The acoustic guitar is a beautiful instrument to record. Whether you’re playing with nylon strings for the warmer, mellow feel, or with steel strings for the brighter, crisp sound and volume, you can’t go wrong! The raw, organic nature of the instrument attracts all musicians alike. It’s important, however, that while many of us share this love for our acoustic instruments, that we know how to properly record it to get the most out of the sound and environment.
Musician playing a mic’d up guitar, and demonstrating the recording process.
The Best Brands of Acoustic Guitars
It’s important that before even moving to the recording process, that you have a trusted brand of acoustic guitar. If, however, you already have one you like, or on this list, then feel free to skip this part. This is a completely necessary section to read if you’re unsure of your instrument. It also comes in handy if you’re a complete beginner, who might just be curious on what guitar to get for the longevity of your to-be music career.
The top 8 trusted brands, not in any particular order are:
Now, we’re going to go through each of these, and you can determine which is right for you.
This company has been running in the Martin family for many years. In fact, the current CEO of the company is the great-great-great-grandson of the original founder! Their major impact on the guitar’s development was their inclusion of the characteristic features that you’d find in the modern flattop, steel string acoustic guitar.
If shopping for a Martin acoustic/acoustic electric guitar some things you might want to take into consideration are firstly, it has a top of the line resonator. What this means is that instead of sending the vibrations to the sounding board to produce the sound, it sends the vibrations through the bridge of the guitar to one or more spun metal cones. This ultimately produces a louder sound, and fits in well with blues and bluegrass music given its distinct tonal qualities and increased volume
Secondly, the wood is of very high quality. Having a high quality wood is super important for your guitar’s sound. It impacts the sound greatly, and tonal characteristics. We call these, tonewoods.
Last, but not least, it is excellent for fingerpicking. As we mentioned before, about bluegrass music, a lot of which involves fingerpicking. Aside from music genre, however, you’ll find that the Martin X Series GPX1AE is an excellent model for fingerpicking. This is because it provides a sharp, and thick sound when fingerpicking. Should you decide to add percussion to your instrument, the wood is excellent for that, and resonates well with the instrument.
Before, you go and hop in your car to buy this guitar, there are some cons to the instrument as well!
The first thing to take note of, is the electronics can get expensive. What do I mean by the electronics? Well, when we talk about the electronics, we usually refer to the magnetic pickups on the guitar and microphone. These are generally the features of a “plug and play” acoustic electric guitar.
Next, you’d want to consider that the Rosewood material is an absolute must. The reason for this, is because of it’s warm and smooth tonal characteristics. On top of that it carries complex overtones! This is seen as a pro, however, the con in this scenario is that Rosewood is your only real option to experience the sound.
Finally, the HPL material is not that great… For those wondering, HPL stands for High-Pressure Laminate. It’s essentially layers of thin laminated paper that produces a different tone, which may be an acquired taste for some.On top of that, it helps protect your guitar from scratches, heat and pick-wear.
Seagull is a Canadian company, and sub-brand of a company called “Godin Guitars”, which produces acoustic guitars! It was founded in 1982 in Quebec by a man named Robert Godin and a few of his friends.
Seagull, is an excellent brand of guitar. It has very reasonable prices for musicians who might be looking to pick up the instrument for the first time, or perhaps you’re just looking for a fair quality instrument for a good price, Seagull has you covered.
Secondly, Seagull guitars, have a very minimal impact on the environment during their development. This was originally one of the goals of Robert Godin when he began developing these guitars, to help the planet.
Lastly, these guitars are excellent for beginners and pros alike! With their very affordable price, and their excellent sound qualities, they’re great for first-timers to pick up and play and great for guitar connoisseurs who are only about having true quality sounding instruments.
However, let’s take a look at some of the cons of this instrument brand.
First, the guitar can be a little stiff. This can make the sound of the guitar a little restricted in comparison to a loose guitar. On top of that, it has poor note sustain and lacks harmonic overtones.
Next, the headstock isn’t necessarily for everyone. The shape alone is different from most guitars, and some people aren’t too keen on it.
Finally, the cedar top is very prone to pick scars. Most of us like to take care of our instruments and keep them in pristine condition. However, many may find it difficult with the Seagull brand, because of the material used. Yes, it may produce a beautiful sound, however, your instrument may suffer some abuse in the long-run.
Gibson, formerly known as Gibson Guitar Corporation is an American manufacturer of guitars. It was founded in 1894 by a man named Orville Gibson in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The company originally developed mandolin-family instruments, which by 1930 expanded and began making flat top acoustic guitars.
