Tips for Layering Acoustic Guitars
Okay, so today, we’re going to have a little bit of fun. We’re going to do a little bit more recording of acoustic guitars. So it’s going to be a combination of how I record them and a bit of production work. So a bit of both.
I’ve got a track by a track by an artist called Chris Sahlin that I’m producing. He was actually a follower on YouTube and he contacted me, and he said, will I produce his new EP? So here we are, producing it here at Spitfire, and I’m just going to show you how I’m going to do acoustic guitars on the chorus of one of his songs.
So let’s get started. A couple of things. Dumb things. I’m wearing a shirt with buttons, and you know how many times I’ve tracked and heard this?
It sounds silly, but I roll up my sleeves. [laughs] The reason why I bring it up is because quite often, you’ll get excessive pick noise, so what I’ve done sometimes is put a paper towel — a kitchen towel — on here and then taped it for when you get really —
Because a lot of guys and girls will actually —
Actually hit the scratch plate.
I’m going to endeavor not to do that, but it does happen. So you know, just be aware, if you’re getting clicking noises, all kinds of stuff like that, it might be hands, it might be buttons, it might be anything, like a belt buckle, some keys, you know. Be aware of that kind of stuff.
Sometimes it can be very low level and quiet, and you don’t notice until you’re mixing and putting additional compression on it. So I’ve just found over the years to be very mindful of that stuff.
So we’re using a headstock tuner, tuning up our guitar here. Okay, great. We are going to be recording using a couple of things.
So this is the base model Lewitt condenser. It’s the LCT-140. I’m going to talk about it, because it’s inexpensive and I use it for recording acoustic guitars. I also have it as a hi-hat mic at the moment as well.
So it’s set to 40 just to get rid of some low rumble, some air conditioning noises, anything like that.
Okay, great. So as you’ve probably seen quite often in videos of me doing acoustic guitar and stuff, I have a couple of different places I mic the acoustic. For this, I’m going to mic it on the lower horn, which is basically here. So it’s pointing at the guitar here.
You can also go twelfth to fourteenth fret. I always do that with large diaphragms and I pull back a bit, but I’m using a small diaphragm mic, I’m pointing it at the bottom here, but I’m also being very mindful to point it away from the sound hole, so even though it’s picking up the body here, I like it because it’s got the percussiveness, but I’m making sure not to be in the sound hole.
So I’m going to create a new input. I’m in Pro Tools here, so Shift+Command+N, one mono in. So my acoustic is going to be coming in on — so coming in on input 20 for my acoustic guitar. So I’m just going to label it Acoustic. Simple as that.
Okay, our chain is the 140. Inexpensive condenser. I’m going into a BAE 1073, and that 1073, all I’m doing is I’m rolling off again — I’m high passing at 80, so I’ve got 40 and 80. That’s the only EQ I’m applying. I’m just high passing and getting rid of low rumble, and to be honest, that kind of woofiness out of the sound hole. I’m going into my Spectrasonics compressor/limiter, which is barely doing anything.
So let’s put on the headphones, grab the guitar. Okay cool, so we’ve got the mic in the position I wanted it. It’s facing here, it’s a little brighter that way. I’ve got less of the boominess going on.
Compression is only coming in on the hard hits.
You know, it’s a little rattly if I bang it, but I’m not going to play that heavily. I’m going to get more percussive.
Cool. So let’s try it.
Cool. So that’s — that’s pretty straight forward. Now what I’ll do is do Shift+Option+D. I’ll duplicate the track. I don’t need to duplicate the playlists. I’ll pan the one we just did over to the right, and I’ll pan the new one to the left, and we’ll duplicate that. We’ll double it.
Cool. So that is pretty straight forward. What we’re going to do for additional production stuff is we’re going to grab a Nashville tuning guitar. Now, in Nashville, I don’t think they call it a Nashville tuning guitar, but what it is is the guitar with the high strings of a twelve string. So basically it’s the high strings of a twelve string. So you take a regular E, a regular B, just tune them normally, but then your G, D, A, and E, these four strings here are actually top four strings of a regular set of strings.
