Adam Sliger runs Make that Louder.
The acoustic guitar is an amazing instrument, and there are countless ways to capture it on recordings.
From dark, deep fingerpicking tones to bright, percussive strums, the acoustic guitar can bring amazing color and texture to a mix.
In this article, we’ll go over some of my favorite methods for recording acoustic guitars, the required equipment to capture these recordings, and some tips and tricks to get better results.
Standard Methods for Recording Acoustic Guitar
The two most popular methods for recording acoustic guitars are the 1-mic and 2-mic methods. There have been countless amazing recordings done with just one or two mics, and the simple setup of these methods means you can get consistent results without spending too much time setting up.
The 1-Mic Method
We’ll start with the 1-mic method, which requires a large diaphragm condenser mic.
Start by placing the mic in front of the 12th fret, of the guitar, about 10-15 inches away. This will allow you to capture a blend of the brighter, more detailed sound coming from the strings, but also some of the warm, dark sound of the resonance from the body.
This is a great starting point, but you should listen to the guitar in context with your song to make adjustments. If you want a darker tone, simply move the mic closer to the body. If you want it to be brighter, move it closer to the neck.
Oftentimes, when using the 1-mic method, I’ll record two takes of the acoustic guitar and pan them 100% to the left and right. This is a great way to improve the stereo image of your guitar, and to make room for a lead vocal that will be panned right down the center.
- The 1-mic method involves using a large diaphragm condenser mic.
- Place the mic in front of the 12th fret of the guitar, about 10-15 inches away. This captures a blend of the bright sound from the strings and the warm resonance from the body.
- Adjust the mic placement based on the desired tone: closer to the body for a darker tone, closer to the neck for a brighter tone.
- Consider recording two takes of the acoustic guitar and pan them 100% left and right for an improved stereo image.
- This technique creates space for a lead vocal panned in the center.
The 2-Mic Method
The 2-mic method is a great way to achieve a stereo image with just one guitar take.
To start, set up a small diaphragm (pencil style) condenser over the neck of the guitar, aiming somewhere around the 8th-12th fret. Then, set up your large diaphragm condenser over the body of the guitar, closer to the soundhole.
Don’t put the mic directly in front of the sound hole, because air will be moving out of that hole, and you could potentially introduce extra noise into your recordings.
Once your mics are set, you can pan them apart.
I typically won’t pan these 100 percent left and right, since that can sound unnatural. Instead, I usually opt for something closer to 60-70 percent.
Try to match the levels of both mics so you have a balanced stereo image. You can experiment with placement on both mics to capture more bass or treble. Once you’re happy with the sound of your guitar, you can start recording amazingly detailed tone with just two mics.
- Set up a small diaphragm condenser mic over the neck of the guitar (around the 8th-12th fret) and a large diaphragm condenser mic over the body, closer to the soundhole.
- Avoid placing the mic directly in front of the soundhole to prevent unwanted noise.
- After setting up the mics, pan them apart but not 100% left and right to maintain a more natural sound (around 60-70%).
- Balance the levels of both mics for a balanced stereo image.
- Experiment with mic placement to capture desired bass or treble.
Experimental Mic Techniques for Acoustic Guitar
While the 1 and 2 mic methods are quite popular, there are some other mic placements that you can use to capture acoustic guitars.
Over the Shoulder
One lesser-known method is to place a large diaphragm condenser up in the air over the guitarist’s shoulder. You can combine that with mics in the traditional placements, and blend it in to taste.
This offers more of the tone that a guitar player would actually hear when playing, giving an intimate feel to the recording. I’ve found that acoustic guitar players often love this mic technique, since it closely mirrors the sound that they’re used to from years of playing.
Another way to add some ambience to an acoustic guitar recording is to add a room mic. If you have another condenser mic, you can place it several feet away to capture more of the room sound. This works very well in singer-songwriter music where the acoustic guitar is meant to fill a lot of the sonic space.
Last but not least, you can also capture a DI of an acoustic-electric guitar and blend that in with your microphones.
Acoustic pickups sometimes sound harsh on their own, but the bright sound that they produce can enhance the sound of a recording when blended in just right. If you have the inputs to capture a DI as well as your mics, it’s typically worthwhile to include it in your recording setup.
If you change your mind, you can always mute it.
Tips to Improve Acoustic Guitar Recordings
Now that we’ve covered the mic techniques you’ll want to use to capture acoustic guitar, let’s go over some tips and tricks to get the most out of your guitar recordings.
Use the Right Pick
Oftentimes, acoustic guitarists will play with heavier, thicker picks. However, those thicker picks will sometimes impart an overly percussive sound into your recordings.
I’ve found great success recording with light or medium picks, instead of the typical thicker picks.
Experiment with different pick sizes to find the one that works best for your song.
There have been countless times where acoustic guitarists I’m recording strum as hard as they can for the entire song.
This is usually a problem for solo acts who play lots of gigs.
There are times when they’re competing for the crowd’s attention, and playing hard is a good way for them to make sure they’re heard. However, this is not required in the studio. It is really helpful to introduce dynamics into your playing, and to have some sections of the song recorded with a light touch.
Simply strumming with the same power the whole song is an easy way to record a monotonous tune.
Try Inversions and Capo-ing
One way to make your acoustic guitar recordings more compelling is to double them with interesting inversions and voicings. If you’ve recorded your main guitar in E standard, try putting a capo on a higher fret, and transposing the chords so that they play nicely together (for example, an Emaj chord played with a capo on the 5th fret will sound great along with an Amaj chord played with no capo).
Getting Great Tones is About Experimenting
At the end of the day, recording amazing acoustic guitar tones is all about seeing what works in the context of your song. Experimenting with different mic placements, playing styles, and arrangements will open up a world of possibilities. Don’t be afraid to mix and match these tips to help achieve an amazing acoustic guitar tone, and don’t forget to have fun doing it!