by Metal Mastermind

August 30, 2020

how to get a good metal tone with a real amp

You already know how to dial in a badass metal guitar tone for playing in your bedroom. And more the most part, you get a pretty decent tone when practicing with your band.

But when you go back and listen to your tone in a full mix, it sounds like something is missing.

There’s too much of this or not enough of that, and your guitar tone is just lacking that punch and clarity.

Of course, it’s easy to dial in a great tone using plugins but what about when recording with a real amp? That changes everything…

But don’t ‘fret’ (guitar player pun!)

We are going to show you how to fix that and show you exactly how to dial in an metal tone with your real amp that sounds awesome in the mix!

*NOTE: ‘Good tone’ is subjective, and it’s something that is very personal to every guitar player. A good metal tone is even more subjective.

That said, you’re reading this because you’re either having trouble with or questioning your ability to dial in a metal tone that sounds good in the overall mix.

This post is all about giving you a good starting point. And we’re also going to share some mistakes (not to make!) that will save you a ton of time.

#1 Rule to Recording Real Amps

The ultimate rule to recording a real guitar amp is this…

Your recorded EQ and tone will be different from your bedroom practice tone.

We could almost stop writing here, and you could figure out the rest on our own. But let’s not do that, because this stuff is about to get extremely exciting!

Where Are You Recording Your Guitar?

metal tone with a real amp

First, you need to assess the area and room where you’re recording your live amp. Obviously this is going to be in a studio.

**We will be getting into your EQ and tone settings but it’s important to cover this first section, first!

Recording at a Commercial Studio

But are you going to a large commercial recording studio, or do you plan to record this in your own home studio?

Chances are if you’re going to a commercial studio they will be properly setup to record live amps. However, they may not be used to recording metal guitars. Remember, our genre of music is not the norm!

So you need to have that discussion with the studio manager and staff prior to your recording session if you’re relying on their expertise. They may need to make some adjustments before your session.

Recording Guitars in Your Home Studio

We’re going to assume you’re not going to a commercial studio and that you’re recording guitars in your own home studio. And most musicians will home studio are just utilizing a small bedroom for this.

So here are some things to think about before recording your amp:

  • The size of your room
  • Room treatment
  • Having the right equipment

Room Size for Recording Amps

Room size can be a concern if you’re in a small bedroom. And the concern is the ability to properly set up your amp and mic if there’s not a lot of space.

And sometimes being cramped in a small area may impact your psychological state while you’re recording. That’s something to consider, as well.

So here are two things you can do…

  1. Clear out a place in your studio to dedicate it solely to your guitar amp and mic setup
  2. If your studio room is too small, consider talking your computer, interface, amp, and mic into a larger room for recording your amp

Room Treatment for Recording Amps

Room treatment is another thing to be aware of when recording guitar amps. Of course, much of that concern is alleviated when recording metal guitars because of the sheer volume and position (closeness) of the mic to your amplifier.

However, you still want to do some testing. Record your guitar, play it back, and see how it sounds.

If it’s not as tight as you want it or if there other weird frequencies you’re picking up, it could be that you need proper room treatment. Here are a few things you can do…

  • You can get acoustic panels for your walls and corners
  • You can build acoustic panels yourself!
  • You can even hang clothes or put towels on your walls (this is extreme DIY’ing it if you have no other resources!)
  • Putting furniture in your room can help as well, although that’s not ideal for small rooms.

Having the Right Equipment for Recording Live Amps

Having the right equipment may sound like a no brainer. But to be fair, most guitar players are used to recording direct with plugins these days. So here are some things you’ll want to make sure you have ahead of time:

  • Proper mic for recording metal amps (you can never go wrong with the Shure SM57)
  • Quality XLR cable
  • Closed-back headphones so that you can clearly hear the mix while recording that loud ass amp!

EQ and Settings for Recording Metal Amps

real amp metal tone - initial settings

Here’s where we get into the subjective topic of dialing in a good metal tone.

  • What makes a great metal tone?
  • Why do some tones sound better than others?
  • Why does my tone sound great when I’m recording but total crap in the mix?

We’re going to cover a few basic rules of setting up your EQ and mic so that you can get an awesome tone.

Again, ‘good metal tone’ is very subjective. But at least in following these guidelines, your tone should have clarity and sit better in the full mix.

Start with Your Amp EQ at 12 O’clock for Everything

Remember the ultimate rule from the beginning of this post? Here it is again…

Your recorded EQ and tone will be different from your bedroom practice tone.

You’re going to be tempted to start with your bedroom EQ but we strongly encourage you to start with your gain, bass, mid, treble, and presence (if applicable) at 12 O’clock (or at ‘5’).

You should record a few takes of playing with this EQ and play it back. Then you can start tweaking your EQ settings.

