How I get good guitar clean tone
When I record clean tone for guitar, this is how I go about it.
Good recorded clean tone for guitar on the surface appears to be easy, and in fact it is once you know how it's done.
Before continuing, I own a Line 6 Spider V 60, but if you happen to own a V 30, V 120 or V 240 model of the same amplifier, the preset mentioned in the video can be emailed to you directly just by signing up for the newsletter.
Aside from what is said in the video above, what I do to get a good clean sound is the following:
"Clean" should not be "crystal clean"
The amp selection I'm using in the preset does in fact put a little "dirt" in there, which means you can hear some mild speaker breakup similar to how a real speaker cabinet would sound.
Loudspeakers for guitar use don't sound like hi-fi speakers and never have. When the volume of a guitar amp is turned up even with absolutely no overdrive present, the sound will naturally distort. This being true, having some of that light overdrive in there does sound normal to the ear.
If I were to a "crystal clean" direct sound where absolutely no emulated speaker breakup is heard, it sounds too processed and fake. Yes, emulated amps are of course fake, but the point is that you don't want to make it sound overly obvious.
Some emulated cabinets are more appropriate than others
Smaller cabs will exhibit speaker breakup sooner than larger ones, just like in real life. Sometimes this is desirable because you can more effectively control how much breakup happens with your guitar volume. For me, it is desirable because adjusting speaker breakup at the guitar rather than at the amp is more convenient.
Compression is your friend
On just about all amp modelers be it on the amp or in software, there is the option to enable compression. My preferred compressor is the emulated MXR Dyna Comp pedal. Many modelers list this as a "red" compressor since the pedal color is literally painted red.
It's also usually true on most modelers that the emulated compressor option right next to the "red" is the "blue", the BOSS CS-3 Compression Sustainer.
Some of you may prefer blue over red. I just like the red one better and always have.
Reverb should be light
When I first started using reverb years ago, of course I would drown the sound in it because it was like a new toy to me. But these days I scale back the reverb because I want to hear the guitar first and not the effect.
Sometimes reverb effects are cool to use, but when they overpower the guitar, the effect just gets in the way.
What NOT to do?
The key thing I try not to do since I know from experience that it doesn't work is to "sound vintage".
Something I am very well aware of is that most "vintage" guitar tones sound bland and boring.
Software developers try very hard to accurately emulate the exact guitar sounds heard on famous vintage rock recordings. Do they succeed? Yes, they do. But then when you hear it played through your guitar, you won't like it.
Below is the isolated guitar from a Jimi Hendrix show from 1970. It is confirmed that yes, this is that actual track. This is not a clean tone but I'm showing it just to prove a point. You won't believe it's the actual isolated guitar because it sounds so bland and dull, but yes, it's the real deal:
That is how a real vintage tone sounds like. It's not really good at all. Instead, it sounds like your average Joe playing through a small amp at Guitar Center.
When you develop your sound, don't go for vintage because the sound above is what you'll get. Modernize, use the right amp/cabinet emulation, add compression, shape it and then your guitar will sound great when recorded.