How to get the best DI's
Want to know why the pros get the best guitar and bass di's? Read on to find out!
Want a better take? Learn how to play your parts in your sleep. If you don’t want a take that sounds timid and messy then practice your ass off. Knowing your parts, playing them well, playing them consistently, and playing them in time with the click track will dramatically improve your overall tone.
Prep that guitar
Do as much guitar prep as you can yourself but at lease do these easiest ones:
- New strings. For professional results, change all strings once per song (Every 4 songs for bass)
- New 9 Volt battery
For the best possible sound, these are a must. But you might consider letting a professional do these:
- Setup including action, string radius, nut lube…
- Repair or replace noisy hardware
- Fret job
No, we’re not using the instrument jack on your interface. We’re using a dedicated high-quality DI box to get the highest possible results. Why do we need a DI box? Because your interface has XLR inputs and your guitar only has an instrument out. To change the impedance into what your interface wants, we use a quality DI box. I’d recommend anything from Countryman, Radial, or Little Labs.
Remember that your signal chain isn’t just you and your guitar and the interface, it also includes everything from strings to batteries and cabling. Don’t skimp on this step! You spent all that money on a sick guitar and now you’re going to use a $5 instrument cable out of the bulk bin? Go buy yourself high-quality gold-plated cables from somebody like Monster or Mogami.
We’re not looking to color the sound, or to overdrive the amp, nor do we need phantom power. We just need a high-quality transistor preamp found in most interfaces these days. A higher quality preamp will outperform the preamp in your interface but this return on investment is pretty marginal.
This is more important than you think. Want good results? Tune every song. Want great results? TUNE EVERY TAKE! Not kidding about this. You know why it takes the pros so long to record guitars? It’s not because they suck at playing guitar, it’s because they tune relentlessly.
Turn it up!
Most amp sims aren’t as good at amplifying the subtle background noises that a cranked-up tube amp can. I’ve been surprised to hear all sorts of noises in my DI tracks suddenly appear when played back through a real amp. The usual offenders are: ground hum, string chirp between stops, unwanted string vibrations.
Stop the noise
If you’re having hum issues check the following:
- Make sure you’re using an outlet that is grounded
- Always run your computer, monitors, and interface through a quality power conditioner
- Flip the ground lift switch on your DI box
- Use quality instrument cables and XLR cables
- Don’t set your DI box on another piece of electronic hardware
If you’re hearing a chirping sound from the strings in between stops try this:
- Deaden the strings between the nut and the tuners using blue painter’s tape, a hair tie, jimmy clips, or some soft foam
- Deaden the strings between the bridge and the saddle in the same way if not playing on a thru-body guitar.
To stop unwanted string ring out caused by un played strings vibrating:
- Have another member of your band lightly place a finger across all strings not being played
- Blue painter’s tape or soft foam can do the same thing
Make sure to set the buffer on your interface as low as you can to prevent latency. Nothing harder than trying to perform when you’re not hearing yourself in real time.
It’s possible to pick a string so hard that you’re dramatically causing the string to go sharp in an unpleasant way… but 99% of you aren’t picking hard enough. You know how they get that Djent sound in Djent? They pick the fuck outta that open string! A high-quality signal chain will never replace a high- quality performance.
More than one guitarist?
Consider having the best person for the job complete the task at hand. For example – if one guitarist is better than the other at playing a tight rhythm on a particular section, then he gets the job. Set your ego aside and do what’s right for the band. Better yet, be the person who get’s to do most of the tracking because you’re spent so much time practicing your parts that you’re unbeatable. The key to insanely tight rhythm tracks is for one guitarist to track both the left and right takes using one guitar.
You’re used to playing as a 5 piece and you might be tempted to only track a single left guitar and a single right guitar representative of what you would each normally play. DON’T DO THIS! Take advantage of being in the studio to create some dynamics by tracking 2 rhythm guitars and a lead guitar whenever possible. And don’t forget all the other combinations: Single lead guitar with no rhythms, rhythms with no leads, just one rhythm… try it all out and decide what’s best for the music.
While it is possible to move individual notes through slip-editing or quantizing to the grid with elastique audio, the best results are to get a perfect performance. The less editing the better in every single way. This is precisely why we insist that the best guitarist play all the rhythm tracks. These tracks need to all line up with each other without any editing. But sometimes editing is needed and here’s your best options:
Most DAW’s these days have slip-editing or something similar. Slip editing is the process of cutting before and after a note and “slipping” the note left or right to be on time. This process does not affect the remaining audio, only the note or section of your choice. I like to slip edit notes so that the transient is on the grid but this only works if you go back and reveal the pick attack just before the transient. It doesn’t sound natural otherwise. I find this process to sound better than quantizing but also more time consuming.
I don’t understand the algorithm that allows us to record audio in our DAWs in elastique audio for later stretching but it kicks ass. I use this process much more on slower rhythm guitars than faster more complicated leads. Depending upon the rhythm, I quantize full takes to 1/8th or ¼ notes. Always listen back after quantizing to make sure it’s right. The quantizing algorithm isn’t magic, it has it’s limitations and it’s not always right.