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School me on DAWs, IRs, amp simulators and computer recording

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  • School me on DAWs, IRs, amp simulators and computer recording

    Apologies if this has been asked to death, but I looked through the last year's worth of posts here in the Tips and Clips room and didn't see anything directly on-point, and with the speed that software moves, I figured going back much further may be fraught with stale info. So here it goes...

    I'm looking to get a home recording setup going. I bought a Focusrite Clarett 2Pre interface and have a reasonably new Mac laptop. I also have a Mesa TC-50 head with the DI out option. I'm not afraid to spend money on good equipment, but this is also a hobby so I don't want to spend thousands. Here are my general questions :

    1. Do you have a recommended (accurate and easy to understand) resource for learning basics about DAWs, IRs, computer recording in general?

    2. What DAW(s) do you recommend? Why?

    3. Are any amp simulators actually good? If so, what do you recommend?

    4. Or will I get much better results using my Mesa and IRs for cab simulation? If so, do you know of good IR libraries (I'm not going to have the ability to record my own cab)? I also have a bass (and a pre-amp) that I'd like to record with.

    5. Are there things that you think newbies often overlook or don't think about that I should be aware of? Any advice you think is good to impart on people looking to get into home recording?

    I've started looking into these things, but there is so much out there and I'm not really sure what is trustworthy and what is simply advertising shaped to look like reviews. Any advice or suggestions would be much appreciated! Thanks in advance.
    DayGlo

  • #2
    I just had to pick a DAW, watch a bunch of tutorials, and learn as I go. I use Traction Waveform, which is a great DAW for a guitarist. I use Helix Native, or my Fractal connected via USB. THe newer Mesas with the CabClone included would work, too.
    The best advice is to learn the basics from watching videos, but then record as much as you can. There is no substitute for good playing and good arrangements...almost all DAWs can capture the sound that you input.
    Dave, Ambassador/Writer/Artist for Seymour Duncan

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    • #3
      Thanks! I figured that YouTube University was going to be my best bet, but felt a bit overwhelmed with all the content and not being able to assess how good the information they are giving is.

      I'm curious, how do you like Helix Native?
      DayGlo

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      • #4
        Helix Native is great for those that don't have something like a Fractal or Sansamp hardware unit. It is easy to tweak, with lots of presets available out there. There are good sales now and then, so it is worth keeping an eye on. I do use aftermarket IRs, from Ownhammer, which are amazing.
        Dave, Ambassador/Writer/Artist for Seymour Duncan

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        • #5
          I like reaper as a daw. Download is free, powerful and simple to use. Lots of youtube tutorial videos to learn along with.

          If you get a decent mic, and practice with all sorts of settings, they all can make great music.
          Last edited by 80's_Thrash_Metal; 11-21-2020, 12:43 PM.

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          • #6
            Another Reaper user here. It’s not actually free, but the demo is full-feature and the cost is low for non-professional use.

            I’ve been recording guitars through my tube amps with dummy load, with an H&K Red Box in between for cab/ mic simulation. It’s not as flexible as a library of IRs, but it gives good results with just a few switches to flip. I spend my working life dealing with software, so it’s nice to just deal with a hardware box when it’s time to play.

            There’s no use spending big money on mics if you’re not in a treated room. Having a couple different mics to learn on would be good, though. An SM57 is the no-brainer first choice. For a second, different mic, try a moderately-priced condenser like a Rode NT1 or similar. Those two will cover a lot of ground and let you figure out what you like or don’t like.
            Tra-la-laa, lala-la-laa!
            Rich Stevens


            "I am using you; am I amusing you?" - Martha Johnson, What People Do For Fun

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Rich_S View Post
              Another Reaper user here. It’s not actually free, but the demo is full-feature and the cost is low for non-professional use.

              I’ve been recording guitars through my tube amps with dummy load, with an H&K Red Box in between for cab/ mic simulation. It’s not as flexible as a library of IRs, but it gives good results with just a few switches to flip. I spend my working life dealing with software, so it’s nice to just deal with a hardware box when it’s time to play.

              There’s no use spending big money on mics if you’re not in a treated room. Having a couple different mics to learn on would be good, though. An SM57 is the no-brainer first choice. For a second, different mic, try a moderately-priced condenser like a Rode NT1 or similar. Those two will cover a lot of ground and let you figure out what you like or don’t like.
              I'm using Ardour on Linux, but would recommend Reaper as a great beginner DAW on Windows. If you're using a Mac, Garage Band is a great place to start with an upgrade path to Logic Studio if you really want to go there.

              I agree that an SM57 is a great choice for a beginner microphone; I like it best on guitar cab or snare drum, but it'll work for a quick scratch vocal take. However in an untreated room I wouldn't recommend a large diaphragm condenser as a second mic. The room I record in has rather minimalist DIY treatment, and the other two mics I kept are an SM81 that I use on acoustic guitar and an SM7B for vocals. An SM7B and Cloudlifter will run $400-550 depending on new/used/condition/etc, but it's great in poorly treated spaces due to its excellent off-axis rejection.
              Originally posted by crusty philtrum
              And that's probably because most people with electric guitars seem more interested in their own performance rather than the effect on the listener ... in fact i don't think many people who own electric guitars even give a poop about the effect on a listener. Which is why many people play electric guitars but very very few of them are actually musicians.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by 3'scompany View Post
                1. Do you have a recommended (accurate and easy to understand) resource for learning basics about DAWs, IRs, computer recording in general?
                Just YouTube your brains out, otherwise get a conversation going with a long-time user of the software you choose.

                Originally posted by 3'scompany View Post
                2. What DAW(s) do you recommend? Why?
                For me, ProTools. Industry standard, native to Mac. Anything done in it can be taken to a studio later and finished off without a hitch. But if you're beginning and will never do that, there are more than half a dozen options. Even GarageBand is quite effective to get your feet wet in home recording. Some viral artists got their start using GarageBand.

                Originally posted by 3'scompany View Post
                3. Are any amp simulators actually good? If so, what do you recommend?
                Lots of amp simulations are great. I've used Line 6, Tech21, Zoom. I've heard AxeFX in person, which sounded pretty dead-on. Also, in-the-box like IK Multimedia have some reasonable simulations (though not so flexible, it's not like having the actual amp and turning the knobs behaves the way the real amp does; really they just have some good pre-set sounds.)

                Originally posted by 3'scompany View Post
                4. Or will I get much better results using my Mesa and IRs for cab simulation? If so, do you know of good IR libraries (I'm not going to have the ability to record my own cab)? I also have a bass (and a pre-amp) that I'd like to record with.
                IME cab/mic simulations are not so good. They improve the sound a bit, but they are not quite right. YMMV

                Originally posted by 3'scompany View Post
                5. Are there things that you think newbies often overlook or don't think about that I should be aware of? Any advice you think is good to impart on people looking to get into home recording?
                Don't set up your listening environment (monitor speakers) against a wall, or in a squared off room without sound treatment. You'll never hear exactly what's on the recording because the room reflections will alter the EQ and sound of what you are hearing. And keep the airspace clear around your speakers (don't have racks of gear nearby reflecting the speaker sound to your ears.)
                Originally posted by Demanic
                Incompetence is widespread in a world that rewards mediocrity while punishing excellence.
                Originally posted by GuitarFanatic
                I am currently using Skullcandy headphones I found in the garbage.
                I did find the DS-1 in the garbage.
                I once found a guitar amp in the garbage, a Peavey Studio 110. It caught fire at the first gig I played it at.. But it was at the end of it, thank god.

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                • #9
                  Thanks so much for the input so far! Much appreciated!
                  DayGlo

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