Recording Acoustic Guitars

March 17, 2017

Warning - there is a bit of a geek alert required for this one!

 

There is something about setting up to record acoustic guitars that I still find really satisfying as there are so many combinations of techniques that produce really different results.

 

As well as plugging in an electro acoustic guitar into the desk, I mic towards the sound hole also. Sometimes I also place another mic near the fingerboard to capture finger slide noise. I record separate tracks and combine the results to get the best sound I can for the particular track.

 

I use phantom powered AKG C100S condenser mics to record acoustically as, compared to dynamic mics, they give me a great full-range sound without any mid range boost or any 'muddiness'. Also, some dynamic mics are optimised for live vocal work (eg Shure SM58) and have a slight boost around the centre of the human vocal range to allow singers to cut across a mix - we don't need that, us guitarists!

 

I set the mics as close as possible to the guitar without interfering with my playing and check the levels before recording so I don't exceed the peak limit. Digital recording is really unforgiving when it is max'd out - nasty distortion will happen almost as soon as you hit the red line peak meter!

 

One thing I know you'll have heard about when recording is phase-cancellation......surely you have...? No? Don't blame you really - we're musicians first aren't we!

 

Well, it is actually an incredible thing to encounter. You'd think that, having recorded the same thing from your guitar 'Out' jack and a mic, you'd add the two together and the result would be a louder, fuller sound but you'd be wrong. In fact what happens is the identical wave forms (told you about the geek alert!) cancel each other out and you get a nasty phasing type of sound.

 

When I record, I always take this into account and there are two ways I deal with phase cancellation. Firstly, it will only occur if the sound waves are recorded at absolutely the same time. In effect, the signal takes exactly the same time to travel down the cable from the guitar plug as it does to get from the guitar, to the mic, and down the mic cable (bear with it, I know, I'm almost geeking myself out here!).

 

Sooooo, method 1 - move the mic slightly further away! Easily done but can lead to using a slightly higher gain setting and extra noise picked up.

 

Method 2 involves literally turning one of the recorded soundwaves upside down - or inverting it - so with wavy lines, when I zoom right in on them both, are travelling in the opposite directions and not the same.

 

The result, beautiful, consistent tracks that I can mix between to get the ultimate sound I can.

 

Why am I mentioning this? Well, it's great for you to know I can play guitar but I want you to also know the kind of care I take preparing the tracks I use. I have looked around at some other people's  work and it is surprising how many great guitarists are spoiling their work by recording their tracks clumsily.

 

Also, if you're just browsing, you can have a try of some of the above and see if it works for you!

 

Good luck with it.

 

Matt

 

 

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