Now, what I’m using is electric strings, believe it or not. So that’s an E, B, G, D string tuned to G, D, A, E. They’re all tuned one octave above where they regularly would be.
So this is what you get. E, B, octave G, octave D, octave A, octave E. So G, D, A, E.
So that is the high strings of a twelve string. Now, you might ask, why don’t I just use a twelve string? Well there’s lots of reasons. Things like articulation.
All that kind of stuff is very difficult to do on a twelve string and play articulated. You’ll have to play downstrokes and hit both strings together. So it doesn’t always articulate, and I learned this from Don Smith back in ’95. I was working with Don Smith, who had recorded — like Shelley, had recorded a lot of the Tom Petty records.
He’d also worked with the Traveling Wilburys, and the Stones, and a whole bunch of other stuff, and he told me all of the Tom Petty twelve string kind of — you know, Last Dance with Mary Jane, was actually two acoustic guitars. One was high strung like this, and one was regular strung.
So what we’ll do now is we’ll take the acoustic guitar part we just played, and we’ll double it with this cheap guitar. It’s a really inexpensive Epiphone. It’s probably worth about $70. It doesn’t have to be a high quality guitar, and we’re going to double it.
So let’s create a new input. Again, we can go back and do our Shift+Option+D. And let’s relabel this. I’ll actually call this Nashville. We can put this down the center for the time being. So if you’re in Pro Tools, you can just do Option on your pan, and here we go. Let’s grab the guitar. Hit 3 on the Apple keyboard, off we go.
Cool. So let’s do the same trick, Shift+Option+D to duplicate, hit yes, pan this one over to the left, pan the new one we’re about to do to the right, and record a double.
Cool. So one of those guitars was a little sloppy on the front. We’ll do a quick edit to clean it up. See how early I came in on that? So I’m just going to go into grid mode for a second. I’ll go to eighth notes. We’re in 6/8, so we should go to sixteenths.
What you can do is you can tab to transient like this. See, it’s all pretty good up until about here. Then I’ll do C, V, copy, paste, then just nudge it back like that. So that just snaps to the grid where I wanted it to be.
It seems they’re all relatively good. This one is a little on top, all the way through to about here, so same thing, C, V. Command+0, nudge it back. This one is just out of the down beat here. C, V. Command+0, nudge it back. That just snaps it back to the grid. Let’s have a listen now.
It’s pretty good. It’s a little loose around here. Let’s just pull that back. I usually find that it’s the first — the downbeats, the first bar, you know, when we’re trying to get into the groove, that’s where we make most of our mistakes, and then after that, I don’t edit too heavily unless, you know, unless it’s absolutely awful.
But if it’s that bad, I’ll just play it again. So here we go. This is a pair of Nashvilles. So let’s just group that. Call it Nash. Pair of regulars. Just call that acoustic. So here’s my Nashvilles on the row.
Here’s my regulars on their own.
[acoustics, all in]
Now it sounds like one really nicely played twelve string.
Now, I can — I can take my Nashville out, or bring it in really, really super low, and just kind of blend it the way I want to hear it. So what I did, just so you know, when I did that quick edit, you’ll notice I brought up Beat Detective. Now, I wasn’t using it to grid anything, but what I was using it for was to put the fades in super quick.
So if I undo the fades, I’ll show you what I did one more time. So let’s delete the fades. So I highlighted everything that I’d edited, I took Beat Detective, and I had it set on Edit Smoothing, Fill in Crossfade, I just hit smooth, and there you go.
It’s just a super quick way — especially if I’ve gone through and I’ve had to edit a performance, maybe a piano part — well, piano is a little more difficult. Pianos, I tend to go in there, and edit — If I have to edit, and listen to every fade, because a piano can not be badly edited. You have to really get in there. But if I’m editing something really super quick, like rock guitars or whatever, maybe I’ve got ten or twenty edits across four tracks.
