Acoustic Guitar Recording 101

WhiteStrat

Don't stare at the eye.
Great article WhiteStrat. I love those NT5's. They hardly require any processing and those black cables are pretty sweet too.:D

I know you said you did pretty close micing but can you tell us about the room too? -Thx

Thanks! The room is what I call my "future studio." It's the size and shape of my studio, and it's got all my gear--but it's nowhere near finished. It's in the basement and has a 10' tall cement wall running down one side, and open 2x4 stud walls on the other three sides (the "room" is 16' x 26').

I actually use the unfinished walls to my benefit. I always face out through the long unifnished wall when tracking my acoustic. There's a touch of natural 'verb there, but no harsh room or wall stuff, because there's no room or walls! Seriously, the basement is big, so the nearest solid wall or corner is over 20 feet away. So for intimate stuff like that, I get close to the mics and nothing comes back.

I do have a rather large collection of 703 panels. They'll go on the walls someday, but I've built stands for them, and I use 'em as gobos to make psuedo-booths. So when I'm recording a bigger banging acoustic sound (or vox or drums for that matter), I use those panels to make an odd shaped room for tracking. For acoustic, I'd play inside a "shell" of 4 panels arranged somewhere between a "V" and a semi-circle.
 

DrewPeterson7

Sage of the Order
Whitestrat, thanks for posting this man, this is a really cool walkthrough of your acoustic process. :D Out of curiosity, what were your MBC settings?

I'm surprised you really needed that second mic on the lead - I was reading that section before I listened to the clip, and my initial reaction was that you were crazy. :p But yet, when I then went to listen to it, it did sound kind of thin.... Maybe a single LDC in its place...? Idunno, I should try doing something like this and see where I end up.

The other observation - that mono track definitely sounds a lot smaller and darker than the full stereo spread... But I could totally hear that sound working for, say, an unaccompanied guitar and vocal introduction, and then when the rest of the band kicks in panning it wide and bringing up the second mic and second take. It wasn't a "lush" acoustic tone, but it was a pretty damned cool one, IMO.

I guess the only other note I would add to WS's excellent post here is, more so than any other guitar situation I can think of, the source sound matters SO much when tracking acoustics. It doesn't have to be an expensive guitar, necessarily - I've played some great sounding budget guitars - but if it's not a particularly lush sounding guitar, or if your strings are shot or if there are weird rattles and resonances or something, then almost nothing you can do will fix that sound. Acoustic guitar is something we as listeners are used to hearing very "pure" and intimate, in ways you wouldn't say about a clean or distorted electric, really, so far more than anything else in the signal chain a good source is going to be crucial. I've heard great rhythm tones out of shitty 15-watt solid state combos, but I've never heard a bad-sounding acoustic be made sound good on tape.
 

WhiteStrat

Don't stare at the eye.
Whitestrat, thanks for posting this man, this is a really cool walkthrough of your acoustic process. :D Out of curiosity, what were your MBC settings?

I'm surprised you really needed that second mic on the lead - I was reading that section before I listened to the clip, and my initial reaction was that you were crazy. :p But yet, when I then went to listen to it, it did sound kind of thin.... Maybe a single LDC in its place...? Idunno, I should try doing something like this and see where I end up.

The other observation - that mono track definitely sounds a lot smaller and darker than the full stereo spread... But I could totally hear that sound working for, say, an unaccompanied guitar and vocal introduction, and then when the rest of the band kicks in panning it wide and bringing up the second mic and second take. It wasn't a "lush" acoustic tone, but it was a pretty damned cool one, IMO.

I guess the only other note I would add to WS's excellent post here is, more so than any other guitar situation I can think of, the source sound matters SO much when tracking acoustics. It doesn't have to be an expensive guitar, necessarily - I've played some great sounding budget guitars - but if it's not a particularly lush sounding guitar, or if your strings are shot or if there are weird rattles and resonances or something, then almost nothing you can do will fix that sound. Acoustic guitar is something we as listeners are used to hearing very "pure" and intimate, in ways you wouldn't say about a clean or distorted electric, really, so far more than anything else in the signal chain a good source is going to be crucial. I've heard great rhythm tones out of shitty 15-watt solid state combos, but I've never heard a bad-sounding acoustic be made sound good on tape.

This is troof! I certainly didn't mean to gloss over the need for a great guitar sound before you even hit the red button. I bought mine with recording in mind (don't play out much at all) and didn't have tons of money at the time. I spent over 4 months researching and playing guits. I like the Seagulls because they'll sacrifice the bling to get a great sounding guitar down to a lower price point. Since then, I've thought of upgrading, and believe me, I've looked. I have found numerous $2,000 and $3,000 that play as well--and certainly look better--but none that sound any better. So I've not bought another one.

I'm pretty sure I got lucky--they can't all sound that good. But every time I pick it up--it passes the smile test. (And FWIW--I haven't recorded a ton of other acts, but I've only had one that didn't use my guitar after hearing it tracked.)

Yep...gotta have the sound first.
 

guitar zero

c = b#
People are always looking for ways to get better acoustic guitar recordings, myself included. This has given me some new ideas, as I'm sure it has many others. Thanks for sharing this! It surely took some time and effort.
 

