Four Different Ways to Add Effects to your Guitar or Bass when Recording

Recording can be a bit of a minefield, particularly when you’re new to it. Unlike when you’re playing live, there are certain steps you need to take to maintain the quality of sound. Also, there seem to be so many different opinions floating around about what you should and should not do.

Here, we’re going to have a look at the different ways of adding effects to your guitar or bass when you’re recording. We’ll look at the four most common ways of doing this and discuss the pros and cons of each.


1. Using your Sequencer’s Built-In Effects

One popular option is using the effects that are built into your sequencing software. These effects, also known as VST plug-ins, are extremely varied and give you the opportunity to be creative. Of course, there will always be musicians who prefer hardware over software, but some VSTs really do sound realistic and your options truly are endless. It’s likely that there will be several VSTs built-into your software, but there are many more available for download, some free of charge and some at a small cost.


  • Cheap, easy way of accessing a multitude of sounds.
  • Virtual effects units take up no space!
  • It’s easy to flick from effect to effect, until you hear what works for you.


  • They can lack a certain ‘punch’ or ‘real’-ness.
  • It can be difficult to find exactly what you want.


2. Using Pedals as you would Live

Another way you might think of recording effects onto your guitar/bass might be with foot pedals. This is a basic way to do it and has the benefit of keeping you in control. If you know exactly what sound you want, are confident your pedals can achieve it, and have a decent noise gate, there is nothing wrong with this option. This is also the obvious option if you choose to play with a wah pedal. However, the sound quality may suffer, even with a noise gate, as your guitar’s signal is weakened through the pedals. Using pedals also leaves you with limited options after you’ve recorded.


  • You know what you’re getting.
  • You’re in control.
  • It’s easy to set up.


  • The signal is weakened.
  • You may get unwanted sounds.
  • Your options after recording are limited.

3. Re-amping your Clean Guitar

If your amp has a sick overdrive or some built-in effects that you love, re-amping it might be the option for you. This is when you record your guitar with a clean signal, choosing to run the recorded guitar through the amp afterwards, and recording that in turn. This leaves you with two recordings: a clean guitar part and the clean part re-amped with effects. Needless to say, having a clean recording opens up your options and re-amping creates a real, vintage sound that many find irresistible.


  • Offers a ‘real’ sound that can match your live performances.
  • Can be done more than once, giving you options.
  • Maintains a better sound quality than recording straight through an amp with effects switched on.


  • It can be quite tricky to get right; you’ll need a sound engineer who knows what he’s doing!
  • Despite being more flexible than using pedals, you’re still limited to what your amp can do.


4. Using Virtual Effects ‘Pedals’

Similar to using the effects within your sequencer, you can also opt to use virtual guitar pedals. These can be downloaded to iPhones, tablets and other smart devices. They work just like foot pedals but tend to be a lot cheaper. Of course, you probably wouldn’t want to operate it with your foot, either.

You can choose to use these pedals either to record straight into your sequencer or at the re-amping stage. Just remember, if you choose to use them in the recording stage, you’re stuck with those effects and the sound quality might not be 100%.


  • Cheap, easy access to effects.
  • Can be used at either the recording stage or re-amping stage.
  • You save space compared to hardware.


  • Lacks the ‘real’-ness of hardware.
  • Sound quality might not be 100%, especially if you record straight through it.



As you can see, each of these ways of recording using effects has its benefits. If you’re looking for the ultimate live sound, recording straight through pedals might work well for you, particularly if you know exactly what you want and/or love the sound of your pedals.

If you’re looking for a vintage sound with a punch, re-amping is a great option which ensures you don’t lose any of that ‘real’-ness, whilst keeping your sound quality as high as it should be.

If creative options are your priority, VSTs or virtual pedals are your best friend. They leave you with so many options, it’s impossible to get bored or stuck as you find out which sounds will express your guitar most effectively.

Many recording musicians use a combination of these methods, with each one serving different purposes in different songs. Why not try all of them out, and find out what you love (and maybe hate) about each one?

Roz is a UK music teacher and musician that has released four studio albums with her band The Roz Bruce Infusion. See her blog at and Facebook

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