You’ve written a hit song. You have a guitar (perfectly in tune, of course) and a microphone. You might even have a drum beat recorded and ready to go. All the tools you need to record a guitar part are at your disposal… But what can you do to lay down a GREAT-sounding part, instead of just a good one?
BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS/SPACE
Make sure you’ve set up your recording space in a comfortable setting with the lowest possible noise interference. An open window next to a fire station is not an ideal place to record, for example. Eliminate as many factors as possible that are creating noise in the room, which includes unplugging anything that might be humming, buzzing, etc. (This is particularly important when recording acoustic guitar.)
CHOOSING A MICROPHONE
If you are one of the lucky musicians that has more than one microphone option for recording, a condenser mic is a good way to go when it comes to acoustic guitar recording. Condenser mics tend to offer a far more detailed and realistic sound than dynamic mics. If you have the option of using a stereo pair miking technique, it can only add more depth to the recording.
For electric guitars, there are many options for microphones that make for different sounding recordings, whether it’s condenser mics, dynamic mics, or other choices. What sounds best is really up to you (see tip #6 below), but many people stick with the trusty Shure SM57 mic, especially when on a tight budget.
Mic placement determines the amount of the “room” sound you will pick up. Decide what mood you’re going for in the song; the further away the mic is from the guitar or amp, the more ambient sounds it will pick up. Miking up close to the instrument/amp will produce a more concentrated sound.
Besides how far away you place the microphone, the angle at which you place it matters, too. With acoustic guitar, angles particularly come into play when using a stereo pair (techniques detailed below). For electrics, pointing mics straight at the speaker cone or angled slightly away can produce two very different sounds. Experiment until you get a sound that you like.
A stereo pair is probably the best way to get a great acoustic tone, as they can pick up many different characteristics of the guitar’s natural sound.
XY Pair– Put the mics together very closely, with their capsules practically touching. The back of each mic is spread apart at an angle of roughly 90 to 120 degrees, creating a “V” shape.
Spaced Pair– The first mic should point to the 12th fret of the acoustic guitar. The second should point down towards the bridge or at the strings just behind the sound hole.
USE YOUR EARS
It may seem like common sense, but it’s still worth mentioning that it doesn’t matter how technical you get with your mic placements if you’re not using your ears! Do a test recording and listen to the guitar playback… Are you picking up too much background noise? Move the mic closer. Are you picking up too much fret noise or plucking noise on your acoustic guitar? Move the mic back a bit, or relocate the microphone to where the fingerboard joins the body. Is the overall tone not what you’d hoped for? Try using a different microphone, placing it at a different angle, or explore a different technique, such as stereo pairing.
In the end, it will probably come down to a little trial and error before you find your favorite way to record guitar parts… But with these six tips, you’ll cover all your bases and be well on your way to a great guitar recording!
So grab your guitar and start laying down some grooves. And if you need a little inspiration, try rocking out over a drum track played by a real drummer!