I strongly urge you to use the best quality instruments you can afford for recording your music. Try renting at least semi-pro guitars, the difference may be day and night! Using student-grade instruments intended for beginners to record your material is usually a very bad idea. No miracles here! Put new strings of a proper gauge a day before the recording, so that they stretch properly overnight. New strings are crucial if you want to get the maximum quality possible. Ideally, you should change your strings after playing for about 5-6 hours straight during the recording, but your bass guitar player may rage about it. :)
Check the action, intonation and tuning of your instruments before the recording starts. Tune your instrument anew using a tuner after recording every single take. It is a good practice to mute the strings that will not be used in a particular riff with tape or foam – you may get some extra clarity. A good way to tune your guitar is to check the actual notes of a riff that you’re about to record, rather than open string notes. There are two main methods of tuning, either by note attack, or by note sustain. If your riff contains lots of short sharp notes, tune your guitar by note attacks, using a tuner. When your part consists of long sustained chords, try tuning by sustain.
To record your rhythm guitar parts, follow double-tracking (two separate takes) or quad-tracking (four takes) methods. Quad-tracking may be very beneficial for many heavier styles and slower-tempo songs, but it requires certain proficiency to make sure your part is tight enough. If you feel that recording four takes is too demanding, settle for double-tracking instead. Copy-pasting of your guitar take is no good and should be avoided, as it is not the same thing as recording two separate takes. Two identical copies will sound in mono, without giving you the stereo effect that double-tracking is expected to provide.
I recommend that you get your best guitar player to record all rhythm parts, both left and right takes, as it is easier to play tight to yourself than to someone else’s playing. It is a good idea to record all melodic parts and leads at least twice, so that they can be panned in the mix later. Most guitar players are all set if they get just one good take of their main solo part, but sometimes, with very decent players, recording two additional solo takes to support the main one can provide great results.
If this is your first record, be extra careful – many inexperienced players have problems judging their own sound and might need an outside opinion. Try getting some help from a seasoned guitar player to set your guitar amp properly and get the sound you will be able to use for your record. A good rule of thumb is to dial in little less gain that you’re used to having at your rehearsals. If you play metal, avoid cutting the mids at your amp completely, try setting them somewhere at 2 or 4 instead.
If you feel that your recording chain is less than ideal or you’re not so sure about the amp sound that you’ve dialed in, try recording your dry guitar sound (DI) in parallel through a signal splitter. You might also record your DI guitar tracks through a DI box straight to your audio interface. Many audio interfaces have dedicated Hi-Z instrument inputs for recording DI tracks, though sometimes a high-quality DI box might get you a little extra quality. Do not plug your guitar straight to a line input of your interface without a DI box. Generally, having your DI tracks on hand is a very good option, as these tracks may be used for reamping to augment your real amp tracks.
For heavier styles of music, try the following practices as a starting point:
1. Your guitar –> a Tube Screamer pedal or similar (set the gain at 9 o’clock, tone and level at 12 o’clock) –> an amp head like Peavey 5150, Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, etc. Having a Tube Screamer pedal in front of your amp makes your guitar sound less mushy, its low end tighter.
2. Try micing your guitar cabinet with two dynamic microphones (look up the Fredman micing technique), such as Shure SM57, Audix i5, etc. Place one mic dead center at about ½ inch from the grill, facing the speaker dustcap, and then place the second mic next to the first one at 45 degrees. The first mic will be the main one, while the angled mic will capture more body and thickness. Mix their signals to your taste or leave it to your mixing engineer. You can also move the pair of mics closer to the speaker edge, making the sound darker.
Many commercial rock releases nowadays may be actually quite complex and contain the following guitar tracks:
1. Main power chord guitar tracks
2. Additional rhythm tracks, played in different positions or on another guitar
3. Supporting octave takes
4. Some accenting staccato parts
5. Sometimes, clean guitar or acoustic guitar tracks, mixed in very low for extra attack.