Recording acoustic guitar (Microphone selection, placement, tips, tricks and more)


Recording acoustic guitar (Microphone selection, placement, tips, tricks and more)

Ah, yes, the acoustic guitar, that sweet-sounding serenader of souls and the ever-faithful companion of countless campfire jams and heartfelt sing-alongs. But wait, before you embark on your sonic adventure, there’s a secret to unlock – the elusive art of microphone placement! 

Do not fret! (See what we did there?) We are about to embark on a journey that will lead you to the hallowed grounds of capturing untold beauty and warmth from the acoustic guitar on every recording.

Get ready to explore mic positions and recording techniques that will make your guitar go, “Wow, they really get me!” So, tune your strings and pay attention and you’ll pickup (another cheesy guitar pun?) some great tips on placing the microphone just right. 

How do I select the right microphone for recording acoustic guitar?

Before we get into microphone placement, we’ll discuss the three

There are three types of microphones commonly used for recording acoustic guitars. Condenser microphones, dynamic microphones and ribbon microphones.

Out of these three types, condenser microphones are probably the most common choice for recording acoustic guitars, but all three types can have their place.

Condenser Microphones: They are more sensitive and capture a broader frequency range, making them a popular choice for recording acoustic guitars. They have a full-bodied sound with a strong low-end, detail and body in the mid-range and sparkle in the high-end. They are particularly great for capturing the natural and detailed sound of the instrument. Condenser microphones tend to pick up more of the room ambience which can be an issue depending on the situation. Large-diaphragm condenser mics are commonly used for this purpose such as the Rode NT1000

Dynamic Microphones: Dynamic mics, while less sensitive, offer a tight, focused sound with less of the room ambience, making them a great choice for recording acoustic guitar in genres like pop or rock where the guitar track needs to fit into a loud and busy mix. This can also be a good choice for a live recording where you need to reduce bleed from other instruments into the microphone. The Shure SM57 is a popular dynamic microphone for recording instruments, including acoustic guitars. 

Ribbon Microphones: Are very sensitive and capture a warm and full sound when used on acoustic guitars. They are sometimes described as ‘silky’ with a natural roll-off in the high end which gently reduces any excessive brightness, while still maintaining good clarity and definition. Ribbon microphones have a delicate pickup element, meaning they have to be handled with care. They tend to be more expensive than dynamic and condenser microphones.

Read the detailed article to learn more about how to choose the best microphone for your acoustic guitar.

Should I record acoustic guitar with one or two microphones?

Recording with one microphone can be simpler and more straightforward. Using a single microphone placed in front of the guitar can capture the overall sound of the instrument. It can be a good option if you want a more natural, balanced sound, or if you have limited resources or recording equipment.

Recording with two microphones, on the other hand, can provide more flexibility and options during the mixing process. You can use one microphone close to the guitar’s soundhole or bridge for a more focused and warm sound while placing another microphone further away to capture the room ambience and add depth. This technique allows you to blend the two microphone signals during mixing to create a more nuanced and spacious sound.

How do I mic an acoustic guitar for recording?

  1. Positioning the Microphone: Proper microphone placement is crucial for getting a good acoustic guitar recording. The placement can vary depending on the sound you want to achieve:
    • At the 12th Fret: Place the microphone around the 12th fret, pointing towards the soundhole. This position captures a balanced sound with a mix of string and body resonance.
    • At the Soundhole: Placing the microphone near the sound hole will emphasize the low-end and produce a boomy sound. It may be useful for certain styles of playing or if you want a more prominent bass presence.
    • At the Bridge: Positioning the microphone near the bridge will capture a brighter and more treble-rich sound. It might be suitable for fingerpicking or adding clarity to the recording.
  1. Using Multiple Microphones (Optional): For more complex recordings or stereo setups, you can use multiple microphones to capture different aspects of the guitar’s sound. Experiment with various placements and microphone combinations to find what works best for your specific recording.
  1. Preventing Pick Noise (Optional): To reduce pick noise, try positioning the microphone slightly off-axis from the direction of the pick. Additionally, you can experiment with different types of picks, picking techniques, or even using fingerstyle playing if this would work in the song.
  1. Reducing Background noise and vibration: When you’re recording acoustic guitar, it’s really important to deal with those pesky resonances and vibrations that can mess up your sound. Sometimes, the guitar itself starts vibrating in sympathy with the strings, or you might get unwanted noises from the room or even from your footsteps. To tackle this, I like to use things like shock mounts, heavy stands, or even some materials to dampen these vibrations and make sure my recordings sound as clean and natural as possible.
  1. Check Levels and Test Recording: Before committing to a full recording, do a test recording and listen back to ensure the levels are appropriate and the sound is capturing what you desire.
  2. Room Acoustics: Consider the room you’re recording in, as it can affect the overall sound. A well-treated smaller room will yield a cleaner more focused recording, while a larger room can provide a more open and natural sound.

