Tech Tip:Recording Your Acoustic Guitar, Part 1
Part 1 | Part 2
By Dennis Kambury
Previously on Tech Tips
As we discovered in our last installment, recording the electric guitar is pretty straightforward - pop an Shure SM57 in front of the speaker, and you've got a great traditional rock guitar sound ready to go. Acoustic guitars aren't too much more involved, but the rules are a little different.
Is this thing on?
Unlike electric guitars, a dynamic mic won't deliver a compelling acoustic sound. To capture the range and clarity of an acoustic guitar, a better choice is a condenser mic. Unlike the electric, there is no one standard microphone choice. That's the bad news. The good news is that there are a lot of options!
Take your pick
If the guitar is part of a larger mix of instruments, a small-diaphragm condenser such as the Neumann KM184 or Shure SM81 would be a good choice. Because there's less mass to move, a small diaphragm mic has better transient response, resulting in a clearer, more detailed sound. For a more intimate setting such as solo guitar or a very sparse arrangement, a large diaphragm mic with its generally warmer sound will work well. Both the Neumann TLM103 and the AKG C3000B are excellent choices for this application.
The acoustic guitar is both a challenge and a pleasure to record, as the entire instrument is making sound when you play - the body, back, and sides, the sympathetic vibrations of the strings above the nut, and the tap of string to fret wire. So it stands to reason that where you place the mic will have a great impact on the final sound.
A common starting point is about 6" away from the guitar, aimed at the area between the end of the fretboard and the top of the sound hole. This gives you the fullness of the body, without the boominess associated with the sound hole. You can also focus on the bridge; from behind the guitar (picking up the listening position of the player); or even from the neck pointing towards the body.
As always, you should experiment with different mics and mic placements to find the sound that best fits your vision. Move the mic 5 feet away, close-mic the headstock, or even use a completely inappropriate mic for the job - you'll be surprised at the sonic gold you might discover. Once, when broke but feeling creative, I pressed a cheap classical guitar and the mic embedded in a mini-cassette recorder into service. I patched the output of the cassette recorder into a reel-to-reel, set the recorder on my knee, and played away. The result, in the mix, was surprisingly good, and I'm in the process of moving it into my hard disk recorder for a new arrangement.
We'll take a look at mono, stereo, and compression, and how these things will help your guitar sit in the mix.