These are my general rules for recording guitars. I try to stick to a classic metal sound modeled after classic two guitar bands of the early eighties and late seventies like Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest. So here we go:
Rule #1: Use two tracks for rhythm guitars. I don’t mean two as opposed to one; I mean two as opposed to three, four, five, six, etc. More does not equal better. Layering six rhythm guitar tracks will mask the character of your playing. Two is nice, one for each ear. Oh but more is heavier you say? I disagree. Heaviness comes from the structure of your riffs, the dynamics and arrangement of the song, and the attitude of the playing. More and more guitars fills up the sonic spectrum and may initially seem heavier but ultimately it just masks nuances of your playing and drowns out the bass. More about bass in rule #2
When to break this rule: When you have more than 2 different guitar parts.
Rule #2: The guitar is not the bass. Guitar belongs in the mid and high range of the spectrum, the bass goes in the low range. Make room for the bass. 8 string guitars will not help you hear the bass guitar. Now a 5 string bass… that may work.
When to break this rule: When you’re bass player quit one day before entering the studio and you’re incapable of laying down bass tracks yourself.
Rule #3: Never ever ever cut and paste. Pro Tools is great but abusing Pro Tools is not great. Digital recording systems allow us to cut and paste parts we’ve recorded just like a word processor. Does that mean we should do it? Fuck no! Doing this will make you sound like a robot. Be a human, play the whole fucking song.
When to break this rule: When you’re mixing and a file gets corrupted and all your guitars have burned up in a fire.
Rule #4: Don’t edit the shit out of everything. Again, don’t abuse the power of digital editing. You do not need to remove every little scrape, squeal, and stray noise on your guitar tracks. These noises are part of your guitar playing personality. Sometimes your fingers make noise when sliding on the strings – it’s OK. Sometimes the pick makes a noise when you hit a note – it’s OK. Sometimes there’s stray noise when you stop a note – it’s OK. Some digital editing is so painfully obvious it ends up sounding like crap.
When to break this rule: Never.
Rule #5: Don’t use pitch correction. This should be obvious. If you can’t bend a string to the correct pitch (or “close enough for rock and roll” as my guitar teacher used to say) then go practice some more. Pitch correction will suck the life out of your playing.
When to break this rule: When you are hopeless.
In summary, don’t be lazy and don’t abuse the tools. Practice, practice practice still applies. Your playing should have it’s own voice, don’t lose it with poor studio techniques. Don’t try to make everything sound perfect, concentrate on sounding like YOU!