The best approach might vary depending on the specific guitar, the room acoustics, and the style of music you’re recording. Try different techniques until you find the sound that suits your preferences and the context of the music.

What is the best room in the house to record acoustic guitar?

The best room in the house to record acoustic guitar can vary depending on your specific goals, the equipment you have, and the sound you want to achieve. Here are some considerations for different room options:

Living Room

Pros: Living rooms often have a balanced acoustic environment with comfortable furniture that can help dampen sound reflections. The larger space can provide a natural sense of space and depth in the recording.

Cons: Depending on the size and layout, living rooms can sometimes have unwanted background noise or ambient sounds from outside the room.

Bedroom

Pros: Bedrooms are typically smaller and can provide a more controlled and intimate acoustic environment. Soft materials like curtains and bedding can help absorb sound, reducing reflections.

Cons: Small rooms can sometimes produce a boxy sound, so careful microphone placement is essential. Bedrooms may also have less natural light, which can be a factor if you need to record video as well.

Home Studio or Dedicated Music Room

Pros: If you have a home studio or dedicated music room with acoustic treatment, this can be an ideal choice. Acoustic treatment panels and bass traps can help control room reflections and optimize sound quality.

Cons: Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated space for music, and setting up a treated room can be an investment in both time and money.

Closet

Pros: Believe it or not, closets can be surprisingly good for recording acoustic guitar. They are small, often lined with clothes that absorb sound and can provide a dry and focused sound.

Cons: Space can be tight, making it challenging to set up recording equipment. It’s also essential to be mindful of any clothing rustling or other noises that might occur.

Can I record an acoustic guitar in the bathroom?

Pros: Bathrooms can have a unique acoustic quality due to hard surfaces like tiles, which can produce a lively and bright sound. This can work well for specific styles or creative effects.

Cons: Bathrooms tend to have a lot of ambient noise (toilets, faucets, ventilation), and excessive reverb may not be suitable for all musical genres.

Basement:

Pros: Basements often provide isolation from the rest of the house, reducing the impact of household noises. The concrete walls and ceiling can create a unique sound profile.

Cons: Basements can sometimes have low ceilings and limited natural light, which might affect the mood of your recording.

Try recording in different rooms and positions within those rooms to find the sound that suits your music best. 

Regardless of the room you choose, consider using acoustic treatment materials like diffusers and absorbers to control the sound of the room and reduce reflections and echoes.

What equipment do I need to record acoustic guitar?

To record acoustic guitar, you’ll need a set of essential equipment and software. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:

1. Acoustic Guitar: Your trusty acoustic guitar is, of course, the star of the show. Make sure it’s in good condition and properly tuned.

2. Microphone: You can choose between a condenser, dynamic, or ribbon microphone, depending on your preferences and budget. 

3. Microphone Stand: A stable microphone stand is necessary to position the microphone correctly in front of the guitar. Adjustable height and angle are helpful for precise placement.

4. Pop Filter (Optional): A pop filter can help reduce plosive sounds (e.g., “p” and “b” sounds) when recording vocals or close-miking the guitar.

5. Shock Mount (Optional): A shock mount can isolate the microphone from vibrations and handling noise, ensuring a cleaner recording.

