Recording guitars in Reaper

The Hard Baroquer is a home musician that has pursued music as a hobby for nearly 20 years. An intermediate guitarist, beginner bassist and even sometimes dabbling on the harmonica, he is always learning something. In his free time, he runs The Hard Baroquer blog.

By The Hard Baroquer

So, you’re getting started on your journey to DIY recording and music production and need to know how to make your very first steps. Read on as we explain how to record guitar in Reaper quickly and easily.

Equipment needed to record guitars on Reaper

There are a few essential pieces of equipment and software you need in order to immortalise your guitar licks. These are:

  • A digital audio workstation (DAW). We’re focussing on Reaper today, but there are plenty out there paid and free
  • An audio interface (AI)

This is in addition to your amplifier and cabinet (or combo amp) of course. You will still need a condenser microphone to carry the sound from the cabinet to your AI.

For silent recording

For silent recording (no hardware beyond your guitar and pedals) you’ll also require some additional hardware or software (depending on your choice).

  • Amplifier simulation (amp sim) plugins (of which there are many!).
  • Cabinet simulator (cab sim) or Impulse Response loader (IR loader) plugins (of which there are many!)

You can avoid using plugins if you own the below guitar hardware:

The reason the preamp pedal or amp sim plugin and cabinet emulation technology are essential is because the direct input (DI signal) is sterile and unflattering to listen to. This comes from the fact that much of what we consider to be a guitar’s ‘tone’ comes from the colouration that happens to the instrument’s signal in the amplifier (the pre-amp and power amp sections) and also the cabinet you are hearing your guitar from adds small details to the tone. These two elements create an element of realism to your recording.

Recording your guitar out loud

To record your guitar playing directly from your amp and cab setup, connect your condenser mic to your AI.

In Reaper, press Ctrl+T to open a new tab, or on the top navigation, find the Insert tab, then insert new tab.

How to insert a new track in Reaper

Once the tab is open, for workflow purposes you can rename the track to something that makes sense to you – it could be ‘track 1’, it could be ‘guitar 1’.

Renaming a track in Reaper

If it’s helpful, you change the colour of the track by right-clicking and navigating to ‘track color’.

Changing a track’s colour in Reaper

You can also set an icon for easy navigation, by right clicking and navigating to ‘track icon’, it’s just below ‘track color’.

A track icon

Arm track for recording

Press the red circle to arm it for recording. If you want to record the same signal simultaneously to multiple tracks, open as many tracks as you need and arm only the ones you intend to record into.

An armed track – you can hear this in your monitors before you hit record:

An unarmed track – this will not have audio output or record:

An unarmed track

Once the track is armed, check your input is correct. Some AI’s have two or more outputs, so each of these outputs will be assigned their own ‘input’ in Reaper. It’s easy to forget which input is being used, so if you don’t hear any signal, double check you are using the correct Input.

At this stage you are able to monitor what’s coming out of your amplifier – if your audio interface has an output, you’ll be able to hear what your computer hears either through a headphone connection or speakers.

Use this time to check your AI is getting the correct signal. Is your microphone optimally placed? Do you need to fine tune your gain or do any minor equalisations?

This is the point where we adjust for the fact that what we hear from our amplifier and what Reaper is hearing through the microphone are not always the same – position your microphone until the monitors that Reaper is playing from match as closely to what you want hear.

Microphone positions

The position of your microphone will impact the tone that you record and it’s worth learning what positions give what impact to the recorded audio and something that deserves going into detail on its own. Placing the microphone right on the cabinet will give the closest sound to what you year.

Moving the microphone to the left or right will reduce the treble frequencies, creating a more muffled sound.

Moving the microphone further back will reduce the low frequencies in the audio.

There is no right or wrong; position the mic to taste.

This method of tracking your guitar is great for people who have a soundproof room, or enough space away from neighbours that loud amplifiers won’t be considered antisocial.

It allows you to use great equipment to get a great sound, but it’s not an option for everyone!

Recording guitars silently with Reaper

Silent recording is a quieter (for others), lighter on equipment and (usually) cheaper way of getting your guitar recorded. It also has the added advantage of being able to re-shape your tone after recording afterwards, if you want to make any changes.

This is because the amplifier and cabinet elements are created within Reaper – all you need is to install them as plugins!

These plugins can then be added to your track as effects… simply click the FX button and bring in the plugins you need.

The FX toggle

The FX button has an enable/unenable toggle that allows you to turn off all the effects to hear the DI signal. Once you’ve made your recording, you can open the effects control and edit your tone as required – even while playing the recording, so if you’re not happy with sound, but happy with the take, you can fix that in production.

If you know exactly the settings you want on your effect, you can add your effects to the DI signal. Simply open the IN FX button and you can open your plugins from there. As you’re recording, you’ll hear what you’re playing, but the effects will be printed-  you can’t undo anything (only add more).

Each has their benefits, and it’s up to you which route you prefer.

Do pedals work with Reaper?

Your pedals will work perfectly within Reaper and will be part of the DI signal you send into Reaper, and will work just fine as alternatives to using plugins. Something to consider though is that pedals can introduce some noise into your recording – this especially true for budget pedals and high gain stomp boxes (distortion pedals etc.)

Correct signal strength

Before recording, you need to check that the signal from your AI is not clipping. You’ll be alerted if a green light on your AI’s volume flashes yellow or red.

On Reaper, you can check your master volume that the signal is somewhere between -12db and -6db.

Correct signal levels

Once the sound from your monitors is fine for you and the signal is the correct level, and when your track is armed, you can hit record button on the master and play away!

If you’re happy with how it sounds… then you’re ready to track the remaining elements of your track, whether that’s bass or drums or keys etc.

Is that all?

Recording music gets more advanced once you know the basics. Once you can handle getting your signal in, getting a tone you like and recording at the correct levels, then you’re in a position to learn about compression and equalisation, but we’ll look at that at another time.

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