Don’t Crank Your Gain Up

too much gain - real amp metal tone

This is one of the common mistakes that metal guitar players make. They love to crank their gain all the way up to 10, or 11 if that’s an option.

That’s great for playing in your bedroom or when you’re just jamming by yourself at a low volume.

But once you start turning up the volume of your amp, you’ll need to back off of your gain some. If not, you’re tone is going to sound muddy in the mix.

As suggested in the prior section, start with your gain at 12 O’clock. You’ll see our recommended gain setting for recording with live amps below…

Only Make Subtle Adjustments to Your Gain and EQ

real amp metal tone - ideal settings
Jason’s metal tone settings

You’re going to think we’re just a bunch of opinionated dicks but don’t make any major adjustments to your EQ and gain settings!

At least not right away…

Your amp tone is more than just your amp tone. It has more to do with how it sits in the mix and fits with everything else that’s going on…the bass, the drums, vocals, other guitars, keyboard, etc.

And if you have a good quality high gain amp, you’re not going to need to make too many adjustments from where you started.

What About Pedals and Effects?

Using pedals and effects can definitely impact your initial metal tone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But you need to know how they’re going to impact it.

For starters, going to need a noise gate or noise suppressor in front of the amp. This is going to prevent any unwanted amp noise from being picked up.

Secondly, mainly high gain amps require a ‘booster’ or some type of overdrive pedal in front of the amp. This is used to ‘clean up’ the tone.

However, not all amps need this, especially some of the modern metal amps like the EVH 5150 III, PRS Mark Tremonti, Hughes and Kettner Grandmeister, and many others. You can read more about amps like this in Guitar World’s article ‘The 8 Best Amps for Metal.’

Most other effects will be run through the effects loop, like delay and reverb. Be careful will running too many effects, though. Too many effects can sometimes reduce that tightness and clarity of your tone, especially if you’re doing a lot of riffing.

Mics and Mic Placement

real amp metal tone - mic

The Shure SM57 is an undisputable mic for recording live metal guitar amps. It’s designed to handle sheer volume and will help your tone sit well in the mix.

There are many other great mics you can use as well. Here’s a list of common mics used for recording metal guitars:

  • Shure SM57
  • Sennheiser MD421
  • Sennheiser e609
  • AKG C414
  • Neumann U87
  • Royer 121
  • Beyerdynamic M160

You can learn more about these mics the e-Home Recording Studio’s article ‘The 7 Best Microphones for Recording Electric Guitar.’

Next is your mic placement, which is another element where there are different preferences. There are two things to think about:

  1. If you want a brighter tone and one that will really cut through the mix, move your mic closer to the clone
  2. If you want a darker tone, move the mic further towards the outer part of the cone (just because careful not to go too far or your tone will sound muffled)

The other thing is how far or close the mic should be to the speaker grill. Some prefer the mic right up on the grill. Others will set the mic back an inch or more.

This is something you’ll need to test on your own and see what you prefer.

DAW and Interface Settings for Recording Metal Guitars

This is something that you don’t want to screw up. It’s also a case to have someone in the studio with you that can monitor the levels and settings while you’re playing and testing your tones.

You want to make sure of two things…

  1. Your levels aren’t peaking (this will lead to distortion, and not the ‘good’ type of distortion)
  2. Both the amp and interface input volumes are up enough to where a strong signal is being captured

As you can see (and hear!), you need a balance between the two above to make sure you’re capturing the best signal possible.

**You can read more about which audio interfaces are best for you here: Cheap VS Expensive Interfaces

Your Performance

You can follow all of these guidelines for getting a good metal tone in the mix with a real amp, but your sound is only going to be as good as your performance.

Whereas all of these premilanry steps and settings are important, the bulk of your tone is going to come from how you play guitar.

Along with that, your tone will also be impacted by how well-practiced you are and how comfortable you are with the song you’re recording.

So here are some things to help you nail an awesome performance

  • Make sure you know the song like the back of your hand (seriously, no pun intended there)
  • Do some guitar warm-up riffs and licks to get ready
  • Test the gear you’re using to make sure everything works properly before recording
  • Make sure that you’re in the right mental state before you start recording
  • Be 100% focused when you’re in the studio
  • Make sure there’s no potential for distractions during your recording session (turn off phones and other media, put a ‘do not disturb’ sign up, let friends or family know not to bother you during this time unless someone is dying, and even then, they should not disturb you while you’re recording metal…or you can write a metal song about the person that just died…okay we’ve gone too far…lol)
  • Read our blog post ‘The Golden Rule of Recording

We truly hope this post helps you dial in that monster metal tone you’re looking for! If it did help you, please share it!

Horns Up,

Ken & Jason
Metal Mastermind

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