Recording the perfect acoustic guitar
Recording the perfect acoustic guitar
It’s a question you hear time and time again from guitarists trying to capture the natural sound of an acoustic or nylon strung guitar. How do I get that natural sound? Where should I point the mics? What is the best mic and should I just make-do and plug the guitar in via DI?
Start with a reference sound
Every piece of music has it’s own identity and it’s important to have a good idea of what you’re after in terms of sound before you get going. Of course there’s something to be said for experimentation and ‘playing’ with sound, which is an essential part of any musicians artistic journey. Limited timeframes and budgets are however a reality and by the time you get to the studio to record you should be pretty crystal on what you’re after. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any trial and error in the studio. There is no end to the options available these days and it’s very subjective as to which guitar sound you’ll find more or less appealing, or that will suit your track.
We always recommend having a reference track with a guitar sound similar to what you are trying to achieve. As we get loads of queries about guitar recording here at Onlinesessions we’ve put together a little guide of some techniques we frequently use and that we find work well in the following contexts. Of course this is nowhere near an exhaustive list, but it’s a good overview.
Recording set up
The room you choose to record in is almost as important as your instrument, in fact we like to see the room as an extension of the instrument and pay great attention in room and mic selection for each recording we do. It’s vitally important as the mic will pick up not just the guitar but also the effect that the room has.
Choose a room that has good un-amplified sound. Always place a rug under the performance area which will help minimise any (usually unwanted) early reflections and prevent noise from the movement of your feet or the chair. It goes without saying, make sure your sitting position is comfortable and there’s room enough in front of you to position your mics.
– Mic selection for acoustic guitar recording
You probably already have your favourite microphones to hand but it’s worth taking a moment to reevaluate their suitability. If you’re a singer/songwriter, using a generic, mid priced range condenser mic may well get a result you’re happy with.
We’ve found, although not taking credit for the discovery, that the RHØDE NT5’s offer a particularly detailed and natural sound for the acoustic guitar. We’ve used these very successfully alongside much more specialist models. Any good quality small diaphragm condenser mics will likely give more detail and capture the natural sound of the guitar. They can be used as stereo pairs or for mono recordings as discussed later.
• Mic position 1
Although not the only way to do this, X-Y positioning is a popular method and it’s one of many recording solutions for acoustic guitar. Here, as pictured, the mics are positioned perpendicular to each other forming the apex of a triangle. The apex is pointed in between the sound hole and the 12th fret around 1 meter away. Adjusting the distance of the mics from the guitar will dramatically change the signal to noise ratio and tonal qualities.
• Mic position 2
Wide stereo positioning
This gives a similar result to the X-Y positioning but more often than not needs significant post processing as the stereo effect can be very wide and unnatural. The key benefit from this technique is that you have greater flexibility in choice of sound by directing the mics to positions of desirable resonance. Taking your time experimenting can give an awesome and full effect for solo guitarists but it’s probably not the easiest or most sensible way to record if you’re just after a backing guitar that’s strumming away happily occupying a given frequency in the mix.
• Mic position 3
Mono mic position
Positioning the mic so that it points at the 12th fret but slightly inwards towards the sound hole gives a nice attack and minimises excessive fret noise while chaining chords (or being a guitar god soloing up and down the neck!). Given you are likely to add some form of compression to your recording you’re best off considering this and not directing the mic up the fretboard to the left hand. This simple method of mono recording is great for the backing guitar that’s padding out the overall sound. Also the choice for many singer/songwriters while making use of a separate mic to capture their vocals.
If you’ve paid attention to the careful capture of your sound, you really shouldn’t need to do a great deal other than carefully place the file in in your mix. A mono recording, strumming a basic rhythm pattern may benefit from subtle compression and EQ. For the wider stereo image it’s worth pulling up a plug in and playing with the width of the sound. Open the width to achieve the maximum spacial effect. Sounds pretty unnatural hey? Now slowly bring the left and right inwards, equally until you replicate as close the natural acoustic sound as possible. A great result. If you are find that the signal to noise ratio is a problem, click here to read a solution.
Should you find yourself in need of that extra bit of help don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Written by firstname.lastname@example.orgTags: acoustic guitar recording, mic positioning, mic selection, Rhode NT5