A reader is puzzled by stereo (2-mic) acoustic guitar recording:
I recently got into mixing acoustic guitar with 2 mics. The problem is that I do not know how to create as much ‘space’ as some tracks I know of. I’ve tried XY, ORTF, and spaced pair.
XY and ORTF are too narrow. Spaced pair seems reasonable (following the 3:1 Rule), but the mic pointed closest to the body becomes overly ‘bassy.’
How can I balance the stereo image? EQ can control the problem but not by much. How would you go about on fixing this problem?
I know mic position has to do with it but I don’t know where to start. Just wondering if you had to overcome this type of problem before.
As much acoustic guitar recording and mixing as I do, I’ve dealt with problems like this a LOT.
(And this applies to ANY instrument, not just acoustic guitar.)
First things first…
Mic Placement Is Everything
I’ve played the “Hey, I’m Just Going to Throw a Couple of Mics in Front of the Guitar and Hope it Works” game.
It’s not a very fun game, trust me. You always end up losing.
Whenever you’re recording an acoustic instrument, always plan to give yourself at least a few minutes to try a few different mic techniques. I
s one mic (mono) appropriate? Does it need the wider sound of a stereo (2-mic) technique? If so, which technique is best?
There are a lot of options, and it would behoove you to try at least a couple of them before committing the recording to tape. (Tape…who says tape anymore?)
I feel like I’ve come full circle when it comes to stereo recording. I used to love a nice, wide acoustic guitar sound. But the last year or so I’ve simplified a lot.
Nowadays I’ll either go with a single mic or use two mics in an XY configuration. Why? Because having a really “wide” recording isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Even though XY doesn’t give the widest stereo image, it doesn’t lend itself to phase issues and lopsided recordings.
Speaking of lopsided, let’s talk about that stereo recording that has too much bass in one mic versus the other.
Even if you do your job on the front end with mic placement, sometimes one mic (the one pointed at the sound hole) picks up more bass than the other.
Here’s how I deal with it:
—Place an EQ plug-in on the bass-heavy track ONLY.
—Use the EQ to remove some of the excess low end, until the two tracks are more balanced.
—Bus the two tracks to a stereo aux track.
—Put any additional EQ and compression plugins on the stereo aux track.
The first EQ is simply corrective. It lets you balance out the sound. (No more lopsided guitar.)
The second EQ (on the stereo aux) is what you’ll use to carve the entire sound of the entire stereo recording to fit it in the mix.
As you may have guessed, mic placement and technique play a HUGE roll in how awesome your acoustic guitar recordings (and mixes) are going to sound.
Make that a priority on your next session.
If you’re interested in diving in deeper, I created a 4-week class on getting consistently awesome acoustic guitar recordings. You can join any time here.
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.