Not many of us are fortunate enough that guitar has gone beyond a hobby and into a profession. Playing guitar for fun is expensive anyway, as you have to buy all the equipment. Once you add recording into the equation then this is an extra expense.
For beginners, spending huge amounts of money getting a decent recording setup isn’t realistic. On top of this, it simply isn’t necessary. Beginners and others who are on a budget can get some good quality recordings of their playing without outlaying a lot of hard-earned money. In this article, we’ve explored and reviewed some of the best recording equipment for beginners. All of the products have been chosen due to being good quality but also on the cheap end of the market.
What Can Be Achieved Recording With Affordable Equipment?
Some people will be wondering just how much they need to invest in order to make good recordings. You may even wonder if you can get professional recordings at home without spending loads of money. The answer is “yes”. As time has gone on, recording equipment has become better and more affordable. Obviously, the more money you have to spend, the more high-end gear you can buy, but plenty of professional recordings have been made on the cheap. A microphone which costs under $100 can potentially give a recording good enough to use on a commercial release if you know how to use it.
Why Equipment Isn’t the Most Vital Aspect
Ever heard of the phrase “all the gear, but no idea?” This is one of the best ways to describe why equipment is not the most important aspect of a recording. You can have the best microphone in the world, but if you set up in a noisy space, don’t mic up the instrument correctly or make software errors, the recording can be terrible.
Recording is a concoction of different things. Of course, there is a minimum threshold in terms of the quality of the mic (and other equipment). You need products with enough audio fidelity that you can hear clearly and crisply, however, a more expensive mic doesn’t guarantee a better recording. Knowing how to use the equipment, the space in which you choose to record and the way you are playing the instrument itself are all arguably more important. All of these aspects have to be correct if you are going to create a recording which is fit for release.
Budget Pick Guitar Recording Equipment
We’ve chosen some budget recording equipment which is good for beginners. Whether you are a pro guitarist but just new to recording, or you are a new guitarist and have an interest in recording while you learn.
USB Mic – Blue Yeti
A USB microphone is arguably the easiest way to quickly be able to make some high quality recordings. While there is plenty of debate on whether USB mics stand up to the quality of other microphone types, it is hard to deny that they’ve improved in quality.
The Blue Yeti microphone has become known as a microphone for the digital age, and it is often the mic of choice for YouTubers, podcasters and even voiceover artists. It is good for the vocal frequencies.
That said, this will also do a stellar job of recording guitar if used correctly (click here to check the current price of the Blue Yeti at Amazon). The Blue Yeti couldn’t be simpler to set up as it has true plug-and-play capability. It also has microphone pickup pattern selection, so you can choose which direction it is focusing on picking up sound from, and things like whether it should be diverting noise from the sides.
Gain control means that you can put the input volume of your guitar up or down as you record to ensure a clear but not overloaded level of audio. You can also monitor your recording live with a headphone output.
Blue microphones has been a brand which really leads the way in terms of USB technology and these mics are good for recording snippets of ideas, practice sessions or even starting to lay down recordings of fully-fledged songs.
Dynamic Mic – SM57
Dynamic microphones are known as being pretty robust and are often preferred for live uses. They can make good mics for home studios, too. Some dynamic microphones are pretty versatile, too, and none more so than the SM57 (click here to check the current price of the SM57 at Amazon). This microphone has somewhat legendary status. It has been produced for many decades and is seen in recording studios all over the world. Shure is a huge brand name in the world of mics, and this is one of their flagship products.
Versatility is one of the main strengths, and this mic will do a good job on acoustic and electric guitar. It can also be used on a number of other instruments to good effect. The SM57 will need to be run through an audio interface or some form of mixing desk preamp if you are going to record guitar with it.
SM57s can be picked up for under $100, and the fact is that if you treat them right, they can last you decades. A frequency response of 40-15,000 Hz isn’t as impressive as some other options, but the cardioid pickup pattern used by this mic does a good job of rejecting background noise. Thousands of commercially released songs and albums will use the SM57 on some of the instruments, so it certainly is no cheap imitation product.
