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Recording Your String Changes

Taking Sound Notes When we first start learning to play the guitar we're often encouraged to record ourselves playing. For most of us, when we listen back this can prove quite a cringeworthy experience, but it is hard to deny the eye opening benefits such an exercise can offer. But surely we're listening whilst we're playing right. Surely that's enough!? Well yes. That is very true, however, our brain is being occupied in several ways when we sit down to play the guitar. Often we can be so wrapped up in the ‘playing’ side of things that our ‘listening’ takes a back seat. Recording yourself takes you away from the physical element of playing and allows you to listen with a different set of ears helping you to make a more informed judgment and critique of your playing and progress. You can also do this when trying out different types of strings too. This sounds a strange thing to say, but it really works. I was recently testing out different acoustic alloys for my new acoustic guitar (see blog The Great Acoustic Alloy Experiment) and carried out the process of recording myself playing the various sets. I’d like to think I have a pretty good memory, but despite what I thought I remember hearing, when I actually listened back to the recordings, I found myself thinking “wow, those sound better/different/not as great as I thought at the time.” By recording yourself, you can also hear how one set sounds next to another quite easily which would otherwise prove quite a difficult task. After all, it’s highly unlikely many of us will have access to the exact same guitar to test two different sets of strings at the same time. Even if we did have this luxury, no two guitars that are supposedly “the same” really in fact sound “the same”. And even the quickest of string changers would find it difficult to change their strings quick enough to A/B a set of strings side by side that quickly. Plus, you’ll no doubt want to keep your strings on your guitar for as long as you can, and if they stay on there for weeks, months or years (you know who you are!) it can be a challenge to remember how they sounded at the start compared to how they sound now.  
    Written Notes
For me a lot of playing guitar comes down to two things; sound and feel. Feel is a big thing for me. Whether it be the feel of the guitar itself, a set of strings or even a pick. For this reason, you may also find it beneficial to make written notes on how you feel the strings change over the time they are sat on the guitar. This doesn’t have to be ‘War and Peace’, you can just jot down the things that you feel matter. Do they start to ‘settle in’ quickly or do they take a few more days to hit that ‘sweet spot’ where they really start to feel (and sound) at their best. How long did they stay like that? Did the tension change over time? Did they begin to tarnish? Some of these things you can’t always hear on a recording so it’s worth taking the time to make notes… and trust me, you can’t always rely on your memory. I think I’ve mentioned that already. Have I? Oh god.  
    Keep Things Consistent
It goes without saying that it's important to keep things consistent too, if you can. That way you can make a clearer judgment when you listen back. Here’s a few things you may want to consider keeping constant when you record yourself;
  • Use the same amp settings (and/or effects settings) - it's hard to make a call on the sound if you're comparing one sound clip of a super clean amp then comparing this against a heavy gain sound.
  • Play in the same room - If you’re recording your acoustic or classical guitar using your phone for instance, it might be worth doing this in the same room to avoid any variations in acoustics.
  • Have the recorder set in a similar position. Again, if you’re using your phone, having it positioned in a similar position each time can help consistency. If you're using a field recorder you could always record your guitar from around 10ft away. Again this sounds odd, but that's what an audience member will be hearing.
Positioning Your Mic - I saw the Eric Clapton documentary recently who said he went into a recording studio and the engineer mic’d up his amp two inches from the speaker. Although we accept this as pretty standard positioning, Clapton insisted the amp was mic’d up from 10ft away as that would be the most authentic sound to what any audience member would be hearing. That way the recording would replicate the live sound for the listener. When you think about it, there’s certainly logic behind this thinking.
Recording the same lick/phrase/song each time - Whilst listening back to the same song or lick each time can prove tedious it can really help make the comparison much easier. It’s harder to make a judgment when you’re comparing your versions of a Metallica riff to your Hotel California solo attempt. If you’re using recording software you could always play different parts of a song using different sets and then merge the tracks together to create the song.. that would be a cool, creative way to do an A/B test.
    What You Can Use
If this is something you wanted to try, you can make it as casual or in depth as you want or feel is necessary. Although we’ve offered some ideas that may sound overkill to some, it needn’t be so sophisticated in any way. Even the recorder on your phone is more than adequate for this type of experimentation. When I was recording my acoustic guitar for the Acoustic Alloy Experiment, I was just using the 'Live Rec' mode on my BOSS BR-80. Although it’s a dedicated recorder, it was pretty rough and ready stuff! Just make sure you label each recording, otherwise you can get in a bit of a muddle. Whatever you choose, these are just ideas to help you on your way. I hope this has helped and as always, if you guys have any questions or advice on strings or anything guitar related, just drop us a line and we’ll be happy to help in any way we can. Catch you next time!  

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