Gibson guitars are considered to be some of the finest instruments in the world, this is because of the instrument’s fine craftsmanship and high quality materials used in their construction. On top of that, they used iconic designs and had a great appeal for stage performances.
The price range alone would turn off most guitarists, especially casual musicians who simply can’t afford an instrument of that caliber.
The Humbucker pickups, actually reduce the noise and brightness of the instrument’s tonal characteristics.
Lastly, Gibson guitars tend to be a little on the heavy-side…
All and all, if you can afford to buy a Gibson guitar, it is highly recommended, but you have to take into account what type of sound you’re looking for. While Gibson guitars might be flashy and have a good sound, they may not be the best for the type of sound you’re looking for. It’s recommended that you listen to the instrument before buying into it, especially one of this price.
Fender, also called Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, or simply, FMIC is more than just a manufacturer of stringed instruments, but amplifiers as well! It was founded in 1946, in Fullerton California by a man named Clarence Leonidas Fender. Fender is most known for its solid-body electric and bass guitars. However, Fender is no stranger to the acoustic guitar.
Firstly, it has an amazing tone. In fact, the tone of these guitars have quite a reputation. Furthermore, the design of these guitars have set the bar standard for other brands to accommodate. Lastly, the price range in Fenders vary, however, there is something for everyone.
For the cons, now…
In my experience, Fender guitar straps tend to be very loose, meaning you could potentially drop your guitar if you don’t hold on tight. From a Design standpoint, guitars like the telecaster might feel a tad uncomfortable for the player. Having an elongated scale length can increase the difficulty in playing the instrument. What is meant by this is, the distance from the nut to the 12th fret of the guitar, should you have that increased. Lastly, the single coil pickups can actually produce an unwanted noise and humming from the guitar.
Despite my personal experience with the guitar strap, I still think it’s a wonderful instrument and produces an incredible sound.
Yamaha Corporation is a Japense multinational corporation that has a wide range of different products and services. Founded in 1887 by a man named, Takuya Nakata started selling keyboard instruments in 1897 and later in 1942 begun selling guitars.
To start off, Yamaha guitars are very budget-friendly. They are easily affordable and for a long time were very widely known as a great company for buying “beginner-instruments”.
The guitars sound of higher-quality than most cheap “knock-off” guitars, as they were built using high quality materials.
On the other hand…
When it comes to the bigger names out there, like “Fender” or “Gibson”, it is nowhere near as prestigious which tends to turn some people away.
It won’t really appeal to a veteran, or professional player looking for top-notch sound. As was stated before, they are great for beginners, however, Yamaha’s reputation for guitars doesn’t get much better than that.
Aside from that, there isn’t much to write home about when it comes to the instrument as a whole.
Consensus: Excellent for beginners. Cheap, affordable, and produces a fair quality sound. If you’re looking for much more than that, Yamaha likely isn’t for you.
Ephiphone is another guitar manufacturing company based in Nashville, Tennessee. It was founded in 1873 by Anastasios Stathopoulos. However, in 1957, Ephiphone was purchased by Gibson, and relocated from New York to Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Now there are some things to take into consideration if you’re looking to buy an Epiphone guitar.
Epiphone guitars, having been taken over by Gibson in the 1950’s, they’ve come a long way in shape, design and overall sound quality. The traits of an Epiphone guitar resemble those of a Gibson, but at a cheaper price. However, it will never be quite like the Gibson. It may look and sound somewhat like a Gibson, it’s actually built with lower-grade materials than an authentic Gibson model guitar.
While the Epiphone contains many of the same specs as a Gibson, the electrical components within the guitar, are much cheaper than that of a Gibson.
Consensus: Excellent guitar to buy if you absolutely love the Gibson line of guitars, but can’t quite afford a Gibson. You’re still getting a heck of an instrument.
The Ibanez brand was originally founded in Nagoya, Japan in 1957. The owner of the brand is a manufacturer by the name of Hoshino Gakki. Co., Ltd. They were the first brand to release a 7-string and 8-string guitar. They are a very successful import brand across the United States and Europe. As of 2017, they have 165 different models of bass guitars, 300 electric guitars, and 130 acoustic guitars.
When buying an Ibanez guitar, take into consideration these pros and cons:
Firstly, the price is very reasonable. However, just because the price is decent doesn’t mean that they are poorly made, there are Ibanez guitars that can cost up to $ 2,500. Now, on the other hand, while they are made of quality materials, they are cheaply put together.
Secondly, the Ibanez is a great model of guitar for beginners looking to dabble in learning how to play acoustic or electric guitar. However, there are a lack of different models to choose from in comparison to other guitar brands.