Condenser Mic – MXL 990 Condenser Microphone
To be able to purchase a condenser mic which is well made and robust without even having to spend $100 is fantastic (click here to check current price of the MXL990 at Amazon). It is a great way to get started with your recording at home.
A condenser microphone is more sensitive than a dynamic mic, this means that it is able to record with more detail, but does also mean that it is slightly more fragile. If you’re not planning to use the microphone in any live scenarios then this should not cause any sort of a problem, as it is unlikely that it will get dropped or bashed around too much.
Condensers also need phantom power, meaning they will need to be run through some sort of audio interface or mixing desk which can run power to the microphone.
This microphone does a very strong job of reproducing the sound of both vocals and guitars. It has an SPL of 130 dB which means if you are recording electric guitar you can crank your guitar to over 100 dB and not have to worry about overloading and breaking the mic.
The MXL 990 also has a large ¾ inch diaphragm which helps it to pick up those rich tones. It is an impressive piece of kit when you consider the price. The value for money on offer makes it good for those on a budget. On top of this, the microphone is relatively easy to use and doesn’t require any difficult settings to make clean and crisp recordings.
USB Audio/Mic Interface
Peavey USB Audio Interface
There are a few audio interfaces which are good for those on a budget. However, for beginners, none get any easier than the Peavey USB Audio Interface (click here to check the current price at Amazon). A combination of the price and simplicity, as well as the fact that this is made by a brand which is so incredibly well-renowned for guitar.
This converts the signal from a microphone, which is carried via XLR, into a signal which can be processed through your USB and in the software you choose to record onto. It is simply an on/off functional product but also has a mono switch, meaning you can choose between using stereo or mono recording modes.
This product doesn’t require any driver or installation whether you want to record onto a windows or mac operating system. It couldn’t be simpler. The only real downside of the Peavey audio interface is the fact you can only record from one input, but this isn’t a huge issue if you’re just recording your guitar, and can overlay things like vocals and percussion separately.
There are some other options on the market. The Focusrite Scarlett Solo can still be bought at a good price and this is one of the most popular USB interfaces on the market. However, for recording from one microphone, there isn’t much the Focusrite Scarlett Solo can do that the Peavey can’t.
TC Helicon Go Guitar Portable Guitar Interface
The TC Helicon Go (click here to check the current price at Amazon) is another good product if you are just looking to get some simple recordings of your guitar playing, and is a product designed to help you to record onto mobile devices. Whether you use Android or Apple, this interface turns the signal into something that can be recorded into the voice recorder or other apps on your phone or tablet.
The interface also works with computers, both mac, and windows, and you can even clip it onto a belt while you play. It’s tiny and very easy to set up, making it a good choice for a lot of the beginners out there who just want to make some rough recordings of their practices or ideas.
This interface has its own free app which you can use, and this allows you to add effects and do much more with the guitar sound. The audio recording is not perhaps the most professional, and an audio interface such as the Focusrite might allow you to get a slightly cleaner sound, but the TC Helicon is very affordable and very convenient.
Acoustic panels (click here to check the current price of some excellent budget friendly acoustic panels) can be one of the most effective ways of spending a small amount of money and having a big impact on your recordings. This only really works if you are always recording in the same room (they don’t tend to be portable). However, you can buy a set of acoustic panels for well under $50, and these can ensure your recordings are clean and don’t end up slathered in unwanted reverb.
Portable Guitar Recorder
Tascam DR-05 Stereo Portable Digital Audio Recorder
Utilizing a portable recorder is a very convenient way of making recordings when you are out and about. This isn’t the way we recommend making recordings at home, as a laptop or computer can provide a huge amount more capability than a small digital recorder. That said, these types of products can be wonderful for taking out and about on tour buses or to practice sessions with your band.
