Updated on Jan 04, 2021
The acoustic guitar is one of the most popular instruments in music thanks to its being portable, versatile, and polyphonic. The tone and style of the acoustic guitar allow it to fit in with many different styles of music, from blues & rock to jazz or pop. Just like the piano, it’s so versatile that we can always rely on it to help with writing music, but the tougher question is how to record acoustic guitar.
Audio is full of complexities and recording acoustic guitar is a science of its own. Everything will have an impact, from the type of guitar to the size of the room, but we’re here to help you navigate these challenges and produce the best sounding audio. In this article we'll dive into the surroundings you should be in, the recording device (microphone), and the different methods of recording, from Mono to Stereo. By the end of this, you'll be equipped with the knowledge to produce high quality recordings of your acoustic guitar.
For all intents and purposes, we’ll assume you’re not using an acoustic-electric guitar, as the process is much more simple for that. So let us start talking about how to record acoustic guitar.
The primary concerns we run into in terms of where we record is the ambience & acoustics. It might sound like such a small factor but can make or break your audio completely. What this refers to, for those who are unaware, is the amount of echo and reverberance the room generates from the sound waves.
Not everyone has access to a wide variety of rooms, and fortunately that is most likely going to be fine. We’ll give you our own pointers on what to look for in a room depending on the style of recording you want to capture.
Large, open space rooms with a lot of hard surfaces will produce more reverberance than a smaller room with clutter. When I was younger, I had a basement with an empty finished side that had incredible acoustics. However, recording in my bedroom would have the opposite effect, which had its own upsides.
My personal preference for recording audio, whether it be vocals or guitar, is to have a drier track, with limited ambient noise. The reason for this is that reverb and echoes cannot (typically) be removed & edited from your audio without destroying the track in the process. It’s not liked a frequency where you can narrow them down and remove them, it’s an effect that sits on every aspect of your recording.
If you’re going for more of an acoustic coffee shop feel, however, with limited post-production, you’ll find open space rooms offer a ton of character. It’s worth experimenting in different rooms either way. Having recorded in nearly every room of every house I’ve lived in; I can tell you your ears will become accustomed to finding the best spots for recording.
I would imagine most people reading this already have their guitar of choice, but if not I will say that the quality of your guitar pre-recording should be well if you want the audio to sound well. This doesn't just mean the guitar itself, but the shape it is in.
It goes without saying that you should clean your guitar and replace the strings if you're serious about getting the best sound. I change them regularly, but if I'm expecting to be in a multi-day recording session, I change them again.
Tuning your guitar is another essential step. If you don't have a tuner, use an audio clip from the internet for each string and try your best to match. If nothing else, this step should be the bare minimum of what you do to prepare.
The acoustic guitar produces a complex shape of audio, from the sound hole to the strings, with a high level of vibrations. Finding the best mic for acoustic guitar is essential and often overlooked. While the market has many versatile options that work for both vocals and instruments, many don’t consider this, and end up with the wrong microphone.
The best guitar microphone will have good transient wide range frequency response, the former which is good for rapid sound waves and the latter for audio depth. Because we want that perfect balance between high and low frequencies, highly sensitivity low-mass condenser microphones are often the finer choice.
As we’ll discuss further in a later section, we can use more than one microphone when recording acoustic guitar. That gives us the ability to capture specific frequency ranges for maximum control over our sound.
My personal setup comes in two different forms. Keep in mind that while I use two microphones most of the time, that’s not a necessity (as we’ll discuss later).
The setup that allows me to get a deep stereo sound (more on that later), I use two large-diaphragm condenser microphones meeting at a 90-degree angle. To get a richer sound with a high roll-off, I’ll use one large-diaphragm condenser and a smaller dynamic microphone. The condenser allows me to capture the full body of my guitar while the dynamic can handle the more dynamic sounds.
For condenser microphones, I recommend either the Audio Technica AT4040, or the more affordable Audio Technica AT2020 microphones. For dynamic microphones, however, I would definitely recommend you look at the Shure SM57, a leader in this industry of instrument microphones.
