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6 Tips for Great Electric Guitars Without Amps

With direct guitar recording into virtual amps you can now rock out through the guitar chain of your dreams in the comfort of your home studio and without the neighbors calling the cops.
In this article I’ve outlined a few tips and best practices for getting great guitar tones without amps or mics.

  1. Go Direct – ‘going direct’ means connecting your guitar into your recording interface by means of the high impedance (HI-Z) instrument input if available or through a DI box (Direct injection box). A direct box converts the hi-impedance signal from the guitar to low-impedance, mic level signal to connect to any preamp. Great results can be had with either though the best results come from the best signal chain including quality cables and DI box. The Radial JDI and J48 are professional studio standards and are actually quite affordable.
  2. Avoid hum and buzz – LCD and LED monitors (computer screens) are now the norm and while they don’t emit as much noise as CRT  monitors some noise can still be picked up by your guitar pickups. Computer fans, cell phones and even a wrist watch can be sources of unwanted noise in your guitar tone. To reduce and avoid the noise sometimes you just need to move around the room a little and the noise will be gone. Additional noise suppression is best done with a noise gate plugin in your DAW.
  3. A virtual guitar rig – The quality and quantity of virtual guitar amps has increased dramatically over the past few years to the point where you may not even want a real amp anymore. Amplitube 3, Guitar Rig 4, and POD Farm 2 (to name just a few) are all top notch virtual guitar processing systems. They’ve really raised the bar in sound quality. The flexibility and ability to select from hundreds of pedal, amp, cabinet and mic combinations at will makes them invaluable tone shaping tools for guitar, bass and beyond.
  4. Latency – With guitar recording, the lower the latency the better. 128 samples is good, but 64 samples or lower is ideal. Latency affects the way you play and you want the immediacy that plugging into a real amp has. You’ll need a good firewire interface to achieve this kind of stable low latency.
  5. Timing and tuning – As always, timing of the performance and tuning of the instrument are so important. Most of the major virtual amp packages have a tuner option, check the tuning often! With a DAW you can actually see and hear how far off your timing is. Record each section of the song multiple times, choose the best or best bits of each performance and edit a composite that’s in time and in tune.
  6. Filtering out the bad stuff – Virutal amps don’t sound 100% real but they’re getting closer all the time. Where the current virtual amp systems fall short is in the cabinet and microphone options. I always use an EQ after the amp plugin to get rid of the harshness and fizz that can make an amp sound fake. If you boost with a sharp Q between 3kHz and 12kHz you can usually find 2-3 really nasty areas. Isolate the frequency and cut it out by a few dB. Here’s how that sounds: No EQ (mp3) | Fizz Cut (mp3)

These are just a few tips to get you started with direct guitar recording. If you’d like to see more on this topic leave a comment below.


  1. Jrwells
    Jrwells July 13, 2011

    Awesome!! I love these tips. Keep em coming!

  2. steve
    steve August 11, 2011

    Yea, good stuff. Would love to hear more great tips on getting good tones with virtual guitar amps.

  3. Luca
    Luca August 13, 2011

    Try the convolution files from redwirez.. you’ll have a sound like the real thing!!

  4. Jerry
    Jerry October 20, 2011

    The Guitar amp in Logic Pro is very good also. You also have the option for mic placement and choice. Plus the pedal board s awesome too.

  5. Edwin Pinto
    Edwin Pinto November 19, 2013

    great stuff

  6. Harvey
    Harvey December 12, 2016

    Awesome article! Small room spring reverbs are great to blend DI guitars and gives the impression of a mic’d amp 🙂

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