I listen to a lot of recordings, and one mistake that I find very often in a beginner’s recording is that they don’t record acoustic guitars with microphones.
Now, this is certainly my opinion, but I feel that acoustic guitar was meant to be recorded with a microphone. The direct sound of an acoustic guitar just never sounds good to me.
I am an acoustic guitar player, so I’m certainly biased, and there are certainly situations where it makes sense to go direct for an effect. However, when I record acoustic guitars, I always, always, ALWAYS use a microphone.
What are a couple of reasons why I don’t record acoustic guitar direct? I’ll give you two and a tip:
1. It sounds fake.
There’s just no way around it. Even if you have a very good pickup system that costs you hundreds of dollars, it’s still going to sound like a direct acoustic guitar. There’s just no way around it. It will always and forever sound fake.
Now, that’s not necessarily wrong, but for me, when I hear that in a mix, I immediately can listen to nothing else but that direct acoustic guitar sound. It just bothers me and I don’t like it.
2. A real guitar with a microphone will always sound better.
You may think that you don’t have a good enough microphone or a good enough preamp or a good enough guitar to justify recording it with a microphone, but I can almost guarantee that if you just try and spend some time using a microphone on that guitar, you’ll find a certain combination of mic placement and microphone choice to make it sound amazing.
And if not amazing, you can at least make it sound better than the direct signal.
Tip: Try a dynamic microphone.
A lot of people tell me that the reason they don’t record their guitar with a microphone is because their studio is noisy or it’s not acoustically treated, or there’s a lot of extra noise in the house or outside that keeps them from recording with a nice condenser microphone.
Condenser microphones are great, but they are sensitive and they tend to hear everything.
Using a dynamic microphone might be your solution. Dynamic mics don’t have nearly the detail of a condenser and they can pick up just the sound that you want without picking up a lot of extra noise.
They tend to be a bit darker, and they’re not as bright as a condenser, but I would still take a dynamic mic on an acoustic guitar over the direct sound.
Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.