Getting great results when recording acoustic guitar is pretty easy once you’ve learned how to do it. A clean and crisp guitar sound can add a lot to any song or production, and the instrument can easily provide rhythmic, harmonic, or lead parts. The sound of an acoustic guitar played and recorded well is one of my favorite sounds.
The methods used when recording this instrument are very different compared to recording electric guitar. The microphones you choose and where you place them become much more important, and the acoustics of the room can have an effect as well.
The acoustic guitar is a sensitive instrument. Any little mistake will be magnified by the microphones, so to get a quality recording it needs to be played well.
The guitar’s strings should be relatively new before any recording session – older strings tend to lose their sharpness, becoming duller over time. If the guitar sounds a bit lifeless, think about replacing the strings for a brighter sound.
The best position for the guitarist is to be seated so the guitar is held in a steady position for the mics. Remove any jewelry or any watches, and always check that the seat isn’t squeaking!
The microphones you use when recording acoustic guitars are important for getting the sound you want. When choosing them, look out for the following features:
- Condenser microphones: the ideal acoustic guitar mic is a condenser. Because of their higher sensitivity and extended frequency range, condensers pick up the top-end clarity and air that dynamic mics struggle with.
- Large diaphragm: compared to small-diaphragm mics, large-diaphragm models are generally more sensitive. They tend to pick up a bit more body of the sound you’re recording, although their transient response is a bit slower.
- Cardioid pickup pattern: the microphone will be more sensitive to the sound coming from the guitar compared to other pickup patterns. Acoustic guitars are best recorded in isolation to eliminate spill, but if this isn’t possible, omnidirectional mics can be used.
- Flat-frequency response: a slight presence peak in the top-end is fine as well – it can help the acoustic guitar recording cut through a busy mix.
The condenser microphones you use in your home studio should be multi-purpose – you can use them to record many different instruments. Luckily, there are some great models out there that can do this.
|Behringer C-3||AKG Perception 220|
I’ve had great success over the years recording acoustic guitar with the low-budget Behringer C-3. But if you really want to achieve bright recordings with plenty of body, and you’re able to stretch your budget a bit more, I highly recommend the AKG Perception 220 or the Rode NT1-A.
Recording Acoustic Guitar in Stereo
Recording acoustic guitar with one mic can lead to dull and lifeless results – acoustic guitars are perfect for recording with two microphones, giving you a wide stereo image with a full and clear depth to it.
There are many ways to approach the positioning of your microphones during recording. Probably the most common way is to place two microphones 1-3 feet in front of the guitar. One points towards the body of the guitar just behind the bridge, the other points where the fingerboard meets the body.
But you must always remember the 3-to-1 rule!
Ideally, the two microphones you use will be of the same make and model, manufactured at the same time and certified as a ‘matching pair’. But this can be expensive, and isn’t really needed for recording acoustic guitar. Two similar condenser microphones will always give you excellent recordings.
It’s usually not a good idea to point your mic towards the sound hole of the guitar, as the recording will pick up a lot of the guitar’s “boominess“. The mic will also pick up the air movement moving out of the hole.
When you’re recording somebody else, try moving your head around as the guitar is played and listen out for any ‘sweet spots’, an area where the guitar sounds particularly crisp and bright. Try putting your mic there to see how it sounds when recorded.
Here are some more tips to help you get the most out of your acoustic guitar recordings.
The Recording Room
Unlike commercial recording studios, a lot of home studios don’t really have rooms that are built or designed with recording in mind. That’s why it’s best to record in a room that’s acoustically dead, with reverb added later on during mixing.
Here’s an easy trick to use if you want to liven up the room you’re recording in – place a hardboard underneath the guitarist’s playing area, shiny side up. The sound will reflect upwards from the board and into the microphone, especially the higher frequencies, and you’ll record a livelier and brighter sound.
There aren’t many nicer sounds than a well-recorded acoustic guitar, and by following a few simple guidelines, you can easily get superb recordings in your home studio. Choosing the right mics, placing them in suitable positions, and playing the instrument well are all important to achieving this goal when recording acoustic guitar.
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