PoeticIntensity

AdvancedBudgetStudios.com
Great post, and thank you for posting the pic, as well. Even though I don't play guitar (yet), I've recorded many acoustics, and have always found the result lacking.
 

Razien

New member
In that situation, if I were going for a stereo recording of a single take, I'd put the condenser on the neck side and the dynamic down on on the body. But if I were going to double track (which I always do if it's not complete improv) I'd probably not even use the dynamic. I'd use the condenser on the neck--experimenting with placements slightly closer to the soundhole to get some more bottom end--and play it twice for my stereo effect.

It sounds odd, but of the two placements, the neck mic (angled towards the hole) is the "main" mic--not the body mic. Both give you some stereo, but if you use just one, the neck position is usually a more balanced picture of your guitar's sound.

Was just wondering about this, what would the effect be if you recorded it one time from the neck & then another take from the body position. To imitate the positions the mics would be if you'd just recorded the one take? Wouldnt you just end up with the same sound as though you'd used both positions at the same time in a real stereo recording when they're put together...Or is there a reason you'd do it from the neck position twice when takes are done seperately?

Great tutorial anyway very helpful, just what i was looking for thanks!
 

WhiteStrat

Don't stare at the eye.
Was just wondering about this, what would the effect be if you recorded it one time from the neck & then another take from the body position. To imitate the positions the mics would be if you'd just recorded the one take? Wouldnt you just end up with the same sound as though you'd used both positions at the same time in a real stereo recording when they're put together...Or is there a reason you'd do it from the neck position twice when takes are done seperately?

Great tutorial anyway very helpful, just what i was looking for thanks!

Great question--sorry I saw it a week late. First--you asked what the effect would be of recording one take on the neck and another take on the body. It would be a nice sweet stereo effect--one I use all the time. And it's not the same as a single stereo take with two mics in those positions, because playing it twice adds a ton of texture.

So why do I do it from the neck twice? Actually, I usually do two takes with both mics in place. It's just habit. Since I have two mics, it's easier to set them both up than it is to record once then move the mic. Besides sometimes I want four tracks: neck louder and body quieter for one take; body louder and neck quieter for the other take; with the two takes panned opposite. It's like stereo plus some. Just a real sweet sound.
 

chewbacaface

New member
Here is my trick and it works well as far as I can tell...

I use either a Rode NT5 or a Blue Kickball (I know that seems crazy but becasue it picks up low end so well it makes acoustic guitars sound big and warm). I point the mic just above the soundhole at the neck. Once I have the track recorded (I use Logic Pro 8 and Protools HD, but this doesn't really matter) I add a stereo sample delay to it with a 768ms delay on one said. You don't need to pan it very much after this because the sample delay will serve as the pan for the most part depending on where it sits in the mix.

The real trick is the sample delay. You can adjust the ms delay time depending on how far out you want it to sit and how much depth you want it to have. It's the same technique I use for vocal doubling/enhancing and it will really thicken up an acoustic guitar as well.

That's what's I got.
 

TCBDavis

New member
Nice Technique

Nice technique, Rode NT5's are great stereo mics to use, especially on acoustics. I have had a lot of success using them. One session in particular which I had a great sounding acoustic, I used an AKG C414 on the rhythm guitar, and then used an Earthworks QTC40 on the lead, double tracking both of them of course.
 
What do you do gain wise?

Let's say you are recording an open chord strummed tune. There's going to be drums, bass, a few licks and some vocals, maybe an organ or something.

Where do you like your gain settings on your preamp? I have heard that an average level of about -18db and peaks of around -6db is what you should aim for.

I often hear a lot about mic placement and all that...but not a lot about how far to turn the gain knobs in conjunction with the miking.

My experiments keep producing either a low signal which is thin or a harsh sounding signal which is just too loud.

I would guess my playing style and skill has a lot to do with my results too.

Anyway...about the gain...what can people say?
 

chewbacaface

New member
Nice technique, Rode NT5's are great stereo mics to use, especially on acoustics. I have had a lot of success using them. One session in particular which I had a great sounding acoustic, I used an AKG C414 on the rhythm guitar, and then used an Earthworks QTC40 on the lead, double tracking both of them of course.

Stereo matched pairs of NT5s are highly underrated. I even use them for some drum overheads because they are really versatile depending on how you place them. I'm not a huge fan of Rode mics in general but I really like both sets of NT5 that I have. They are consistent.
 

chewbacaface

New member
What do you do gain wise?

Let's say you are recording an open chord strummed tune. There's going to be drums, bass, a few licks and some vocals, maybe an organ or something.

Where do you like your gain settings on your preamp? I have heard that an average level of about -18db and peaks of around -6db is what you should aim for.

I often hear a lot about mic placement and all that...but not a lot about how far to turn the gain knobs in conjunction with the miking.

My experiments keep producing either a low signal which is thin or a harsh sounding signal which is just too loud.

I would guess my playing style and skill has a lot to do with my results too.

Anyway...about the gain...what can people say?

Honestly, I can't say that I use the same setting for each recording. I usually do three tests to begin with and then judge based on what role that instrument is playing in the recording. After I have it where I want it, I make sure to write down the settings in case I am switching between instruments and want to come back to it later.

Documentation might be the most important part for me. I always make sure to write down what my settings are per instrument on each song. Get a nice book with lab style paper in it and be organized and I promise you recordings will turn out better.
 
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