Recording the acoustic guitar is as much an art as it is a science. The resonance and richness of an acoustic can be tricky to capture. The guitarist, the instrument, the studio and the mixing artist – they all play a very vital role in the outcome of such sessions. Let us a try and see what you can do that will help you shape the outcome in to a successful take in the studio. Keeping these simple tips in mind will ensure that you have a productive acoustic guitar recording session.
Step 1: Pre-Studio Preparation
Prepare Your Guitar: Always check your guitar action and intonation before you record. Don’t end up at the studio with a guitar that has too much fret buzz or action that is too uncomfortable to play. You should also change strings if your guitar strings are lacking the right tone or functionality. There is no amount of mixing that can undo the flat sound of dead strings once you have recorded. Keep in mind the sound that you are looking for when and use thicker or thinner strings depending on the sound you are looking for. Don’t change the strings right before the recording session. This will cause buzzing and finger noises. New strings also tend to go slightly out of tune for a little while after you string your guitar. Check your options – if you feel that you have a friend whose guitar you can borrow for better quality then do so by all means!
Prepare Your Part: You don’t want to waste valuable studio time making mistakes. You should have your parts down and ready when you go to the studio. Spend some time understanding what you are playing and charting the easiest and most efficient way to record it. This will save you time and money, both of which can be put to better use elsewhere. Take all the tools necessary when to ensure the recording process is smooth. This means you need to take the lyrics, chord sheets or tabs, a spare set of strings, a tuner and anything else that you feel might risk ruining your studio session.
Prepare Yourself: Try and be rested. Rehearse but don’t over exert yourself. Plan the day of your recording and enjoy yourself. Confidence will play a big role in how good you sound, it always does.
Do a test run: How about recording your guitar a day before or maybe sooner on a portable device? This could be your home computer, cell phone or any other device. You can playback the recorded piece to review your playing and work on the parts that need improvement or more energy, feel, etc.
Step 2: At the Studio
Mic-ing the Guitar: You have a handful of traditional and experimental methods that you can play around with. In most cases people use the single mic technique where the mic is placed around the 12th fret at a distance of 4 to 5 inches. This is the acoustic in a band technique and used for an acoustic that will have other instruments playing. It doesn’t capture the depth of an acoustic that you would hear in most solo recordings where the guitar and vocals are the focus with nothing (or almost nothing) else in the mix. If the acoustic is the primary focus then you must use 2 microphones with one placed at the bridge and the other placed at the 12th fret. Move them to find the perfect distance and angle, a little experimentation and a good ear is all you need. Alternatively, you can also use the popular X/Y technique. Place two mics, one on top of the other, perpendicular and facing the guitar near the 12th fret of the guitar. This has a more natural sounding outcome.
Improvise: Improvise with your surroundings. You will need to find the sweet spot in the studio. This will depend on the distance of the guitar from the mic, your playing style, the placement of mic(s) and the combination that they are used in. Take as much time as required but ensure that you get the sound that you are looking for. Feel free to experiment with mic placements. Some guitarists place one mic (out of two) at the 1st fret and the other at the 12th fret. Others may use the acoustic guitar pickup and an overhead mic. Various such combinations have used to achieve different results.
Don’t EQ too much: If you take care of the two things mentioned above, you should not need to do too much EQing to get a good tone. Reconsider you mic choices, placement, and your acoustic if your aren’t getting the right tone. Trying too hard to get quality by EQ should be the last resort. Take care of the bass, if your mic is facing the sound hole then you may get too much bass in the mix.
Feel trumps everything: Some of the greatest recordings have been recorded outdoors on a portable recorder with inexpensive guitars. Feel fortune about whatever facilities you have and don’t think that recording technique and tone is a replacement for feel and skill. Tone will always come second to feel, a sound is just a sound if you heart is not in to it. Feel every note you play and enjoy your time in the studio – it will show in the final outcome.
Stage 3: After the Studio
The Mixing process: Spend time with the mixing engineer/artist to ensure that they understand what you need. If you are mixing the song on your own then avoid using too much audio compression. It can dampen the natural dynamics of an acoustic. Don’t color the sound with too many effects unless you need to.