Now, it might seem a little strange to think about a studio with dedicated live rooms trying to record electric guitars without actually capturing the sound of air being pushed through a speaker cabinet. But tracking guitars live without an amp is a reality.
But often there are situations in a studio environment that require great guitar tones without all the noise. One of the primary circumstances for doing this is while tracking a full live band.
We take a look at tracking guitars live without an amp using dedicated guitar preamps from Two Notes Audio Engineering.
Generally speaking, when a band is tracking live, the most important element that needs to be captured is the drum take. While tracking instruments, and even vocals, can be done in the box, drums thrive in an acoustically-treated room with decent microphones. And this is where a good studio comes into its own.
To maintain the integrity of a drum sound while tracking live, it’s incredibly important to eliminate any sound bleed from other instruments or vocals, but this can be difficult to achieve when all the musicians are in the same room.
To get around this, often a vocalist will sit in a separate live room or vocal booth, with everything fed into the mix in their headphones. For guitars and bass, if there are enough live rooms with instrument feeds to the main drum room, it might be possible to record those amp cabinets while tracking live. However, in many cases (with smaller studios in particular) this is not possible. This is where tracking electric guitars silently can be a really great option.
We’ve previously looked at how capturing a DI of your bass can be incredibly useful when tracking live, especially as you can re-amp that track at a later time. This same concept can applied to guitars as well.
Unfortunately, while you can get away with listening to a bass DI track when you track live, direct electric guitars sound extremely flat and lack the body you get from an amplifier. This can completely extinguish the vibe that tracking live is intended to achieve.
This is where having dedicated guitar preamps, such as the Le Preamps from Two Notes Audio Engineering, can actually be a great option for live tracking.
Back in 2015, Two Notes released a range of four tube-based preamps, called Le Preamp, three of which are for guitar and one for bass. All the preamps share exactly the same features, which include a full FX loop, XLR and TS output, MIDI switching (which allows you to link a number of Le Preamps together), a through output, and a cabinet emulation switch.
Two Notes has an excellent reputation for producing great speaker cabinet emulations. In fact, it forms the basis of their core product line. What it all boils down to, though, is that the Le Preamps allow you to achieve great guitar tones without having to physically mic up an actual speaker cabinet pushing air.
Each Le Preamp comes with two independent channels, one clean, one with a bit of dirt, and using something called “Fusion Mode”, it’s possible to run both channels together in parallel (“Cold Fusion”), or have one channel cascade into the other (“Hot Fusion”).
With all these modes, it’s possible to get a wide range of tones that would suit a variety of genres. With the Le Clean, you get a slightly scooped Fender-ish tone, while the Le Crunch gives you a more “British” sound – much like a Marshall or Vox. Finally, the Le Lead gives you more saturated tones.
While the speaker cabinet simulations on the Le Preamps are very good, if you want a bit more control and a few more options, you could opt for the Two Notes Torpedo C.A.B, which is a pedal speaker cabinet simulator which uses technology from the company’s rack-based gear. More importantly, the Torpedo C.A.B. supports pedal-level or line-level input and output, and this adds a further level of flexibility for any studio situation.
All aspects of speaker miking are modelled on physical idiosyncrasies, including mic type, speaker type, as well as mic location (i.e. how close to the centre of the speaker) and distance (i.e. how far from the cabinet). The Torpedo C.A.B. also provides power amp emulation (single-ended versus push-pull, and tube types), and recent firmware upgrades to the Torpedo range now include a number of room reverb options.
If you’re after cranked guitar tones but have to keep things quiet, the Two Notes Le Preamps and Torpedo C.A.B. offer a huge tonal range. This ability to boost the direct signal of a guitar in a live mix is hugely useful in studio situations with limited space but where tracking as a band is an indispensable means of creating vibe.