Consensus: Can be a great beginner guitar to choose, however if you’re a more experienced musician, they do offer more expensive models, and they don’t tend to cheap out where it matters most!
The Taylor brand is an American brand based in El Cajon, California. On top of that, it is by far, one of the largest acoustic guitar manufacturers in the United States. The company was founded in 1974 by Bob Taylor and Kurt Listug.
When it comes to Taylor brand acoustic guitars, they are primarily known for their bright, crisp sound that they produce. On top of that, they try and improve the aesthetics and quality of the instrument by improving and changing its design. When it comes to children looking to pick up a guitar for the first time, it is very child-friendly and has a healthy variety of guitars to choose from.
Unfortunately, they tend to run a little on the expensive side, and appeal less to the electric guitar musicians out there, and more to the acoustic fingerstyle musicians. Lastly, some players will be turned off of the new-technology necks. What this means is that the guitar neck is bolted on so they can adjust the angle of the neck accordingly, as opposed to other brands that glue the neck on. Click here to watch a video to learn more about new technology neck guitars.
Consensus: If you’re looking for a great acoustic brand, have money to burn and are very specific as to the type of guitar you’re looking for, then the Taylor brand might be just for you!
Finding The Right DAW
It’s important for one to find the right DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to record their acoustic set. Firstly, some may have access to a Macintosh Computer, in which case programs like GarageBand, Logic Pro X, and even Pro Tools might be acceptable. However, for those who only have a Windows PC, fret not, because there are plenty more programs to use, such as Cubase, FL Studio, Ableton and more.
Mixer board, demonstrating the song production process.
Firstly, you’ll want to make sure that whatever DAW you’re planning to use is going to do the job you set out to accomplish. All, of these programs are capable of recording an acoustic set, however, I find that some lean more towards a certain aspect of music production that makes it more “user-friendly” and encouraging to use.
If you’re running a Mac, I would completely recommend Logic Pro X or Pro Tools as a program to start recording your acoustic set on. These programs, I find utilize external plug-ins very well, and handle recordings at a professional grade. They allow you to trim, edit, flex pitch and time accordingly to make the most out of a good recording.
However, if you’re running a PC, in my brief experience, I would recommend Cubase as the program of choice for recording an acoustic set. Much like Logic Pro X and Pro Tools, they really know how to make it easy and attainable to make the most out of a good recording. It’s very user-friendly, the only downside is it’s very expensive.
Now, these are personal recommendations, there is no right answer as a program that you must use. Programs like FL Studio and Ableton are amazing for creating looped sections or patterns in a piece of music, but it’s not to say that they can’t be good for recording too.
Best choice: Use what you’re comfortable with and that will get the job done best.
When going about recording, it’s good to have an idea of what type of setting and environment one should record in. You wouldn’t want there to be a high pitched buzzing coming from the ceiling lights, or the sound of your neighbours TV bleeding through paper-thin walls. You want a quiet, isolated place, perhaps nice and spacious with all your tools, and equipment needed to record a crisp acoustic set.
But how do you do it? Easy.
Home recording studio, with all the tools necessary.
Firstly, you want to determine the room you want to record in. A good way to determine if a room is suitable for a recording space, is firstly to make sure that it’s big enough. The rule of thumb in this case is: the bigger, the better. The reason bigger rooms are great for recording spaces are because it allows you not only to fit in more studio musicians, but more room for your gear and instruments! This will definitely help for when your collection continues to grow in the future with more external plug-ins and instruments.
Secondly, you definitely want to make sure the flooring is of a solid material. Concrete, tile and hardwood are ideal choices for a recording space. Avoid carpeting. The main reason for this is because carpeting can actually hurt the acoustics and overall sound of the room. Carpeting absorbs the high frequencies, but ignores the low ones. Another thing to factor in is the floor above you! Do you hear chairs scraping the floor, or footsteps all over the place? Perhaps that’s not the right room to record in…
Thirdly, on the topic of “poor acoustics”, you’ll want to avoid, small, shallow rooms with drywall — typically, your bedroom! The typical environment you’d want to record in, is a large room, with a high ceiling, irregular surfaces and asymmetrical walls. (However, in your case, likely as a musician starting out, you won’t have access to this, and that’s completely okay!)
Finally, noise. Noise can really be the make or break of any nice room you find works for your acoustic recording set. When we talk about noise, that could mean, neighbours, cars, trains, airplanes, schools… etc. You may find the nicest room in the world, but so long as there is noise… you may just have to change spaces. However, do keep in mind .. while in the pursuit of avoiding noise, you may be a source of noise yourself! Find a nice environment you can comfortably record in without disturbing others.
