Thoughts on recording acoustic guitars

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Rodgre
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Thoughts on recording acoustic guitars

Post by Rodgre » Sun Jan 28, 2007 8:22 am

Another thread got me thinking about all of the little things that I've learned over the years about recording acoustic guitars.

There is the famous "mic it with an SDC aimed at the 12th fret" sweet spot that tends to be the go-to setup for a lot of engineers. I found that I could rely on this setup for about 60% of my tracks, but not always.

There is the "I read that Daniel Lanois mics U2's acoustics with a Shure Dynamic mic" technique. I will go through phases where I'm into this technique, sometimes using a single SM57 or SM58, or a Beta58, or my latest favorite, an SM7B aimed pretty much at the soundhole (which I find is typically a BAD place for a condenser....BOOOOMY....) Sometimes this works for me when I'm trying to get that aggressive 60's/70's John Lennon/David Bowie acoustic guitar tone (even though that was probably a U47 tube mic!)

If I want a thicker, more woody tone, sometimes the dynamic is the way to go, but other times, I like a single ribbon mic.

There is the "I like the way it sounds when I'm playing the guitar, so why not put the mic over my shoulder where my ear is?" technique, which someone in another thread attributed to Chet Atkins. I've had good results using an omni mic up there a few times. It's a good place for a one mic singer/guitarist track sometimes.

My normal stereo setup has been an LDC aimed at an angle toward the bottom of the body, sort of toward the bridge and a SDC aimed at where the neck meets the body. Moving things around until it sounds right in headphones, this has been a reliable technique. It's important that, while you're trying to get a good stereo image, you have a strong center image, otherwise the track will get buried under other overdubs.

Besides mic positioning, there are lots of things that the guitarist can do or not do that affect the tone. I like thinner picks with strummy acoustics that sit in a track. I try to minimize the artist's clacking of the pick against the pickguard as they strum. Sometimes, a guitarist is squeezing the body of the guitar too tightly as they play sitting down, and this chokes the warmth and resonance of the body. I will sometimes ask them to play standing up (with a strap).

Nashville tuned guitars are a great way to add more shimmer to a track. Panning a standard-tuned and a Nashville tuned guitar playing the same chords, hard right and left can sound incredible.

So what has everyone else learned about recording acoustic guitars?

Roger

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Kasey
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Post by Kasey » Sun Jan 28, 2007 8:52 am

I generally am recording nylon string, which changes things a bit - but the main thing i've learned recently is to move the mic away from the guitar. It's going to be too boomy, even if its aimed at the 12th fret, if its only 3 inches away (unless your mic really doesn't pick up bass at all). As a general rule though, I've learned never to bring the mic closer than 6 inches, and its usually about a foot away.
Also this makes acoustics more important.

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Post by JWL » Sun Jan 28, 2007 10:06 am

I play acoustic guitar in my band. My favorite way to record myself is in a Mid-Side configuration using a shinybox 23 ribbon and a Rode NT1 condenser. I stand off to the side to get a "natural panning", and then do a double track standing to the opposite side. I also use 2 different acoustics, one that is a small body, and one that is a jumbo body.

During the mix I will often put the 2 track-sets to the same side, so the performances are right on top of each other.

The M-S technique also gives me a lot of flexibility with width of stereo image, as well as different tonalities from the 2 very different sounding mics.

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Post by chovie d » Sun Jan 28, 2007 11:23 am

Ive learned that I like the sound better by just pointing my mic (mxl 991 condensor) at the soundhole, rather than the twelth fret. From everything Ive read this is wrong and supposed to be too "boomy" but thats how it sounds best to me.
Ive also learned that if I angle the mic slightly downwards I get more bass, slightly upwards gives me more treble...no idea why that is.
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Nashville tuned guitars are a great way to add more shimmer to a track
I want to try this. I use a twelve string tho so its already kind of there, but still...wanna try that out...I love a mandolin and an acoustic twelve together.
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Post by RefD » Sun Jan 28, 2007 1:00 pm

last weekend i recorded some acoustic guitar using a cardioid dynamic angled up at the treble side and pointed at the 14th fret where the neck joins the body.

worked out pretty well, tho i did have to HPF it a bit, but the mids and top sounded pretty balanced.

mind, this was for an ensemble tune and not a solo performance, so it was all about fitting in with other instruments, but it does sound quite natural to me when placed in context.

*presses button*

not half bad soloed either, actually.

i should totally try this with a 635a sometime and see what the fuss is about..
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Post by heylow » Sun Jan 28, 2007 1:18 pm

Well, the first thing that I had to learn was that are more ways to mic an acoustic than the ol' 12th fret SDC technique. I can honestly say I have never been involved in a project where this position blew me away. Sure...it has always "done the trick"...but just the trick.

Even bigger....picks and strings. Most people just use what they use and be done with it. It's amazing what a difference picks and strings will bring. The difference between a set of John Pearse Phosphor Bronze and a set of Ernie Ball Earthwoods is amazing and can really bring out different tones in the guitar itself.

String gauge is important too....sometimes a track just calls for a stiff set...period. You'll never get that sound with an smaller set....this goes vice-versa as well. Keeping a few different sets in a few different guages around can really make a track.

With picks, someone here called them the 50 cent EQ. Totally. I have different picks by different manufacturers....same gauge, same material...totally different sound. I have found Planet Waves Classic Celluloid picks to be among the warmest, most musical picks out there....seriously and I have no idea why. I keep picks mostly in medium and heavy for different applications. John Pearse makes a really great "studio" pick with 3 different edges on it that rules. Which brings me to another point...try using the blunt end of your pick...totally different sound....great dark strummer.

