Guitar Zen: The Guitarist’s Home Studio

Record it or Lose it!

When an idea strikes, it can be magical sometimes. And as you enter into that blissful moment of being lost in the music, you then step back into reality and try to remember what you just played in your altered state. This is where having the capability to record what you jam is an essential part of growing as a musician.

For guitarists there are many ways to get those ideas down. From old fashion boom box recordings to full blown Pro Tools, there are a number of ways to create a nice little “Home Studio” for the guitarist.

Let’s explore a few basics that you’ll need, then we can look at some options that will allow you to acquire the tools more affordably. You will need your instrument, effects, a medium for recording such as a cassette deck, computer, hard disc recorder, etc., and possibly a mic depending on your preferred set up. Also you may want a small mixer if you intend on running several instruments like a drum machine or keyboard into your recording device along with your guitar. Lastly you will need some sort of monitoring setup for playback. This can be as simple as using a pair of headphones, plugging the recorder’s output into your stereo, or getting a small pair of powered speakers.

Here are a few possible setups you can consider.

The Budget Method

Cheap: Go on Craigslist and find a used Mac or PC and an MBox. These things can be acquired much cheaper than imagined and with this kind of set up you will have all the capabilities needed to just plug in and record, mix, add effects & amp simulation, etc! I recently put together a great mobile setup like this for under $500.

Cheaper: Get your hands on a hard disc recorder unit or even a 4 track recorder. These have come down considerably in price and have long been a stable way of laying down the next big hit!

Cheapest: You can get creative with that iPhone and use a cheap program like iRig and a Y-adapter from Radio Shack to plug it into a cassette deck or recording device. Or you can use any cheap hand held recorder (even the voice recorder on your phone) to get an idea immortalized.

The important thing is to create an environment where you can create, and then use that creative energy to record the things that music gives you the power to express!

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Scott “SVH” Von Heldt is a staff writer for SMG. Scott is currently the lead guitarist for Brian “Head” Welch (ex-Korn) and has worked with members of White Zombie, Cirque Du Soliel and many others. In late 2008 he released the first book of his Mystic Art of Self-Discovery series entitled Mind Over Metal: The Musician’s Guide to Mental Mastery.


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  • Peter

    AmpliTube iRig on iPad for quick guitar and vocal (have SM58 with adapter close at hand) for ultra-mobile ideas or just go down to the full home studio and it is ready running or up in no time to get down an idea.

  • I think I’ve heard of people who used to call home and hum melodies or riffs into their answering machine.

    My approach is usually if I stumble across something cool to play it a lot of times to get it in my head; if I lose it after that, it probably wasn’t memorable enough to do anything with. (For my last CD, I recorded something in February for the first time that I’d written the previous June!) But when I do want to put it down to demo or get feedback, I use a Native Instruments Session I/O to plug into my laptop.

  • When I have a musical idea, which happens most every day, I simply notate it using a music composition software called melody assistant and actually write it out note for note with tab. This way I can archive it easily and don’t waste time recording something that may or may not get used. One of the benefits of doing this is that, when I get ready to take it further, I can create a digital backing track and click track and simulate instruments like rock organ & cello very realistically.

    When I get ready to develop an idea, I’ll do some experimental recordings using a dated copy of cool edit on my laptop. doesn’t require much and I can work just about anywhere using my FX pedal with a direct line in.

    Then if I like it enough, I’ll take it into the studio to develop it further where I use Pro Tools 9.

    Not all of the software that I use is up to date, but I’ve been using cool edit and melody assistant since long before Adobe Audition or Sibelius came out. I’ve got a system that works for me.

  • I have called my voicemail many-a-time and hummed melody ideas while driving… at home I’ve been using the Pro tools mBox with a Macbook for about 8 years and it’s great but there’s a learning curve. Lately, I just break out my acoustic and my iPhone with the built-in recorder and have at it! So easy to do and the sound quality is great for ideas.

  • Somebody should make a PocketPOD-style processor with a memory stick. It can be good for saving ideas.

  • @Jazzonman, yeah that’s a great idea!

  • Boss Micro BR. Because of the size and amount of features there’s a learning curve. It’s slightly bigger than an iPod.

  • I usually use my iPhones Voice Memos app to record something on the fly. But recently purchased an iMac with Garage Band, and a Blue Yeti mic. Now I just goto learn how to use them!;)

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