Setting The Acoustics
Once you have your room, and it’s nice and empty, you’re going to want to give it the “acoustic treatment”. Regardless of what you might think, having all this expensive equipment and skimping out on the acoustics actually matters! Acoustics are so important to having a quality playing/recording space.
How Does Sound Travel In a Room?
To gain a deeper understanding on acoustics, it’s important to understand what exactly causes a sound to react in the environment of an empty room.
Let’s say for instance, there’s a person singing into a microphone… when they sing from their diaphragm, the vibrations travel through the vocal cords and out of their mouth.
- The first thing this sound is going to do is project in every which direction from the source, or subject ie. person singing.
- Secondly, the smaller portion of this sound, which we call, “direct sound”, is going to travel straight into the microphone.
- Thirdly, the much larger portion of this sound, which we call, “reflected sound”, is being projected outward and bouncing off the walls and surfaces of the room.
- Finally, “some” of these reflected sounds, end up coming back and reaching the microphone.
The really neat thing about reflected sound is that once it’s reflected off a random surface, it has a chance to actually change, or alter the original sound being projected! Unlike the case of direct sound, where the frequency and tone remains purely the same.
Perhaps you feel you have a great space, but the acoustics suck! The reason that most rooms have poor acoustics, is because they weren’t made for that purpose! Usually it takes a lot of time and money to build a room with a great acoustic sound. Ever wonder why a cathedral looks so stunning and pleasing to the ear? They were designed for that very same purpose!
As mentioned before about DAW (Digital Audio Workstations), there are ways to give off the feel that you recorded your acoustic set in a very spacious room with beautiful acoustics. This can be done by using an echo chamber, or reverb setting on your music production software. You’ll be amazed with what you can do!
Removing Traces Of Natural Reverb
Have you ever been inside an empty or near empty room, and talked really loud before — it’s like you can hear your own voice bouncing off the walls! In fact, that is exactly the case! We call this, natural reverb. This is what happens when the reflected sound is projected outward and therefore bounces off the walls in the nearest vicinity. As discussed earlier. However, when we have our own space for recording, we don’t want any traces of that! Keep reading on and you’ll discover exactly what you need to do just that!
Music production studio, with soundproofing, columns, and panels.
The first thing you may want to look into is installing acoustic absorption panels. These panels are usually very foamy, sometimes with nubbly textures. The purpose of these panels is to absorb reflected sound from the walls, so that all you get is the direct sound from the source. This makes recording into a microphone much more crisp and clear, in comparison to having a portion of the sound absorbed into the drywall and the rest reflected about in the room.
In theory, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work, however, sometimes, this alone is not enough.
This is when we would include another type of acoustic treatment to work in unison with the acoustic absorption panels, which we call: diffusers.
Diffusers typically look like a bunch of rectangular prisms extruding outward in different lengths among each other. However, they may also be seen as a bunch of hollow squares, with some filled in. These are then stuck on the wall.
When it comes to diffusion, it’s more times than not misunderstood. As you keep reading, we’ll discover exactly what it’s about and how it works!
So, what is sound diffusion anyways?
Sound diffusion is the scattering of sound waves and reducing the sense of their localization in an environment.
The speed of sound is 343 m/s, which means that when a sound is made, and bounces off the wall it can travel towards the same direction at the same time back to the listener. It is fast!
However… what happens when we introduce a “sound diffuser”?
Well, provided we use the exact same sound waves as before, the sound would travel quickly to the wall where the diffuser is, but the difference is that the intensity of the sound is split evenly among all directions. So in a nutshell, the sound becomes less concentrated, and therefore dispersed in that portion of the room. The sound also becomes harder to distinguish and at a much weaker volume than before.
Furthermore, because the sound is being split and dispersed in several different directions, it removes all sense of localization from which the path of the sound was originally intended to go. This tricks our brain into thinking the room is much larger than it actually is and gives a more spacious sound in the end!
When considering whether or not to buy a diffuser, make sure that you have your sound absorbers up first! Therefore, you can determine if you need sound diffusers or if the room is fine without them. They aren’t always necessary!
When it comes to implementing bass traps, you should keep note that they are extremely proficient in remove mid-high frequencies. However, they do not absorb bass frequencies under 100Hz very well. For those who’ve used an EQ before, should know what I’m talking about when I say, it removes a lot of the high end, and keeps the low end of the frequencies thriving.
