Quickly Mic Your Acoustic Guitar
By Ben BlakesleyGeorges Music
Recording an acoustic guitar can be a real challenge, even for seasoned veterans. But it doesn't have to be a horror story. Here are 4 ways to quickly get a realistic and usable acoustic guitar recording.
Before you strum...
As with any recording, the instrument, player, and room are more important than any other aspect when searching for a great recorded sound. So make sure you've got a quiet space with a pleasant sound and an instrument that is in tune and has the sound you're going for in the first place. Have the player (or yourself) sit in a comfortable position facing into the room (not into a corner or a wall).
Technique 1: Rock n Roll!
This is the easiest method of them all and it uses the most common type of microphone - the cardiod dynamic.
When recording acoustic guitar for inclusion in a rock song with a full band, you don't necessarily need a large robust acoustic guitar sound. You're best suited to roll off the lows and leave the high end for the cymbals while having a nice presence in the middle frequencies for your guitar.To achieve this sound, place a dynamic microphone (ie. Shure SM57) 4-14 inches from the guitar at around the 12th fret angled slightly toward the sound hole. I like to keep it an inch or two below the high E string with a slight upward angle as well. [See Fig 1]This will give you a balanced sound on all the strings, but with less low end presence. Make sure you don't get right in front of the sound hole as the air moving out of the hole will get very 'boomy' and 'woofy' on the recording. The further you are from the guitar, the more room you'll hear and the closer you get, the more clean and up front the guitar will sound.
Technique 2: Clear and Detailed
When you're looking for a sound that is clear and true to the instrument and where the acoustic guitar will be the
main focus of the song, you'll want to use a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) mic (ie. Audio-Technica AT4040, Audio-Technica AT-2020). These mics are designed with detail in mind and will be much more sensitive than the dynamic microphones previously discussed.The placement principles remain the same for this method although you'll likely want to move the mic back to 8-16 inches from the source to let the guitar breath a bit. Place the mic between the 12th and 14th frets angled slightly toward the sound hole. [See Fig 2]The LDC mic will pick up all the details of the instrument and the player so it's super important to make sure the player is comfortable and there are no extraneous noises (boo squeaky chairs!!).This will give you a very pleasant sound suitable for solo acoustic music or songs that feature the acoustic guitar prominently. The drawback is that the sound will be a bit one dimensional if there are no other instruments involved.
Technique 3: X-Y Pattern
Stereo acoustic guitar recording techniques are where you can really make the instrument come alive. It gives
you a depth and fullness that cannot be achieved using a single microphone. This is great for when the acoustic guitar is the only instrument, plays a very prominent role in the music, or you're trying to attain a 'Wall of Sound' feel in your recording.This method will be similar to the previous two except that you should now use a small diaphragm condenser (SDC) microphone (ie. Audio-Technica PRO37) and you'll need two of them. Place the first in a similar manner to Technique 2, near the 12th - 14th fret slightly angled toward the sound hole, roughly 8-16 inches away. Then, take the second SDC and put the capsule as close to the first mic as possible without touching it so that it's perpendicular to the first mic. It will be facing more toward your fretting hand. [See Fig 3]When mixing these two tracks, pan them left and right (how far depends on how wide you want your sound; I like hard right and left) and keep their levels even with each other. This will give you a balanced, stereo representation of the instrument without sounding extreme.
Technique 4: Spaced Pair (My Favorite)
The last technique utilizes two condenser microphones, either large or small diaphragm (I prefer small). Place
the first mic in a similar position to what has been mentioned in all three previous techniques, 12th - 14th fret, 8-16 inches away, slightly angled toward the sound hole. Place the second condenser mic on the other side of the sound hole at the same height and distance as the first mic and slightly angled toward the sound hole. The mics should look like mirror copies of one another. [See Fig 4]Pan these tracks left and right to taste (again, I usually prefer hard right and left) for a nice wide, all encompassing sound that will fill up the sound field all by itself and leaves a nice space in the center for vocals.
Those are four basic techniques to quickly get you a usable acoustic guitar sound for any occasion. But don't stop there, experiment! You'd be surprised at how much the sound can change by simply moving one of the microphones 2 inches in any direction. If you have someone to help you, listen through headphones and have them move the mic around while the guitar is played until you find the sweet spot.
Ben Blakesley is in charge of Marketing and Technology at George's Music and utilizes these recording methods as the Chief Recording Engineer at Javboy Records. His recordings can be heard on MTV, MTV2, BET, HGTV, DIY-Network, and all over the web.