Mistakes & Solutions Recording Acoustic Guitar at Home
Let me know if this experience sounds familiar.
While I learned on acoustic like most other guitar players, I quickly switched to electric, so by the time I got to having recording experience, it was only on electric guitar.
When I started writing acoustic songs so I could play open mics and solo acoustic gigs I thought “hey I should record these acoustic songs. I’ve already recorded on electric guitar. This shouldn’t be too different”.
Spoiler alert. It was. It was WAY different.
I ran into all kinds of mistakes and issues.
- Ambient and untreated room noises bleeding into my takes.
- Inconsistent thickness and thinness of the bass notes on different chords.
- Issues with how close or far I was standing from the mic in different takes.
- I recorded one song section one day and another on a different day and the guitar tones didn’t match.
- I recorded doubles for the same guitar parts but would sometimes hit certain strings harder or softer than other times (I was recording fingerpicked style), which made the takes too inconsistent with each other.
These were not problems that I ever really struggled with too much with an electric guitar recorded directly into an interface and tons of distortion.
I mean you still have to be consistent but surprise surprise, acoustic guitar is an acoustic instrument and there are a lot of added factors you have to deal with.
Because of that, I quickly learned that recording acoustic guitar was a lot more like recording a drumset than an electric guitar. Which makes things a bit more difficult.
So is any of this sounding familiar?
In this post I want to talk a bit about common mistakes and issues when recording acoustic guitar at home and some ways that you can manage them to get better quality recordings in your songs.
Why is Acoustic Guitar so Hard to Record?
In general, recording acoustic guitar is difficult because factors such as the recording room treatment, the microphones used, and the techniques for picking up the sound all play major factors in the recording process. Small differences could have a large impact on the overall sound.
For example, with instruments such as electric guitar or bass, many of these factors are easier to manage or eliminate by plugging directly into an interface and re-amping the recorded final track with a live amp or using an amp simulator inside a DAW.
Using Sensitive Mics and Ambient Noise/Untreated Rooms
A lot of mics that are great for studio recording vs a live performance scenario are very sensitive.
Condenser mics for example are some of the most popular for recording acoustic guitar.
The thing with condenser microphones (and a lot of other great studio mics) is that they pick up a lot of ambient sound from the room.
If you have a room with acoustic treatment (which removes nasty sounding frequencies from the room) then this results in a great sounding recording that won’t need much processing and fixing during mixing.
But if you are like most people recording at home, you probably don’t have room treatment. This means that when the sound from your guitar bounces off the walls, floor and ceiling and gets picked up by the mic, it will also pick up some nasty frequencies from the room that need to be taken care of in mixing.
In addition, many sensitive studio mics will also pick up ambient noise such as car traffic outside of your house, birds chirping outside your window, or even the sound of the air conditioner (many are quite loud). You want to try to record your audio with the least amount of problems to fix as possible.
What you can do about this:
Use a dynamic microphone to record and stand in the middle of the room: Dynamics are the same mics that are often used live because they are less sensitive and reject sound from certain directions. The downside is that they pick up a smaller range of frequencies and you would probably prefer the sounds you get from more sensitive mics. Not saying you can’t use them for a pro acoustic guitar recording but when you hear an acoustic guitar through a nice condenser mic you’ll probably prefer that because of how rich detail and the low and high end sound in comparison. Nevertheless dynamics will work if you have no better choice.
Also by recording while standing in the middle of the room you may improve your chances of recording less nasty reflections than standing next to a wall. Be careful if your room is a perfect square though because frequencies might also gather in the middle. In that case you may have to move to different spots in the room to see what works. Corners are typically bad in general though.
Turn a closet into a recording booth: A lot of people will empty out a closet and put acoustic foam or moving blankets to help minimize reflections on the walls, floor and ceiling and also to keep the outside ambient noise from getting picked up by the mic. Of course, this isn’t as effective as having real room treatment in a real tracking room but it is a great way to get better recordings at home and could work to get something professional enough for a real recording. You’ll also be able to use more sensitive mics with less issues.
Build a portable recording booth: Another option is to build a portable recording booth out of PVC pipes and moving blankets to deaden the sound reflections and keep ambient noise out. This could also allow you to use more sensitive mics. Obviously this is also not as good as having real acoustic treatment, and may or may not be better than turning a closet into a booth, but at least you can put it up and tear it down whenever you need it.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of making one and want to buy one pre-made, here’s a few on Amazon. They are affiliate links and if you use them to buy it helps to support Audiospring Music keep making content.
Please help. I’m very hungry.
Incorrect Mic Placement for End Result
There’s many ways to mic up an acoustic guitar and they will give you different sounds to play with.
Some of them will give you a wider sound than others and it is important that you know what you need for your recording.
If you are just one singer songwriter without other instruments you will want to use stereo miking techniques (2 microphones) because they will give your guitar the width you need so your recording doesn’t sound small and empty.
In contrast, if you need to fit an acoustic guitar into a dense mix like a rock band then one microphone will work best.
Make sure you use the right technique for the job.
For stereo miking you can use one mic to pick up the brighter sounds near the neck and another to pick up the lower sounds from the body of the guitar near the bridge, then pan and blend the two together in the DAW to create one overall wide tone.