The sole purpose of a bass trap is to dampen the lower frequencies sound energy, whilst attaining a flatter low frequency. These can typically be found in home theatres, recording and mastering rooms as they’re intended for a listening environment.
When considering buying a bass trap for your home studio, you should know that there are more than one type of bass trap. There are resonant absorbers, and porous absorbers.
Resonant absorbers are optimal at absorbing the fundamental frequency of resonance. However, a porous absorber doesn’t absorb resonance and does not need any tuning like the resonant absorber does. Resonant absorbers typically absorb from a narrower spectrum, where as the porous absorbers have a wider spectrum.
However in actuality, when it comes to the bass attenuation of a porous absorber, it’s generally inferior to that of the resonant absorber. So, in short, maintaining the lower frequencies that resonate in a room is far more limited.
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of each individual tool you’ll be using for soundproofing your recording studio, we can jump into the next phase, which is: the placement of your soundproofing materials. The exciting part!
Firstly, we’ll start with the bass traps. These are a fundamental part of your recording space. They offer the widest range of broadband absorption and should typically be placed in areas where they’ll have the greatest impact.
The bass traps belong in the trihedral corners of the room! Y’know, the corners where the walls meet the ceiling or the floor.
Since now you have your most important corners covered, you’ll want to fill the remaining corners with your acoustic panels! Simply go to your uncovered dihedral corners — This is just the corner, not where it meets the ceiling or floor, but the middle of the corner. You’ll want to slightly bend your acoustic panel into an arc shape, only so much that it rounds out the corner. Make sure, however, to save some acoustic panels and not to bend them all.
The way that sound typically works within a room is that when two walls are parallel to one another, they tend to bounce back and forth from each other. Essentially, this is what causes some sounds to be amplified or cancelled out. You want to avoid this. To do so, mount your acoustic panels flat on the walls parallel to one another. Spread them evenly throughout your room. For maximum effectiveness, just make sure that the acoustic panels that are parallel to one another are not exactly the same pattern. Make one odd and the other even.
And that’s that!
Your studio is fairly soundproof! There are extra measures you can take if you have the money, but for time’s sake, we’ll leave that out for now. This is only to get you started!
Types of Microphones
The next thing you’ll want to understand are the different types of microphones musicians use in a studio, and which is right for you and your acoustic set! Although, some musicians can get by through plugging a guitar into their computer, and through DAW, sending electrical signals through their instrument into the program to be played on a digital amplifier. We’ll talk about the raw, and old-fashioned way of doing things, because… quite honestly, it’s better!
A microphone on a stand, demonstrating the topic of this section.
There are three main types of microphones you should know about!
- Condenser Microphones
- Dynamic Microphones
- Ribbon Microphone
Each of these different microphones has its own strengths. If you can find the proper positioning and pair it with the right instrument, it can sound even better than before! However, without prior knowledge of these microphones, and just going willy-nilly and placing it wherever on whatever, it can make it sound worse! To avoid that, we’re going to go into each of these microphones and really break down their strengths for you, so you know exactly what microphone you need and what to do with them in the future!
A good benefit behind these types of mics is that they’re tough cookies. They can be hit, dropped, almost abused and still work like a charm.
Where would you typically find a Dynamic Microphone?
Typically, they would be in a spot that consists of loud noises, such as a guitar amp, or near the drum’s snare. They aren’t a sensitive type of microphone and can bear the wear and tear of a home studio.
On top of being so tough, they also happen to be cheap and cost effective microphones. Easily replaceable.
You’ll find that dynamic microphones have a unidirectional pattern, also called the cardioid pattern because of the fact that it’s shaped like a heart. Also, it doesn’t take in any sound from the rear, and only lets in sound from the direction it’s pointed in.
The unidirectional pattern, also known as a type of polar pattern, make great microphones for cheap home studios with minimal soundproofing. The reason being, is since the microphone won’t take in any sound from the rear, you can point it away from areas of the room with the least soundproofing available, cutting down on the natural reverb of the room.
Furthermore, since they have a roll off in the bass (if you’re looking at an EQ, then very minimal low end), they aren’t suitable for bass instruments, or kick drums. That’s not to say that there aren’t models available to compensate for that very purpose. You might want to check models like, AKG D112 MKII, or EV RE20.
- Do use on louder instruments/sounds, guitar amps and snare drums.
- Do aim it away from areas generating noise, or minimally soundproofed areas of a room.
- Don’t use on low end instruments. (Bass, kick drums… etc.)
- They’re cheap and strong mics.
A Condenser Microphone, definitely sounds more pretty and rich than their older cousin, the Dynamic Microphone. While their price has reduced from what it was in the past, they’re still very fragile microphones.
