Now it’s time to get into your DAW and start adding the desired effects. I’ll repeat the simplified process that I mentioned at the beginning of this post:

  • Record your guitar amp (did that!)
  • Go to the plugin section of your DAW
  • Choose the effet you want
  • Drag that effect into your guitar track

It’s really that simple. But let’s dive a little deeper into the process.

The first plugin that you’ll want to add to your recorded guitar track is a compressor. When you record with a real amp, you’re going to get a lot of variances and sometimes unwanted frequencies. A compressor plugin will help smooth this out. You can learn more about working with compressor plugins in this post: Post Processing for Rhythm Metal Guitars

***PRO TIP: Add the compressor FIRST. This way when you drag other effects into that track, they should automatically be placed behind the compressor by default, and that’s what you want (you want to compress the original signal, not the guitar signal with the added plugins).

Now you can start playing around with different effects on your recorded guitar track. And you’ll just use the same process as most DAWs have the drag-and-drop feature. The other awesome thing is most DAWs come loaded with these virtual effects. So if you’re on a budget and don’t want to buy expensive plugins, just use what you already have in your DAW. Oftentimes that will work just as good if not better.

Here are some ideas for adding effects to your recorded guitars:

  • Metal rhythm guitars – a touch of reverb (kind of like Priest’s ‘A Touch of Evil!’)
  • Hair metal or 80s rock guitars – try adding some chorus
  • Lead guitars – definitely try adding delay
  • Clean guitars – chorus, delay, reverb
  • For guitar parts where you want something different – try a flanger, harmonizer, or tremolo plugin

There are endless possibilities for you when you add effects to recorded guitar tracks.

No Limitations with Adding Post-Effects to Guitars

The coolest thing about adding effects to your recorded guitar track is there are absolutely no limitations as to what you can do. It’s almost insane because you can change, add, or tweak anything you want at the touch of your hand, right there in your DAW.

Want a different delay timing? Just turn that virtual knob. Want to lessen the reverb effect so that your track isn’t so muddy? Dial it down. Want make a particular part of the song stand out more, like a transition between the bridge and guitar solo? Add a cool effect like a flanger.

But remember, if you record your amp with these types of effects, you’re stuck with the result.

Review Time

Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to record you guitar. But there are some ‘best practices’ for a hassle-free experience and that give you more options.

So here’s a quick recap:

  • Consider recording your amp as dry as possible (no effects like delay, reverb chorus, etc).
  • Once you record your amp, add a compressor plugin to that track
  • After that, start adding the different effects that you want to test out

I hope this post helps you in your recording journey!

Metal Mastermind

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