All this stuff becomes even more important when a guy doesn't have a bunch of different acoustics....if you know the way these small things affect the sound of your guitar and how they might lend themselves to a particular track, a guy with one acoustic guitar can sound like a guy with a stable of 'em. There's more to it than X mic and Y preamp.....this was a big eye opener for me.


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Post by Recycled_Brains » Sun Jan 28, 2007 4:41 pm

adding to the discussion on strings, i HATE the sound of new strings on an acoustic. everything sounds so much warmer and thicker when the player has broken-in his/her strings for a couple days before the recording. there's none of that irritating high-end junk that. really old strings sound like shit too, but if you can get it somewhere in between, it's great.

for mics, i've tried just about everything from LDC's to SDC's, ribbons, etc.... all i can say is that i like all 3, but it's very song dependent. for quieter picking stuff, i like an LDC paired with a ribbon. for he stummier stuff, i could go either way.

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Post by KennyLusk » Sun Jan 28, 2007 6:44 pm

I know this thread is more about technique than gear, I have to mention after tracking some fingerpicking yesterday that my 'Alice' mic from Scott Helmke is the coolest damn mic for acoustic guitar. It just Rawks.

I used it in an x/y config with a 3035 for some very pristine tracks that put the guitar right in the speakers for me. It's got such high output but retains phreakish accuracy in the mids. And it's the mids that are so important with acoustic instruments anyway. It seems like I'm always trying to hype other mics with either comp gain or output gain to squeeze great mids into the track for some mics. But the Alice is always right there and when blended with other mics that have less gain but represent the spectrum very satisfactorily it really affords me an incredible dimensional effect.

I don't know why everyone on this board isn't knocking on his door to get one (or a pair) of these mics. Just my opinion. Or maybe they are and I just don't know it. LOL.
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Post by cgarges » Sun Jan 28, 2007 7:36 pm

I've learned most of the same things you have, Roger. I like stereo miking on acoustic guitars most of the time. My go-to if I'm just flat-out recording an acoustic rhythm guitar of some sort is an X-Y setup with two different mics, usually aimed around the spot where the neck meets the body. I find that sometimes the acoustic needs to be wider to sit right in a track, so I'll go to a spaced-pair technique. There are plenty of spots around a guitar that sound good, so I'll find one or two of those and go to town.

Lately I've been trying to record acoustic guitar from farther away. I'm digging that a lot if the player isn't playing too lightly.

Sometimes a U47 at the 12th fret (for some reason, I like it sideways-- I have no idea why) sounds cool in mono. Sometimes, an SM77 through some type of Neve-esque pre and into an 1176 with all four buttons in sounds good to me. Sometimes a C12/C24 through an API into an LA2A is cool. Sometimes an AT4050 right dead-on is a cool thing, too. An SM2 in Blumlein is REALLY FREAKING SWEET!

I used to like recording really expensive guitars with really shitty mics and really shitty guitars with really expensive mics. Now, I think about that sort of thing less, although I got really good results back then.

I do have an appreciation for cheap guitars, though. I always have. I've also recently found a way to really capture the woody sound of older Martins, so I'm WAY into that when I get to record those guitars.

I like recording acoustic guitars because there are so many interesting ways to do it. About the only thing I don't really ever do is just record acoustic with a DI. Sometimes taking the DI and plugging it into an amp (I like old Fender Tweed amps or a Vox Pacemaker) and miking that is a very cool sound, but I'm hardly ever excited by just a DI.

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Post by OneZero » Sun Jan 28, 2007 9:39 pm

Alice on Acoustic = +10

overheads too.

:shock: :D
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Post by RefD » Mon Jan 29, 2007 5:54 am

+1 on strumming/picking with the butt end of the pick.

a felt pick is also good sometimes, tho it'll get chewed up pretty quick on the unwound strings.
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Post by getreel » Mon Jan 29, 2007 6:14 am

I like doubling with a capo-ed track to give it some texture sometimes. Capos rock! Pan those out a bit and it sounds awesome. I almost always use a LDC on acoustic. Usually CAD M37 or NT1. I have used a XY pair of 57s and it sounded great too though. I have a pair of AT Pro37Rs but haven't tried them on acoustic for some reason. I'll have to do that sometime.

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Post by JASIII » Mon Jan 29, 2007 8:52 am

I've found I like using a LDC approx where the body and neck meet. I've never heard gotten good results micing the soundhole.

I think the picks/strings angle is not as important as the player. The sounds come from a players touch, simple as that. I can pick up a Martin, a Gibson J45, a Takamine, Ovation, blah, blah, blah...they all sound like me and they will all sound so similar that changing strings won't make a big enough difference to be a factor for me. You may be different.

Also, there are some who will summarily dismiss mono acoustics as 'boring' but I think that is total bullshit. I will only do a stereo acoustic if it is featured, or if there is sparse instrumentation. Try making a stereo acoustic sit well in a busy, complex mix. I'd rather record one good sounding mono acoustic.

I've gotta get one of those Alice mics, everybody raves about them.

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Post by mjau » Mon Jan 29, 2007 9:24 am

Mono can definitely be cool - 414 is great for this, IMO.
And yep, totally agree on picks and strings. Makes huge differences.
I really like the over-the-shoulder mic, but invariably I end up hearing breathing sounds with that setup.

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Post by qball » Mon Jan 29, 2007 9:40 am

cgarges wrote:I've also recently found a way to really capture the woody sound of older Martins, so I'm WAY into that when I get to record those guitars.
Can you describe how you accomplish this? I record mostly Martin dreadnaughts.
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