In fact, it’s said that these microphones are a lot more sensitive to the sounds, and clearer than their dynamic counterparts. What this initially means, is that brighter and softer sounds are much better sounding on this type of microphone, which makes them a powerful microphone to use in the studio.
Although a condenser microphone can’t be used on as wide of a variety of instruments as a dynamic microphone, it has this way about it that just makes everything sound better. Firstly, they sound less muffled than a dynamic microphone, and secondly, they get an increase to their top end which gives things a bright, rich tone.
On top of all of that, they actually have a wider diversity of polar patterns to work with, which makes the instrument very versatile. There is usually a switch on the mic to change its polar patterns from, unidirectional, which we talked about earlier, it looks like a heart — to bidirectional which picks up sounds from the front and back, leaving out sounds from the sides, almost like two bubbles. Finally, we’re left with Omnidirectional which leaves nothing out, and captures sound from all around the microphone.
- Audio Technica AT2035 and se2200 less high-end and more mids and lows.
- Rode NT5 and Shure SM81 diaphragm compressor, captures high, mid and lows.
- Do be careful with these microphones as they’re very sensitive and in some cases, very pricey.
- It sounds much better than a Dynamic Microphone.
- Unfortunately, can’t be used on as many instruments as a Dynamic Microphone.
- It’s more versatile in placement due to it’s different polarities.
Side Note: Make sure before purchasing a microphone, you have an audio interface that can supply 48V of power, otherwise known as “phantom power” to power your microphone.
Now although the Dynamic Microphone might be old, the Ribbon Microphone is old… originally coming into the music scene in the 50’s and 60’s, they used to thrive in popularity. In fact, they’re still used today! However, not only are they very fragile, they also happen to be very expensive.
The really cool thing about these sorts of microphones, is the fact that they produce a very rich, warm and vintage tone.
What should these sorts of microphones be used on?
Since they’re a very sensitive type of microphone, it’s a good idea to make sure that they aren’t near anything too loud, or windy. The ribbon can always snap and well, that would be bad…
Typically these microphones are used for soft instruments like strings, or voice.
Ribbon Microphones are bidirectional, so typically they’re best used in an environment that is enhanced with soundproofing material to lower the overall room sound captured.
Popular Ribbon Microphones to choose from include the Cascade Fathead and the Royer R-121.
- Ribbon Microphones are old and delicate.
- They create a nice warm and vintage sound.
- They’re sensitive to sound and are better suited for softer instruments.
- Strings and vocals are great to record on a Ribbon Microphone.
- They are bidirectional and should be used in a space with minimal room reverb.
What Type of Microphone Is Good For My Acoustic Guitar?
The question you’ve been dying to know by now! “What type of microphone is good for my acoustic guitar?” — in a nutshell, it depends on the type of music! Longer answer, well…
Given the fact that the acoustic guitar has a brighter and more percussive sound, however, a small diaphragm condenser microphone would work wonders for your recording.
If you were for instance going to record an acoustic set for bluegrass, or folk sound, typically a ribbon or dynamic microphone will do the job.
Microphone Placement On Guitar
This is a crucial step to the acoustic guitar recording process, is to properly mic your guitar. You want to do so that you can make the most out of your instrument and microphone’s qualities. This can be said about any instrument, microphone placement is important.
A man playing a live set with his 12-string guitar properly mic’d up.
Now, how we go about setting up the microphone around our acoustic guitar, is to first have it ready in your lap and in neutral positioning. Like how you’d hold it naturally before playing anything. Next, do the following:
- For the sake of your microphone and the recording, don’t place the microphone right next to the soundhole of the guitar. I know that seems like the right thing to do, however, that’s where all the sound resonates from. Meaning, it’ll just gush out a lot of low frequencies and drown out the recording. On top of that, should you happen to be using a ribbon microphone, you may end up damaging it.
- Instead, place your microphone roughly 12-16 inches away from the 12th fret. The reason for doing so, is that it captures both the high end and the low end tones of the guitar. This is also called, “the money spot”. It also captures the sound of the fingers hitting the frets and sliding, which makes it all the more authentic.
- If you’re looking for more bass qualities in your tone without washing out the overall sound of your instrument, you may place the mic a little above the soundhole, roughly 12-16 inches away This gives the guitar a more full sound. You may even place the microphone a little below the bridge. This ends up giving the guitar more mid range with less bass and fretboard action. However, this will give you more picking/fingerpicking sounds, which is always a nice authentic touch to a recording.
