TIPS AND TRICKS
HOW TO RECORD ACOUSTIC GUITAR?
Do you slam a microphone or two in front of the guitar, aim it at the sound hole on the guitar and get disappointed when you hear the result of the recording? It doesn't sound like the songs you have listened to so much. But what could you have done wrong?
There are many places things can go wrong when recording an acoustic guitar, so I will come up with some tips and tricks on what can be a good starting point and what pitfalls to look out for when recording acoustic guitar. Several of these tips are also related to other instruments when recording.
How well do you know the song? The first priority before recording anything is to know the song well. Not only should you know the song well, but you should have practiced beforehand to play the voice that the guitar has. If the song in general has been recorded based on using a metronome, then you should also have practiced with a metronome.
When was the last time you changed the strings on the guitar? There is no doubt that new strings sound prettiest. Especially if it is more or less regular steel strings (or variants of this) then it will affect the sound quality of the guitar alot. If you choose to change strings before a recording (which you should do) then you shouldn't wait until the last minute with this. A guitar that has just changed strings can actually take some time to get in tune, and will in most cases need some playing before it actually stays tuned over a longer period of time. Therefore, change the strings a few days in advance before recording, and spend some time playing it and tuning it again.
Is the guitar completely tuned? This seems like a superfluous point, but you should set aside time before and during the recording process to tune the guitar, so it is completely clean in the notes at all times. Especially if you've also followed the previous point.
When everything is in order with the equipment and the musician, it's time to put a microphone in front of the guitar. The most important thing to keep in mind is that there isn't a wrong microphone placement when recording. But you should have a clear and distinct vision in advance of the recording of how you want the guitar to sound. Therefore, spend plenty of time trying out different positions and distances to the guitar. Here are some tips for where you might want to start the microphone position. The most intuitive thing is to place the microphones directly against the resonant hole in the guitar, but this should never be the starting point. First and foremost, take as a starting point that the microphone should be 30-40 cm (12 - 16 inches) away from the guitar. Then you can try one of the following starting points for placement:
1. Point the microphone at the 12th band on the neck
Alternatively, point it at the point on the neck where the resonant box and guitar neck meet. That way you pick up a clean and pretty tone of the guitar with a little extra treble.
2. Point the microphone at the guitar case either above the resonant hole at the front, or below the resonant hole at the rear
This will give a fuller tone of the guitar, preferably filled with slightly more bass frequencies. This will give less sound of the strings, and more sound of the resonant box. Make sure that the microphone does not point directly at the resonant hole, because that can give you a lot of mid frequencies that aren't so pleasing to listen to. Except if that is you what you're searching for of course.
3. Try different microphones
Most people will probably recommend that you use a condenser microphone. And in general, a condenser will have a characteristic that makes it easier to get a good sound fast on an acoustic guitar. But in some cases it may still be preferable to use a dynamic microphone. If you only have a dynamic microphone, that does not mean that it is impossible to get a good sound, but you may have to spend a little longer time and be a little more careful with the microphone placement. And I will as always encourage you to experiment.
4. Place the microphone next to the guitarist's head
Not an equally widespread method of recording acoustic guitar, but an all the more exciting approach. The starting point for this placement is based on the guitarist himself knowing best how the guitar sounds, and the guitarist's listening position is from top to bottom. Thus, the theory behind this placement is that one replicates roughly the same guitar sound by placing the microphone near the ear of the person playing the guitar.
5. Place the microphone completely at the back edge on the side of the resonant box
Perhaps to be regarded as an even more unconventional method, but it is a method from which one can get a nice sound, or a different sound, that nevertheless is a guitar sound. In some cases, you look for something special that separates itself from everybody else, instead of getting something that sounds like everyone else. By "at the back of the resonant box", it means at the very bottom of the guitar. Where the microphone should point where there often is a fastening to the guitar strap. Some would call this the underside of a guitar. Be careful, not putting the microphone to close even though the source can be quite narrow.
6. Use two microphones for a stereo effect
If you want the guitar to have a stereo sound, you can either record the same guitar part twice, or set up two microphones to achieve a stereo effect from the same performance. This can be done in different ways, but start by pointing one microphone in the same place as point 1, i.e. towards 12. band (or where the neck meets the resonant box). While the other microphone is pointing towards the resonant box, diagonally below the resonant hole. If you use two different microphones (instead of two matched microphones) at the same time, it will be easier to distinguish the sounds from each guitar even if it is from the same performance. Preferably by using a condenser microphone against the neck and a dynamic microphone against the resonant box (or vice versa). This is a widely used method, but which often causes several problems related to phase. What phase errors are and how they can be fixed is described in the next tips and tricks that comes on this page.
Basically, it is the starting point that is important in a guitar recording, and there are very few rules that really apply. There are only two rules you should always follow and they will be the same for all audio sources you are going to record. Rule 1: "never slam a microphone and be happy with it". Instead, spend some extra time trying out different microphone locations. And rule 2: "If it sounds right, then it's right". If it doesn't sound like you intended, then rule 1 will come into play.
Hopefully this will help you increase your confidence when recording acoustic guitar, but also for other sound sources. Experiment as much as you can, and do not be afraid to make mistakes. What others call wrong, you have to call for learning.