I’ve tried both the miking up an amp method and the direct input method of recording heavy electric guitar, and each has different good and bad points, which I am about to share with you…
Volume - Your neighbours won’t be complaining about your constantly-at-11 guitar amp if you aren’t *using* an amp. Or a real one anyway. With the amount of awesome guitar amp emulators on the market now (Guitar Rig, Ampfarm etc. ) You can get away with keeping your virtual amp at 11 and your speakers at 1 and you can stay friends with everyone in a 5 mile radius! Score.
Versatility - You can change the amp to whatever you want after recording, much harder to do when you mic up an existing amp! Need more crunch on your chugs? A different amp? A few clicks and you’re set. You could do it in real life with a few clicks… but you’d end up paying a few grand and waiting a few days for your online order to arrive. Lame, eh?
Realism - Unless you have a good preamp and a bit of knowledge about space emulation, your tone can end up flat and lifeless. This really sucks, and is why miked up amps are used in pro recordings so often!
Latency - If your computer is a bit slow, hearing the monitored distorted guitar a second after you play can be more than a little offputting when playing!
Feel - Guitarists will give a better performance if they can feel the power of the amp and really get into it. Just using headphones have a habit of tempering their playing style if they aren’t used to it. If they can feel the ground shaking, they can get the ego boost required to make them carry their confidence into their playing!
Quality - You can’t get a much more realistic guitar amp tone than from a real guitar amp. Nuff said.
Difficulty - Moving your mic an inch or angling it a few degrees makes a MASSIVE difference to the recorded sound. It takes a lot of experience to know which mic to use and where to position it. What you hear is not necessarily what will be recorded. And once it’s in it’s damn hard to change it into what you want – best to get things sorted at the source.
Expense - You need a good guitar amp and a good mic and a good mic preamp and a good guitarist to get a good sound! It costs a lot of money to get good things! I’d recommend a nice SM57 mic (The mic that is arguably most commonly used on guitar amp recording), a marshall head (Some people use those mini amps to great effect too!), a focusrite preamp, and a guitarist with really long hair – they are obviously awesome.
The other thing you can do to get the best of both worlds is DI as you mic an amp, then you can always mix the two signals, or run the DI’d recording out into an amp at a later date to get the realistic tone! Sorted.
Any opinions in the battle between virtual or real amps? Share them in a comment below!