There are plenty more techniques you may decide you want to experiment with, such as the XY technique, or using a varied collection of condenser microphones, the choice is yours! There really are no wrong answers, it completely depends on what you’re looking for, and as long as that decision doesn’t include destroying a perfectly good microphone, go crazy!
Brief Tutorial: Mixing Acoustic Guitar Recordings
Audio recording program with microphone stand.
So you’ve already gone and recorded your perfect set, it sounds smooth, on time, and most importantly, balanced. The next step is, you’re likely going to need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of some sort to capture and enhance all of this goodness you created. It matters not what software you choose to go with, what matters is how you use it. If you don’t know how to use it, I definitely recommend looking at some tutorials on the software of your choice!
What we will go over, however, is something universal to each DAW out there, and so long as you know where to find the tools within your DAW, you’ll be just fine and on your way to mastering your finished song or piece of music!
First things first…
Put all of your guitars, or guitar recordings on a bus.
Busses will be your best friend, and may seem sort of tricky at first, but you’ll get used to them and use them in your everyday recordings.
There can be several busses, bus 1 – 100 even. Let’s focus on bus 1. You place all of your guitar recordings/channels on that bus, and therefore it allows you to move any effects, reverb, delay, EQ…etc. It ends up applying all of those effects to everything within bus 1.
Think of it as a school bus, and it picks up all the kids (your acoustic recordings), and takes them to school to learn! The teacher, AKA you teach them all sorts of things, like math, science, english (reverb, delay, EQ) and they all think, “wow! I know how to do this now!” So from now on, when you play your recording, they applied what they learned from you to the track! Weird analogy… but it works! You can think of Bus 2, 3 and so on as different classes, learning different things.
If you don’t use a bus, it can really “muddy” up your mix and make things unbalanced. Thus, you end up using more tracks and therefore it ends up using more CPU than necessary! What a drag…
Using a bus gives the feel of balance and makes the instrument tracks being played sound much like the same instrument, rather than having one guitar loud, then suddenly quiet, and then suddenly too wet.
Next, you’ll want to mute any unnecessary microphones…
It’s natural, people like to add extra tracks over their existing tracks whether through duplication or re-recording. They do this to make the sound thicker and more rich … but in the process end up making it sound far too muddy. You don’t want that. Too much of a good thing, isn’t always good. Like having too much salt, or too much candy, or sunlight!
Sometimes people may want to use multiple microphones to record a guitar, but take into consideration before doing so … it may actually make it sound worse! That’s where we come back to the fact that it might muddy up your track!
Rule of thumb: If the guitar doesn’t “sound better” don’t bother using the extra layers.
On to the next point…
Balance, balance, balance…
Before altering anything on your track by using reverb, distortion, phasing… etc. You’ll definitely want to make sure each of your acoustic tracks are balanced accordingly. What do we mean by “balance”? Well, essentially what we mean is that each track should be level in volume and with appropriate panning. This is a simple thing that can separate amateur mixing, from professional mixing.
When going about levelling out your mix, you should treat it as though you have no plugins to alter the quality of the sound. Just simply your volume, automation and panning are the only tools you require at this time.
Having quality tracks balanced accordingly, can make a world of a difference to the entire track. You may even come to find it needs less “salt and pepper” because less can be more, and obviously– too much of a good thing, isn’t always good.
The next point to be aware of, is avoid soloing instruments while mixing.
If you solo an instrument to sound good on it’s own, then what happens when it plays with the other instruments? It sticks out like a sore thumb. You need to have it blend with the music.
Now comes the argument, “what if I can’t hear the guitar??” or “That kick drum is drowned out by all the other low frequencies!” — in which case, you may need to work on EQing your entire track to make sure your tracks aren’t battling for power, or perhaps you just need to temporarily turn them up.
Including a plugin with a “gain knob” on it is a useful tool to make silent instruments heard.
Here comes, a very fun topic…
When it comes to acoustic guitar, you should always, always, always, cut out the low end through your EQ. The reason being, is because it’s useless noise! Typically it’s just your finger hitting the string, background noise, or the tap of a foot. You don’t need that in your mix! Furthermore, if it happens to create low frequencies, and you decide you want a bass and a kick drum included, then that just means there’s something else battling for power in the same frequency range.
So, in your EQ, you’ll want to throw on a high pass filter and cut it straight out of your mix.
While on the topic of EQ, you’ll definitely want to cut out the ugly bits of your recording. This can be done by increasing one of the EQ bands to +12 DB, and sweeping left and right to find disturbances. When you find something you dislike, simply move it downward in the opposite direction. If you find that the sound is on a wider spectrum, then simply widen that band to cover that frequency. Don’t stretch the band unless you really have to. You don’t want to cut out all the raw authentic playing you recorded.
