Recording Acoustic Guitars

Recording Acoustic GuitarsI’d like to share a few tricks and techniques I’ve learned about recording acoustic guitars over the years.  As you may know already acoustic guitars can be very finicky when it comes to tuning and playability depending on temperature.  Its good to have a humidifier in your guitar case, as weather changes can affect your instrument.  When recording your acoustic make sure to check your tuning when going from the control room to the recording room, subtle changes in temperature can affect the tuning.  Normally its good to get a brand new set of strings on your guitar and work them in a bit prior to recording.  Pick choice is also very important when recording acoustic guitars.  If its a rhythm type track sometimes its nice to use a lighter gauge pic so you get a more shimmering effect.  If the track is a lead part using a thicker pick will increase the attack on the guitar strings, helping it to stand out more in the mix.  As far as finger picking is concerned, is good to have a nail clipper & file in case you have any wayward nails or rough edges.  Keep this in your “goody bag”.  In future blogs, I will write about a guitarists goody bag and what’s important to have in it.There are a lot of different techniques that one can try when recording acoustic guitars.  I will share with you a few of the ones that I have found to be the most consistent as far as recording and quality is concerned.  Personally I’ve never liked the sound of a DI’d acoustic (direct injection).  There are some great preamps out there that you can run your signal thru, and the peizo pickups are starting to sound better and better everyday.  Normally depending on the amount of channels available when recording I will usually Mic and DI an instrument.  There are occasions when the DI is particularly helpful,  vocal bleed, foot stomping are two reasons that come to mind.  When it comes to recording its best “to put your best foot forward”.  For me that means to have a great sounding acoustic guitar in a great room with a great microphone.  As far as technique is concerned, normally I mic a acoustic guitar with 2 microphones.  One large condenser microphone (my goto mic is a AKG C12) I place this mic about 6 – 12 inches from the sound hole off axis.  Off axis means to one side pointing at the sound source, rather than pointing directly at the source.  The second microphone I ussually place on or around the 12 fret on the acoustic about 4 – 6 inches away.  I normally use a SM57 or a Small Condenser microphone (SDC).  When placing mic’s its good to move them around while someone plays the guitar, while listening back on headphones you can find the “sweet spot” where the guitar just breaths.

Another trick I’ve just recently learned and have put to good use is to take a 3rd microphone and place it above the acoustic guitar players should pointing forward.  Normally I place the microphone a foot or so above the person’s shoulder.  This technique gives you the sound of what the player is hearing.

When it comes to mix time I will tend to use one or two of the microphones in combination, of course keeping phase in mind.  (Phase is a term used to describe the position of one sound wave relative to another sound wave, Two identical waves are ‘in-phase’ when the crests and troughs of the waves meet and are ‘out-of-phase’ when the crests of one wave meets the trough of another wave.)  Depending on the complexity of the track/song and what role the acoustic guitar is playing in the mix.  (supporting? lead?).  Sometime when you are recording you may record the acoustic very big and boomy, while it sounds great in the mix, once you start to add other elements (bass guitar, bass drum) you may find that the boom is too much.  Grabbing an EQ and rolling off a bit of low end will help to slot that rhythm acoustic back into place in the mix.  Of course it really depends on the song, and it always will.

When recording I tend to shy away from using too much compression and EQ going to “tape” or DAW (digital audio workstation).  Once you’ve recorded something with effects inline you can’t get rid of it.  Unless of course that’s what you’re going for in the recording, ie over compressed, or hyped sounding.  I would suggest to leave those types of decision until mix time.  Usually recording an acoustic guitar is the first step on the process of recording, making too many decision’s up front about compression and EQ may hinder you.  Once again it comes down to the song.  My best advice is to get the guitar track sounding GREAT! with just microphones and mic placement first.

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Shane Ward

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