6. XLR Cable: You’ll need an XLR cable to connect the microphone to your audio interface.

7. Audio Interface: An audio interface is essential for converting the analog signal from your microphone into a digital signal that your computer can process. Make sure it has a microphone preamp and appropriate inputs for your microphone (e.g., XLR or 1/4-inch).

8. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Software: You’ll need recording software to capture and edit your guitar recordings. There are many options available, both free and paid, such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Reaper, and more.

9. Headphones: Good-quality closed-back headphones are essential for monitoring your recordings and ensuring accurate playback. They also help prevent sound leakage into the microphone during recording.

10. Studio Monitors (Optional): If you have a dedicated recording space, studio monitors (speakers) can be used for playback and mixing. 

11. Room Treatment (Optional): Depending on your recording environment, you might need acoustic treatment materials like diffusers, absorbers, and bass traps to improve sound quality and reduce unwanted reflections.

12. Preamps and Effects (Optional): External preamps or effects processors can enhance your guitar’s sound before it reaches the audio interface. These can be useful for shaping your tone.

13. Tuner: If you are anything like me, you have definitely recorded a great take to go back and listen and realise it was slightly flat or sharp. Don’t be like that! Tune before every take to be on the safe side. I use a little clip on Snark tuner that sits on the headstock and uses a visual dial to show me if I am in tune or note.

FAQ about acoustic guitar recording

How to record acoustic guitar without pick and fret noise

To record my acoustic guitar without all that annoying pick and fret noise, I’ve learned that a light touch and the right pick can make a huge difference. I also found that where I place the microphone matters a lot; aiming it just above the 12th fret helps capture more of my guitar’s tone and less of the noise. And if there’s still some noise after recording, a bit of post-processing magic in my trusty DAW usually does the trick, refining the sound and leaving me with a clean recording I can be proud of.

Is the Shure sm57 good for recording acoustic guitar?

I’ve found that the Shure SM57 can work surprisingly well for recording acoustic guitars. Its warm and midrange-focused sound can give the guitar a pleasant and balanced tone. With careful mic placement, it works extremely well. It’s also great for recording in a noisy environment as it’s cardioid pickup pattern rejects ambient room noise from the back and sides.

Should I use a pick when recording acoustic guitar?

This depends on the style of music you are playing! For strumming or fast picking work a pick adds extra crispness and brightness that you can’t get easily with your fingers. A pick is generally used in styles like rock, pop, and country.

Fingerstyle playing (finger-picking) brings a warm and intimate touch that works wonders and can introduce some interesting dynamics to your music.

Can I record acoustic guitar with my phone?

Yes, you totally can! In fact, I have literally hundreds of draft ideas I have recorded on my phone just using the built-in voice recorder. Position the phone’s built-in microphone appropriately. For acoustic guitar, it’s generally best to place the phone at a distance of about 12-18 inches from the guitar’s soundhole or where the neck meets the body.

If you plan on using the recording for a serious project, choose a quiet space make sure there is no background noise in the room as the microphone in your phone will pick that up also.

Recording Acoustic Guitar: In Summary

When it comes to recording acoustic guitar, it’s all about finding that sweet spot that captures the essence of your instrument and works perfectly for the song.

In this article we discussed;

  • Selecting the right microphones
  • Single or multiple microphones
  • Microphone placement
  • Recording setup and room choice
  • Equipment needed
  • General FAQ

Experimenting with different microphones and positions can yield vastly different results, so it’s worth taking the time to find the one that complements your playing style and the sound you’re after. Placing the microphone near the 12th fret can capture a balanced mix of string resonance and body warmth while moving it closer to the soundhole might emphasize the low-end richness.

Tim Wells

Hi I’m Tim Wells – an experienced session and live drummer, mixing engineer and all-around lover of music! I’ve been passionate about music from a young age and I’ve had the great privilege of creating and performing music all around the world. I've had the incredible experience of touring as a live drummer through over 10 countries, performing in festivals, clubs, street corners, churches and cafes in front of audiences anywhere between 8 and 8,000! I've also spent time in the recording studio as a session drummer, but also as a recording and mixing engineer.

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