The next thing is, you’ll want to make sure your guitar is compressed but for the right reasons.
If your guitar is meant to be rhythmic, you’ll want to use a compressor. The reason for this is because a compressor brings out the sound in the strings, making it more percussive and rhythmic.
However, if it happens to be the lead guitar or the melodic section of a song, you’ll likely want to pass on the compression because it’s unnecessary.
Furthermore, after you’ve chosen what to and what not to compress, you’ll want to EQ boost the high shelf on your acoustic guitar recording. This makes it cut through the rest of the track and really stand out.
An important part of every mix — you’re essentially finding a home for every instrument in the frequency spectrum to live in. If you have too many low frequencies, like a bass guitar, kick drum, low piano chords… etc. They’re all competing against each other for power over that frequency. If you can find a unique frequency to home an instrument in, like saving the high shelf for the guitar, removing the low end from the kick drums and saving the low end for the bass, you’ve got yourself some harmony.
It’s always a nice touch to have instruments change effects in a gradual way. Having a guitar grow louder or softer over 8 bars is an interesting touch that makes your mix more intriguing to listen to. It’s like the instrument takes on a life of its own. This is completely optional, however, and is not a must. This is a recording technique that many sound engineers and producers utilize in the studio should it be appropriate for that piece of music.
It’s a good idea to include some panning to make room for vocals and other instruments. It also prevents your music from sounding far too 2-dimensional. You may always pan the instrument 100 % left or right, 50 % left or right, or dead center. Should you have other preferences, go for it!
Another trick some producers use to make a track sound more full is by duplicating a recording, and hard panning both 100 % left and right to get that full feeling.
If you can, you completely should! Add some space to your mix, breathe some life into it. A mistake most beginners make is by drowning tracks in reverb because at the moment it sounds nice. Ultimately, however, it ruins the track because it’s far too wet and indistinguishable. Reverb is good in moderation! Just because you should add it, doesn’t mean it should be abused.
Now that you’ve gotten this far, you should have a pretty good idea as to what is needed for your home studio, and to get recording your first acoustic set. However, what further tips may help you on your way to being an excellent musician in the studio?
Musician walking through his own journey to reach his destination.
Firstly, as a musician working in a studio, you’ll want to work through the parts you’re going to record the next day, week or month in the studio. This means you can be practicing for hours and even days on end trying to nail a certain part that has been haunting you. Worst thing that can happen is showing up at the studio with your crew and not being ready to record that hit song.
When practicing, you’ll want to have the mindset, I’ll get there, when I get there. This doesn’t mean to slack off, or take 5 hour breaks. It’s to help alleviate some of the pressure you might be dealing with mentally which can interfere with your playing. Practicing for hours on end can be exhausting, but with the right mindset and determination, anything is possible.
This is going to be a career for you someday, right? If it’s not already, that is. Then you need to treat it as one and hit the grind hard. Give every practice a purpose, a goal, and question yourself, “by doing this, what would I hope to accomplish?” If you’re not met with a meaningful answer, then likely you need to revise your practice.
Broaden Your Horizons…
In your daily practice, try reaching for a genre you aren’t familiar or comfortable with, or play in a different scale. Perhaps you’ll find one that you enjoy and gives you more writing material to work with! Either way, you’re learning something new and it’s improving the way you play guitar for the future.
Improving Your Timing…
Always use a metronome when practicing a part of a song you’re trying to nail down. It’s good to understand the tempo and pace, and play accordingly to the clicks of the metronome. Without a metronome, your practice would be pretty aimless, and it would be difficult to keep track of your progress.
Now given the case that you may not be a guitarist, maybe you’re reading this for a friend, or are interested in setting up recording spaces for musicians to record their sets — Outsourcing work to studio musicians is always possible. Websites like Fiverr and UpWork are wonderful for finding people to perform a task you otherwise could not complete.
Perhaps they already have all the tools needed to record that amazing guitar riff, chord progression, or melody that you’ve written, and you simply can’t afford the equipment. You may always outsource the work to someone who does.
Now that you’ve read this entire article from start to finish, you should be more than ready to start assembling your own home studio. At the very least, it’ll put you on the right track and give you the knowledge you need should you even look to rent a studio space and make sure that it’s properly soundproofed.
Furthermore, while funding your home studio may be a pricey endeavor, it’s an amazing stepping stone for achieving a personal and quality place where you can write and record to your heart’s content.
So keep on writing! Keep on playing! And most importantly, rock on.