There’s a lot of exaggeration and fear-mongering when it comes to the topic of miking your guitar. People are so consumed with fear of screwing up or not attaining perfection that they’ll opt to just direct inject an acoustic-electric guitar. But that’s not always the sound we’re going for, and the truth is that it’s not that big of a hurdle to leap. Recording your beloved acoustic is no act of strict science or black magic. It’s an art with a lot of leeway.
There are really only around four variables for you to manage, and one of those we don’t even need to talk about, which is your guitar. You know how to buy and use new strings, tune up, and maintain your intonation and everything else. It’s the rest of it that scares us. Here are the three main areas that you have to be concerned with that don’t take that much effort to get right, despite what you might hear.
Use Decent Recording Equipment
Let me explain what I mean here. Your average computer will be fine. Almost any audio interface will cut it. What you really need to worry about is three items:
- Acoustic environment
- Preamplifier quality
- Microphone characteristics
Starting from the top, if you’re serious about achieving a decent quality of recording, you’ll want to at least invest in either some acoustic foam or a reflection filter to wrap around the mic. You don’t have to go all out with big panels covering your walls and bass traps in the corners. Even thick curtains over your windows, a bed, and a bookshelf in the room can get the job done. You just want to stop some of the rampant reflections creating weird reverbs and delays in your recordings. You can use an equalizer to take care of any bass issues.
We said that your typical audio interface is fine, and you can get away with it if you’re really good at EQing, but if you want to unlock the power of your microphone you need to pair it with an above average preamp, and you never find those on a cheap interface. Any external preamp, rackmounted or desktop, will be leagues better than what you find in a cheap mixer or interface. You can get into this game fairly inexpensively. I recommend the FMR RNP, for the budget conscious. It’s the best entry-level professional preamp out there.
Finally we need to turn our attention to the device that will capture the sound, which is the microphone. You don’t need the best microphone on the planet or several average ones while capturing two and three recordings from different angles. You can get away with one decent mic. You’ll want to use a mic with a frequency response that accentuates the highs so you get a crisp and bright tone. I recommend the Rode NTK if you can afford it, or it’s little cousin the Rode NT1-A. Either of those paired with a decent preamp will take you the distance.
Concerning Mic Placement
Above we talked about the acoustic environment. You can minimize the impact of the room you’re in by using a technique called “close miking” This means placing the mic within 12 inches of your acoustic guitar. But don’t get any closer than 6 inches or you’ll activate what is known as the proximity effect in your microphone, which will boost the bass in the recording far too much.
The easiest best method if you only have one microphone is to place it about a foot away from the neck of your guitar and aim it at the 12th to 14th fret. This picture best describes the technique, taken from this article on miking an acoustic guitar:
As you can see, if you do have a second mic and want to capture some bass, you can aim it below the sound hole and then mix in as much of that recording as you like. But you need to be aware of the 3:1 Rule, which means to make sure the distance between the two mics you’re using is at least three times the distance to the sound source. So if both mics are 12 inches from the guitar, the they need to have 36 inches between them or you end up with phase problems that will sound horrible.
While there are a lot of other advanced techniques for miking a guitar, you can use the easy option above and rival every professional studio recording out there. Just make sure the mics are using a cardioid pickup pattern so you aren’t picking up a lot of background noise.
The Mixdown Procedure
Of course, recording is only about 3/4ths of the battle. You still need to clean up the recordings using typical mixing techniques. This can all be done for free in your DAW using the stock plugins, which are more than good enough. Your first go-to should be a high pass filter on an equalizer to roll-off the sub-bass. This will get rid of any rumbles from your air conditioner, computer vibrations running up the mic stand, and bass build-up in your non-treated room.
Next you should find a parametric equalizer and create a tight boost that you can sweep up and down the frequency spectrum to find areas of sound that you don’t like. This could be finger squeaking or “honky” sounds. Once you find them, widen the Q-curve and turn it into a cut instead of a boost, but don’t cut much. Just three to five decibels will be enough. By the end, your results could look something like this:
After your equalizing is finished, run your recording through a compressor to get a hold of the dynamic range. I’d recommend setting a ratio of 5-to-1 and then bring the threshold down until you start to see about 5-10 dB of gain reduction. You can listen and decide if you want more or less, as it will change for each recording. Add the gain back using the output gain knob.
This procedure will take you most of the distance. The rest can’t be described in such a short article, but with practice and research you can take it the rest of the way.
Don’t be afraid to create your own recordings. All you need is a microphone and a decent preamplifier. You can skip on the preamp and audio interface too if you choose a USB microphone, but their quality wasn’t that good at first. They may have improved over the years but as usual, you get what you pay for. But the main point is that all of the fear mongering and perfectionism is uncalled for. Miking and recording your acoustic guitar is a breeze if you don’t listen to the naysayers and take action!