So I just highlight the whole region and use this to put in the fades. Super quick, especially if you’re working with clients around you and you’re trying to get things done very quickly.
[acoustics, all in]
Let’s hear it in the track.
Nice. So it’s like a nice scene change to have that twelve string kind of sound coming in there. It’s really good. Very simple.
So the tips to remember are I’m using a cheap small diaphragm mic. I’ve got it set to 40Hz high passed, just to get rid of low rumble, air conditioning sounds. The only EQ I’ve got going on pre is actually at 80. I’m high passing there. So I’m double high passing. Not that it matters. I could probably use one or the other, or I could use neither and do it in Pro Tools, do it in your DAW. If you want to high pass in your DAW, that’s fine.
It’s good on acoustic guitars because that super lows, like the 40 area, you know, it’s a little woofiness out of the sound hole, but more importantly, I think 40 is going to get rid of any low AC sounds.
So that, and then I’m pointing at the body here. This is the kind of area I’m going for with a small diaphragm mic, and I’ve got the mic coming in at an angle like this so it’s away from the sound hole.
I like that sound, because it picks up this kind of percussiveness. It’s a great —
I just like it. Now, you can also do twelfth to fourteenth fret, which is very common, which is placing the mic between the twelve and the fourteenth, using a large diaphragm, or a small diaphragm, pulled back two, three, four, sometimes as much as eight inches back. I’ve even seen people come much further back, but depending on your room, if it’s very live, you probably want to get a little closer, unless you’re looking to have a live sound in your mix, and that’s a whole different ball game.
But for a track like this, I wanted a pretty dead sound, and here I am. I’m sitting in front of my computer and I’m doing the guitars. I’m not in a separate live room or anything like that. Very straight forward.
So it’s pretty straight forward. The amount of compression I had going on was just a couple of dB, and it was really just on those —
Those initial hits. Then if you look at the waveforms, they’re still pretty dynamic. They’re not overly dynamic, there’s enough compression just to kill some of those really, you know, aggressive transients, but it’s printing a good, fat tone, and once again, this guitar is — you know, it’s a used Epiphone. I’m sure it’s made in Korea, and the fact it’s got second stamped on the back of the headstock — so not only is it an inexpensive guitar, it’s a cheap inexpensive guitar. [laughs] It’s like a reject one. So it’s great for this kind of effect. For the Nashville, I actually prefer the cheaper sound, because all I need is that sparkle.
Don’t want all the body. I don’t need it. So a cheaper guitar kind of works.
I also, you know, when we were talking about Don Smith, he told me all those twelve string Rickenbacker sounds they were getting were also with two Telecasters. So I don’t have a pair of Telecasters here, but what you can do is you can get like, an inexpensive, like, the Korean Telecaster or something like that, and string that up. An old Squier, one of the cheap Squiers, string it up as a Nashville, and you can do exactly the same trick we’re doing here, but you can do them on rakes.
So if you’ve got your electric and you’re doing rakes like —
You can do that, print that, and then do the Nashville against it, and it’ll make them just a little bit more sparkly. Very often in my mixes, I will introduce the Nashville guitar sound against it.
So there’s just a little simple trick. I’m recording the acoustic, gentle amount of compression, all about mic placement. As you can see, it’s an inexpensive mic. It’s a nice mic pre, but honestly, I could’ve used any of the mic pres I have. I’ve got 312s, I’ve got the DMP, there’s lots of different things we can use here. It’s really more about the mic placement than it is about anything else.
You know, I can apply additional EQ to those guitars and get them even more sparkling if I want, but ultimately, you can see, you know, if you’ve got your mic in the right place, you’re not going to get that low end woofiness that you associate with badly recorded acoustics, and you don’t need to spend a huge amount on a condenser mic to do those kind of jobs.
Also, I think if you just bought one condenser to do vocals, you could also use it on your acoustic guitar, but if it was a large diaphragm, I’d probably use it on the twelve to fourteenth. That’s just me, but either technique works.
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Thank you ever so much for watching, and I hope you have a marvelous time recording and mixing!