The Music Espionage

Recording Acoustic Guitar

Recording Acoustic Guitar is still basically the same method as it has been for the last 70 years of the recording industry. Solo composers may have been able to take advantage of the recent advancements in music technology. For a relatively cheap sum, you can obtain realistic instrument samples, amp mods etc. However, there is still no ‘decent’ technology available for an acoustic guitar and basically placing a microphone in front of one and hitting record; this is still (by far) the best way to capture the instrument and get a natural sound.

But, Recording Acoustic Guitar is a far more complex task than sticking a mic in front of the sound hole and hitting record…

Recording Acoustic GuitarAs with any instrument recording, preparation is key. If the instrument sounds rubbish before recording there’s not much you can do in post-production to cure it. If the guitar itself isn’t the sound you’re looking for try and borrow another one. It may even be worth buying a new guitar depending on the importance of the recording. When it comes to strings, thinner gauge will produce a thinner sound so it maybe worth purchasing a thicker set. Old strings on a guitar will sound dead and warn so new strings are a must.

Even the thickness of the guitarist’s pick will affect the sound. Try multiple takes with a variety of picks to get the best sound for your recording.

Remove watches, chains, rings etc. anything that can cause an unwanted noise on the track. You don’t want to get half way through an amazing take to hear a watch smack against the body of the guitar.

Also make sure the guitar is in tune. An out of tune guitar happens more often than not, as the performer is probably concentrating on not messing up and getting a decent take than how in-tune their guitar is. Check the tuning every take.

Recording Acoustic Guitar – Microphone Choice:

An acoustic guitar has a wide frequency range, more so than an electric, due to harmonics and overtones produced by the instrument. Therefore, you want a microphone that has a good response for low and high frequencies. Generally a condenser microphone will be used in this role, as it can better replicate the higher frequencies and can capture the subtle detail of an acoustic guitar. Having said that, you can use a dynamic microphone on the body, as this is where the low frequencies are produced. Mix this with a condenser microphone to taste.

Small diaphragm condensers will pick up greater detail in the higher frequencies, whereas large diaphragm condensers might capture a more rounded sound.

Recording of a sE Electronics sE1a Small Diaphragm Condenser (SDC)

[audio:|titles=sE1a Neck:body]

Recording of a Rode NT1 Large Diaphragm Condenser (LDC)

[audio:|titles=Acoustic NT1]

When choosing your microphone one consideration is the polar pattern available. If you only have directional microphones the proximity effect comes into play, so where possible Omni or figure of eight should be used. If you are limited with your microphone choice and have to use a directional microphone the placement should be at least 1-1.5 feet back from the guitar, otherwise you’ll get a big boost to the low end.

Recording of a Rode NT1 one inch from sound hole (proximity effect):

[audio:|titles=Acoustic Prox eff]

If you only have a directional microphone and you need the isolation of a close mic technique, then reduce the low end in an EQ until it sounds more natural.

Recording Acoustic Guitar – Microphone Placement:

Recording Acoustic Guitar

It would make logical sense to place a microphone in front and aimed directly at the sound hole, because surely, that’s where the sound comes from, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no.Recording Acoustic Guitar

The loudest sound will come from the sound hole, this is why it is generally miked up in live scenarios. But, you will get the most balanced tone pointing the microphone where the guitar body meets the neck – usually around the 12th fret. Moving the microphone further up the neck will produce a brighter tone, whereas moving it towards the sound hole will give more body.

Recording Acoustic Guitar – sE Electronics sE1a aimed at the sound hole (2)

[audio:|titles=sE1a Sound hole]

Recording Acoustic Guitar – sE Electronics sE1a Aimed at the body/neck joint (5)

[audio:|titles=sE1a Neck:body]

As with most other instruments – moving the microphone further away will give more room ambience and moving it closer will give more definition to the instrument.

Recording Acoustic Guitar – sE Electronics sE1a close to guitar

[audio:|titles=Acoustic sE1a close]

Recording Acoustic Guitar – sE Electronics sE1a about 1.5 feet back

[audio:|titles=sE1a Neck:body]

Recording Acoustic Guitar

Recording Acoustic Guitar – Using a Single Microphone:

A common microphone technique for an acoustic guitar is to place a LDC aimed at the point where the neck meets the body of the guitar. As discussed earlier, this will produce a balanced sound and using a LDC will allow a more even frequency pick up than a SDC.

Recording Acoustic Guitar – Rode NT1 aimed at the neck/body joint (4)

[audio:|titles=sE1a Neck:body]

Recording Acoustic GuitarAnother technique to consider with a single microphone is to position a microphone next to the left side of the artist’s head (if right handed) pointing at the twelfth fret. If you require more low end position the microphone on the opposite side of the guitarist’s head.

Recording of an sE Electronics Titan positioned on the right side of the guitarist’s head:

[audio:|titles=Acoustic Titan]

If the guitarist has issues with sitting still while they are playing, or you require more isolation, try using a mini microphone and tape it to the lower side of the sound hole. This will produce a bassy but isolated sound. Roll off the low frequencies when mixing.

Recording Acoustic Guitar – Using Two Microphones:

For a solo guitar performance try using a stereo pair technique (for more on stereo microphone techniques click here). A common technique is the spaced pair using a dynamic microphone positioned towards the body of the guitar and a condenser microphone positioned towards the neck. This technique will pick up the low and high frequencies separately allowing you to blend the two together to your own taste.

Recording Acoustic Guitar – Shure SM57 on the body: (1)

[audio:|titles=Acoustic SM57]

Recording Acoustic Guitar – Rode NT1 aimed at the body/neck joint (4)

[audio:|titles=Acoustic NT1]

 Recording Acoustic Guitar – Shure SM57 and Rode NT1 mixed together

[audio:|titles=Acoustic 57 & NT1]

Another stereo technique to try is a coincident pair. Aim one microphone at the body of the guitar – below the bridge. The second should be aimed towards the neck – about the twelfth fret. The microphones should be at least 1 foot back from the guitar.

Recording Acoustic Guitar – Rode NT4 Coincident microphone (3)

[audio:|titles=Acoustic NT4]

A Final Consideration:

If you are having trouble placing the guitar in the mix try using Nashville tuning. This techniques uses the lower gauge strings from a twelve string guitar and requires the tuning of the E, A, D and G strings to be an octave higher than normal pitch. This creates a brighter sounding guitar that will sit better in a mix.

Recording Acoustic Guitar