Define your intended guitar sound and/or genre according your subjective taste. This will help you to set a clearer goals, thus prevent a meaningless tweaking especially if you are on a tight deadline.
Guitar’s Pickup Type
Maybe it’s a common knowledge among most guitarists, but your guitar’s pickup can greatly affect your “sound” and how you treat and process your sound.
For example, the heavy sounding humbucker are more suitable for Amplifikation Creme, while the bright, crispy single-coils are great for Amplifikation Vermilion guitar amplifiers or Amplifikation One in a clean or crunchy guitar tone rather than a heavy overdrive due to its relatively higher noise floor. This article by Seymour Duncan is a great one to read more about electric guitar pickups.
Always Use a Good Quality Instrument Cables
What’s makes a difference between cheap vs expensive specialities cables with many bells and whistles that can cost 10 times more.
Basically, an ultimate goal of a good instrument cable is: providing more signal with less noise, or transparent. To achieve this, the cable should be (1) shielded to prevent any signal interference (from the wireless signals, phone signals, electricity, etc), (2) noise free / quiet, (3) good copper material conductivity, and (4) don’t have any frequency response, a.k.a. neutral.
Call us old-school, but we always prefer a straight good quality cable from reputable 1st party manufacturers, without any “special ingredients” or mysticism attached believed to enhance the quality of your signal.
Soundcard is Essential
Soundcard is probably the very first thing obtained before entering the digital music production domain, so knowing them are essential, this relates to the gain level of your guitar signal into the soundcard.
Most of them may or may not have a built-in pre amplifier; a small circuit to boost audio input signal with minimum noise.
In that even, make sure that you are using the mic/instrument level input for passive devices such as guitars and microphones, or if there’s only a line level input present (such as the old ESI juli@), use an external preamp to boost the signal into a good, solid level. Quoting from Arie’s interview with Melodie Fabrik:
“..most important part is to make a dry signal as loud as you can as long as it doesn’t peak (look for an optimal setting). It can be very helpful to plug your guitar through a tube preamp first before the soundcard input (I’m still using my old and humble Behringer mic100 and ESI juli@ Soundcard that I’ve used since the AradazAmp era). In addition, a noise-free cables and a soundcard with dynamic range above 110dB are essential.”
While every soundcard have different pre amplifier quality. It should be noted that pre amplifier stage is one of the most important factor in recording, so if the soundcard’s built-in pre amplifier sounded bad, you can try using an outboard pre amplifier to improve the signal quality.
Just make sure that you doesn’t doubling up the pre amplifier stage by chaining an outboard pre amplifier to the soundcard’s pre amplifier because it may cause the soundcard’s noise floor to rise, leading the audio to distort. Always use a Line level input if you are using an external pre amplifier.
Adjusting the Optimal Gain Level
In relation with the previous section, to get an optimal gain level to the soundcard you need to make sure that the gain are hot enough while avoid overload or clipping.
Stroke the strings with a normal power, and adjust the gain knob bit by bit until the green LED indicator start moving dynamically, then stop right after it turns red.