3 Simple Steps for a Great Acoustic Guitar Sound
Whether you’re playing Country, Bluegrass, Folk, or one of the million brands of Indie Rock, getting a great acoustic guitar capture is going to be a vital part of your record. Luckily, it’s not that hard! People often make this more complicated than it needs to be.
I’m going to break it down into three very easy steps:
1. Play it Well
Every great sound starts at the source. It’s fairly obvious that the better the guitar, the better the sound. But what people sometimes overlook is the subtleties of the performance. Getting the right touch is everything. Where you hold the pick can make a big difference. The more pick that sticks out, the more string you’re going to get. The less pick, the more body. Likewise, how you tense your wrist can have a similar effect (a tense wrist will pull the string harder, a loose wrist will have a thinner/lighter sound).
By figuring out where you want to hold the pick, and when and how much to tense your wrist, you have a fine control over the sound of the guitar and the dynamics. Work this out as part of the composition of the record!
Deciding where you want your upstrokes and downstrokes also comes into the overall sound. Upstrokes have a brighter sound, downstrokes have a deeper sound. The more meticulously you compose the playing, the less you’ll need to do in the recording and mixing process.
2. Choose Your Weapon
All you need is one mic and one preamp. Multi-miking techniques and taking a DI if your acoustic offers it is all well and good, but generally one source is all you need.
You don’t need the most expensive preamp in the world. Almost any mid-priced preamp will get you where you need to be. I do have some that I like: Solo 610 (which is now being sold much higher than it should be) is great for a little glowy harmonic tone. API 512c is a great lunchbox preamp that sounds very transparent. But almost anything can work well.
The mic is a little more specific. Small diaphragm condensers tend to be my pick, but it can be hard to find inexpensive ones that do the job. Avoid Rode NT5S — good for percussion, harsh on guitars. Look more towards the Charter Oaks M900 and the Audio Technica 450/4501/4022. Or if you’ve got a bit more budget, a single Earthworks QTC (probably my favorite for natural sound) or a Gefell M300.
Large diaphragm condensers can work well too, and often double nicely as vocal mics. The list of mics is quite long, but I’ve had good experiences with the AT4033a and Blue Bluebird on the cheaper side of budgets, as well as the JJ Audio Stellar CM6 Mod or Pitbull in the mid-priced range.
3. Find the Sweet Spot
There are a lot of approaches to microphone placement for acoustic guitar. Call me crazy, but I’m a big fan of moving the microphone around while the guitarist is playing and placing it where it sounds best! Takes about a minute to find the sweet spot.
But, it’s a little trickier if you happen to be recording yourself. So here are some thoughts. Give the mic enough space from the guitar. You want to capture the whole sound, not some choked off unprojected version of that, so give yourself a good foot to foot and half of space between the mic and the guitar. Start directly at the sound hole. If this is too boomy, move the mic up the neck (traditionally toward the 12th fret tends to work), and adjust the angle of the mic to aim towards the sound hole. Still too much boom? Gradually angle the mic off axis from the sound hole. There are ton of miking techniques for picking up more specific captures, but just getting a good image of the whole guitar is pretty fail safe.
Alright folks, stay tuned and let me know how you record acoustic guitar in the comments.
Below is s a video of me walking you though how I mixed the acoustic guitar for “Borrowed Heart” by Hezekiah Jones.
Also, check out this acoustic guitar microphone shootout from Randy Coppinger: