Recording Acoustic Guitar

Recording Acoustic Guitar

The purpose of this article is to describe the various methods I’ve used for recording acoustic guitar in relation to my style of music (Classical/Flamenco). It will also be applicable to other styles of Acoustic Guitar. I’ll discuss essential Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) functions to use so you can boost your recording to closely reflect professional radio edits. I have not taken into account the room used for recordings nor electric guitars. Nor have I taken into account all the different types of microphones. However FYI, for my recordings I use Shure M81 condenser microphones. I’ve also used a combination of condenser and dynamic microphones together for stereo mixes achieving good results. The DAW I use is Pro Tools however this article is applicable to all DAWS.

Recording Acoustic Guitar Methods

1. Recording Acoustic Guitar Direct to the DAW. This is achieved by using an external interface or  sound card and connecting your guitar directly.
Pros
i. Can cancel out external noises. Good if you’re recording room is not sound proof or noisy
ii. Clearly captures signal
iii. Fast and easy to setup
Cons
i. You won’t get the full richness of the guitar
ii. You won’t get the dynamics of the room you’re recording in.

2. Via Guitar Amplifier. This setup for recording acoustic guitar is achieved by connecting your guitar to the amplifier and putting microphones connected to the DAW in front of the amplifier. Note you need to use more than one Microphone to get stereo. Try placing the microphone(s) in different positions. I normally use 2 microphones and place them 20 cm from the amplifier speaker
Pros
i. Get the natural sound of using a real amplifier rather than relying on your DAW.
ii. You can use amplifiers effects such as reverb, chorus etc
iii. Produces a different sound than what the DAW will. In my opinion sounds more real.
Cons
i. Not the best option for a natural sound. Probably best suited for recording acoustic guitar contemporary or rock music
ii. If in a noisy environment you may get background noise

3. Microphones in front of the guitar
a. Single Microphone (Mono) Positioned about 30 cm away from the 12th fret.
Pros
i. Only need one microphone
ii. Will capture natural sound
Cons
i. Won’t get full bodied sound as using multiple mics
ii. Can only record in mono
iii. Need to be in a quite room
b. Two Microphones (Stereo). First microphone positioned about 30 cm away from the 12th fret. Second Microphone a little past the bridge and 30 cm away from the body. Experiment yourself for the best results
Pros
i. Get a nice round sound of treble and bass
ii. Get the natural acoustics of the guitar
iii. Can record in stereo achieving a richer sound
Cons
i. Need 2 mics
ii. Your interface needs to be able to accept 2 mics
iii. Can be annoying finding the right position
iv. Need to be in a quiet room
c. Three Microphones: (Stereo). First microphone positioned about 30 cm away from the 12th fret. Second Microphone a little past the bridge and 30 cm away from the body. Third Microphone 50cm away pointing at the sound hole.
Pros
i. Capture the entire sound of the guitar
ii. Get all the natural acoustics of the guitar
iii. Can record in Stereo
Cons
i. Need 3 mics
ii. Your interface needs to be able to accept 2 mics
iii. Can be annoying finding the right position
iv. Need to be in a quiet room

Summary

As you can see there are multiple ways of recording acoustic guitar. From my experience, the best method used to capture the natural sound of the guitar is microphones. I prefer to use 2 or more microphones as this seems to pick up the richness of the guitar and better reflect its true sound into my DAW.

After recording acoustic guitar I recommend performing post production techniques to get the best final cut possible. There are various DAW functions. The ones mentioned in this article I find baseline essential. You’ll need to play with other features available and use your ears.

Essential DAW Functions

1. Compression. This is usually set quite high for acoustic guitar. It will help balance the loudest and quietest parts of the sound signal. Play with the settings to get what’s right for you
Pros
i. Balances the highs and lows making it sound even
ii. Will help achieve that radio cut quality
Cons
i. Don’t overdo it otherwise it will sound over produced. Use your ears

2. Equalizer. Use the equalizer to balance the sound (Lows, Mids, Highs). A common issue sometimes a recording can sound ‘Boomy’ you can use the EQ to fix this and other issues. Use your ears and play with the settings that work best for you. There are lots of recommendations for equalizer on line. If not sure refer to them however I strongly recommend you use your own judgement.
Pros
i. Can be used to balance the sound
ii. Can be used to over extenuate parts of the mix. I.e. you may want the highs to really come through
iii. Can be used to correct or lessen errors
Cons
i. It really is a judgement call. Use your ears and always have a reference track on hand for comparative purposes

3. Reverb/Delay. Most recordings have some amount of reverb or delay applied. The trick is not to overdo it as you’ll lose the natural quality of the guitar. It’s all about getting that balance.
Pros
i. Can add a really nice touch to a recording
ii. Can resolve issues where notes not cleanly hit
iii. Can mask errors
Cons
i. If overdone can make the sound unnatural.

Summary

A good acoustic guitar recording combined with the right DAW functions will give you that radio cut we all strive for. If you have any questions or suggestions please contact or add to the post by using the comments field