Here’s some miking techniques for acoustic guitar you could look into. I will just mention them right now for you to be aware of them and later will write something more in depth:
Less wide sounding:
- One Mic (one center mic aimed at the 12th fret or so)
- Stereo X-Y (two center mics crossed on top of each other forming an X aimed at opposite ends of the guitar)
- ORTF (2 center mics, not crossed, aimed to opposite ends of the guitar)
More wide sounding
- Spaced Pair (two mics placed at equal height aimed directly at the guitar, one in front of the neck and another in front of the guitar body near bridge)
- Spaced Pair Over the Shoulder (one mic is in front of the guitar and another is over the shoulder of the player pointed at the strings, mimicking the way the player’s ear hears the sound)
- Mid/Side (one cardioid mic pointed straight at the guitar from the front and another placed on top of the first mic but with a figure 8 pickup pattern angled to pick up the sides)
I’ll go into more detail on these in a separate post and link it here later. Make sure the any center mics in front of the guitar are where the guitar neck meets the body and not in front of the sound hole. Sound is VERY boomy.
The downside of using multiple microphones is that you can make mistakes in how you space the mics and also run into phasing and mono compatibility issues because the sound of each mic has the same exact take.
When the same take is played back together from different mics they have a risk of canceling each other out. Your tone may lose some low end or even disappear entirely when played in mono systems.
What you can do about this:
Know how the guitar will fit in a mix before recording: Make sure to know if there will be a lot of other instruments in the song and what role the acoustic guitar will play. If it will be the center of attention or if it’s a supporting rhythmic strumming role in the background. This will help you choose the best miking technique.
Use only one mic at a time to record: Many people use only one microphone to record acoustic guitar. To make it sound fuller and bigger you can record multiple takes of the same thing to play back together and pan them to the sides. Essentially triple tracking. You could also switch mics and/or guitars for some takes to get different sounds to layer together.
Inconsistent Playing During Recording
Inconsistent playing can also be a big problem with acoustic guitar. This not only means inconsistency in keeping time but also in how hard and soft you hit some stings vs others in different takes.
With an electric guitar in a rock or metal band you could compress them a lot to even out the dynamics but with an acoustic, compressing them hard will squeeze all the life and realism out of them.
So you want to make sure that whenever you play a part of the song, that you play it the exact same way when recording double tracks etc.
You also want to watch out for how hard you hit the low strings on different chords. Be careful with chords that could sound boomy if you hit them too hard.
What you can do about this:
Practice playing the same part exactly the same every time: You gotta be good. There’s no other way around this. This will help you get better recordings that can be managed more easily during the mixing stage. Great studio musicians are very consistent with their playing. By playing everything the exact same every time and also being mindful of how hard and soft they hit notes it is almost like they are mixing themselves with their own playing in real time.
Proximity Effect Issues
I ran into this issue because I recorded a guitar with a dynamic mic and stood fairly close to it because they are less sensitive. The problem was that the chords lower on the neck had a boomier low end due to the root note than chords higher up the neck.
Since I was standing close to the mic and the low notes have more low end I had issues with the proximity effect that resulted in the lower chords sounding really boomy compared to the higher chords.
If I used an EQ to remove the extra low end from the guitar, then it would thin out the higher chords too.
What you can do about this:
Don’t stand too close to the mic or use a more sensitive mic and stand farther away: If you have issues with the proximity effect then stand further from the mic to minimize them. This is also why more sensitive mics like condensers are great for acoustic guitar over dynamic mics. They will more easily pick up more sound, so you can stand further away and get lots of detail but not have proximity effect issues.
Use a Dynamic EQ just on the boomy low end when mixing: Another alternative is to use a dynamic EQ to turn down the boominess only when it gets too loud. This will even the low end on all the chords. This is essentially a fix in post so it’s always better to just get it right during tracking by standing further away.
Guitar Tones Not Matching One Day to the Next
You have to remember that you are recording an acoustic instrument, so while on electric guitar you could record directly into an interface and just get up mid session and come back to finish the rest of that track the next day, this is not the case with an acoustic instrument. It’s not even really ok with an electric guitar but it’s definitely less of a problem.
When you record an acoustic guitar you have to stand in the exact same spot the entire time and try not to move around because small differences in mic distance and position will be very noticeable.
What you can do about this:
Finish the entire recording of that instrument in one sitting. If you are recording the main guitar for a song, you must complete the entire song in one sitting for that main guitar. If you stop mid song and come back the next day, your tone will not sound exactly the same. Even your playing might sound different.
If you have a second guitar, you can record that on another day but that one must also be done in one sitting as well. This will make sure your guitar sounds consistent throughout the entire song. I know it’s a hassle but it is what it is.
This is why when people track drums they do the whole song in one day. They don’t stop mid-song and tear down and re-mic everything the next day to finish. Acoustic guitar is like that too.
Wrapping it up
I’ve made all of these mistakes and dealt with all of these issues myself so if you’ve run into the same things it’s totally normal. Hopefully this post helps you avoid them and maybe think ahead to be more prepared for recording acoustic guitar.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is a big difference between how you play while performing and recording your music. When you’re recording you’re trying to get the best version of your song.
This means sometimes you have to do things that seem a bit robotic like playing guitar without moving and trying to pick every note perfectly to get the best take possible. Don’t be discouraged by this. All the greatest artists do it too and it is how you get great recordings.
Also, there is a difference between passable mistakes which help your track sound human and non-passable mistakes that will just sound sloppy and amateurish. Be careful walking this line and be honest with yourself. This is especially important with acoustic guitar.
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