You might worry that it’s going to be hard to find a versatile guitar microphone on a budget, but we know a thing or two about cheap microphones, and I’m positive you’ll be able to find one to fit both your needs and budget.
When recording acoustic guitar, the two most important things to consider are what mode you’re doing it in (Mono, Stereo), and how you place your microphones. For many beginners, you’ll likely be using Mono-mode as you may only have a single microphone to use, which is totally fine. We’ll walk you through the different strategies we just outlined, then we’ll talk about how to record acoustic guitar.
Recording acoustic guitar in mono mode means using one single microphone to capture the audio. This is how I used to record my guitar for many years and has its own list of benefits. For starters, it’s a more budget-friendly approach, as you only need a single microphone. Figuring out the guitar placements will be much easier for this reason. The other benefit is that you won’t have phasing issues in your recording.
Recording acoustic guitar in stereo mode means using two microphones to capture audio. This method is the optimal approach as it highlights the depth in your audio, giving a large, full-bodied experience to your acoustic guitar. If you have a song that revolves around your guitar, this approach will give you that pristine sound you’re looking for.
The best approach, however, is often a mix of these two methods. Now let us talk about microphone placement for both of these.
When recording acoustic guitar using the mono method, there are a few placements for you to try. I often start with one and work my way down for each song. Over time you’ll develop a good ear for this.
The first strategy is to place your microphone about 10 inches (give or take a few) from the lower-neck of your guitar, before the soundhole (12th fret, generally). This will give you a well-balanced sound with good levels of depth. Be sure to use a brightened condenser microphone with this strategy if you want the most out of your audio.
From here, you can experiment in both ways. Do you want more highs? Try moving your microphone up the neck of the guitar, while maintaining that distance. Want deeper lows with a heavier tone? Try moving down towards the soundhole/body of the guitar.
The reason we always maintain that distance of about 10 inches is to give the soundwaves some room to spread out. If you place too close, you’ll run into a few issues with your sound. However, I encourage you to go see this for yourself as it’ll help you understand your guitar better.
When recording acoustic guitar using the stereo method, we have two primary options. The first is referred to as the X/Y method, which is the simpler option, while the second is the A/B method, which takes a bit more patience to avoid phasing issues. We'll run you through both and let you do your own experimenting.
The X/Y method uses a bit of an overlap with your microphones. They should cross over each other at a 90-degree angle to avoid phasing, around the 12th – 14th fret of your guitar. This strategy is going to give you a full picture of your sound, from the warm body of the guitar to the higher frequencies from the neck. If you’re using a DAW, you will want to keep the panning centered for both microphones, unlike more complex approaches such as the M/S method.
The A/B method is a bit easier to understand, but not my preferred method. This strategy requires you to place one microphone away from the 12th or 14th fret of your guitar, with the other down towards the body or bridge of the guitar. Here's where it gets tricky. Your audio is at risk of phasing with this method, so we'll need to use a technique known as the 3 to 1. This means your two microphones should be 3x further apart than they are from the guitar itself. This means if your microphones are 8 inches from the guitar, they must be 24 inches from each other. This rule of thumb will save you a lot of pain in your recordings!
As with just about everything we've discussed in this article, the smartest choice you can make is to experiment. Try everything we've detailed. If you're using two microphones, try mono just to get a sense of how it sounds. Your ear is the best resource you have at your disposal right now, so train it up and you'll be a master at recording acoustic guitar in no time.
Recording your acoustic guitar is not the easiest process in the world but following these few steps will make a massive difference to your quality. If you follow our advice to a T, and don’t skip over the importance of finding the perfect room in your house, you’ll find your audio that much easier to work with in production.
The best microphone for recording acoustic guitar doesn’t have to be the fanciest most expensive mic in the world but doing proper research will save you a lot of pain and trouble. With the proper setup, even a cheap microphone can get the most out of your guitar
Hopefully, with our suggestions, you'll know how to record acoustic guitar a lot better than when you arrived. We’d love to hear in the comments below how it has worked out for you! Feel free to send us some of your music, we’re big fans of the underground scenes. Good luck!
Posted on Nov 10, 2020
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