The Tascam (click here to check the current price of the DR-05)has two omni-directional microphones inbuilt. These are good for making recordings of the whole room and can do a good job if you need a one-mic recording of both guitar and vocals. Tascam DR-05s don’t need anything to be plugged into them as the mics are a part of the construction. On top of this, you can use 4GB micro SD cards to record onto, meaning you can make tons of recordings as long as you have enough cards! It is powered by two AA batteries.
Best Guitar Mini Mixer for Beginners
SubZero SZ-MIX04 4-Channel Mini Mixer
A four-channel mixer can be very helpful for recording and allow you to record multiple inputs from either guitar pickups or using microphones. This mixer has four inputs, a combination of both XLR and ¼ inch jack inputs. It also has multiple outputs to allow you to send this to speakers and headphones as well as connect to your computer.
The SubZero (click here to check the current price of the Subzero at Amazon) offers phantom power up to 48V. This means that you can use condenser microphones which require phantom power with ease, just by pressing a button. You probably won’t build a professional recording studio around it but you can certainly make some good quality recordings when combining this with a good microphone. One of the main benefits of this is the fact it can fit in most equipment bags so you can take it out and about with you and record via a mixer on your laptop.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
Reaper or Audacity?
The DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. This is basically the software you will be recording onto. Professional software includes options like Pro Tools and Logic (only for Mac users) and though these are some very powerful programs, they’re expensive.
For extremely basic applications (for instance, if you just want to record your practice to listen back to or a rough idea to send to bandmates) you can use Audacity. Audacity is totally free and does have some inbuilt effects. It lets you do the basics, such as ‘topping and tailing’ the audio and exporting to different file types.
Reaper is an affordable alternative that lets you do a lot more than Audacity. It is also expandable with plugins, many of which are free, and allow you to add effects to your guitar recordings. Reaper can be used on either Mac or PC. Though the pricing structure can vary depending on the type of musician you are, it is more affordable than many alternatives and also allows a free trial.
Other Equipment to Consider
There is a lot of equipment which goes into making recordings of a guitar. If you are an established guitar, you’ll probably own a lot of it! Naturally, a good quality model of guitar which is suited to recording is a wonderful start. We’ve created guides to the best guitars for recording sessions. The chances are, once you’re looking to record, you may already have the guitar.
The other equipment which you consider is listed below. Though we haven’t recommended specific models, doing a little research on the equipment below will help you to make sure you don’t mess up your recording!
- Cables – poor quality cables are seen all-too-often. What’s the point in buying a great microphone if you use an XLR cable which doesn’t have the capacity to cleanly carry the audio? Investing a little in cables is worthwhile, even if it is tempting to go for a $5 bargain basement audio cable.
- Laptop or Computer – If you’re recording onto a computer, make sure you have one with plenty of hard drive space and which can comfortably run the DAW you have selected. Don’t try to do too much with your software if you’re a beginner or you have limitations around your computer, just learn the basics.
- Tuner – Always, always, always tune up before you record, with a reliable guitar tuner! There are even phone apps which can do this, so there really is no excuse for not recording with your guitar in tune.
- Pickups – If you are using electric guitar then it will definitely have pickups. Electro-acoustic guitars will also have pickups, and if you have an acoustic guitar, you do have the option to install your own. These will amplify the sound and turn it into audio signal which can be carried by a ¼ inch jack cable. A good quality pickup will give you a clear audio source, and if you are recording this output directly it is especially vital.
There is plenty of good equipment on the market for audiophiles which can do a good job without spending a lot, and without having to know huge amounts about music technology and recording gear. The problem is that for every gem of affordable audio equipment and recording equipment for guitars, there are a few dud products which won’t do your guitar justice.
It is also important to remember that there are many different ways to do the job! Some people prefer recording via microphone, others will use products like guitar interfaces to plug their guitar directly in.
Our article has shown many of the different methods, and we’ve recommended products for recording as a beginner on a budget, no matter how you choose to approach it, and whether you play electric or acoustic guitar.