Once you know how to mic an acoustic guitar, your recording sessions will go so much quicker.
When I first started recording acoustic guitar around 2006, I didn’t know what I was doing.
I would guess where to place the mic.
I would wonder if my mic was really getting the best acoustic guitar sound possible.
If this is you, just stop. Stop guessing. It’s too stressful and time-consuming.
I want to try to help you by passing along things I’ve learned from other recording engineers and through trial and error.
Don’t have time to read this whole article? Just jump to the section you want…
- First, Some Suggestions For Recording Acoustic Guitar
- What’s The Role Of The Acoustic Guitar?
- What’s Your Recording Space Like?
- What You Shouldn’t Do When Recording Acoustic Guitar
- The Best Microphones For Recording Acoustic Guitar
- Miking An Acoustic Guitar
- Using One Microphone (Mono)
- Using Two Microphones (Stereo)
First, Some Suggestions For Recording Acoustic Guitar
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to record guitar, here are a few things to keep in mind…
What’s The Role Of The Acoustic Guitar?
The first thing to think about before you even start recording a song is the role of the acoustic guitar.
What is its purpose of the guitar in the context of the song?
Will it be the main focus? Or do you want it to be blended into the mix as a more rhythmic role?
Like, if you’re recording a folky tune with fewer instruments, you’ll want to place the mic a certain way so you get more of the low end and fullness of the guitar.
But if the song has more instruments (say, if it’s a poppier song), you may want to capture more of the brightness and energy of the guitar.
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you determine how you play the guitar, what tone you use, and where you put the microphone. (More on that later).
What’s Your Recording Space Like?
I know you may be limited in where you can record. I mean, I record in a walk-in closet, for goodness sake.
But, if possible, try to make your recording space as sound-friendly as you can. It can really change how the guitar sounds when you record.
Here’s a general rule of thumb:
- The smaller the room, the deader the acoustics will be
- The larger the room, the more echoey the acoustics will be
If you record in a small room (like I do), it will take a little more time to get a fuller acoustic guitar sound.
Tips for getting a fuller sound in a small room:
- Double-up your acoustic guitar — record the same part twice and pan each recording hard left and hard right
- Add some reverb and delay in post-production
Whereas with a big room, you can end up with too much echo, which is something you can’t remove from an audio recording.
Tips for cutting down on echo in a big room:
- Hang blankets behind and around the mic(s) — like these blackout curtains
- Lay a rug down (if you have hard floors)
- Get some foam acoustic panels to help diffuse the sound (I have these and they really help cut down on reverb/echo)
- Make yourself a mini vocal booth like Rob Mayzes suggests
What You Shouldn’t Do When Recording Acoustic Guitar
There are probably lots of things you shouldn’t do when recording guitar.
Like popping bubbles with a big wad of Big League Chew. Or wearing your light-up shoes that make truck noises when you step.
But there’s just one no-no I want to mention…
Don’t Record Through A DI
If at all possible, don’t record with a DI (direct-in), which is where you plug your acoustic-electric directly into your audio interface.
Maybe it’s just me (it’s not), but an acoustic guitar through a DI just doesn’t sound as good as a miked acoustic.
If you have a mic — no matter how “cheap” it is or how inconvenient it might seem — use it.
It will give you a much more natural sound.
If you want to, you can record stereo (two recording sources) using a DI and a microphone and blending the two in the mix.
But you might be better off just recording the guitar with a mic then doubling it up (recording the same part twice).
…Unless All You Have Is A DI
If all you have is a guitar cable and no microphone, that’s fine. It will work.
If your guitar has a little EQ panel on the top of the body, use that to get the best sound you can.
Also, with some good mixing skills (which you can easily learn on YouTube), you can end up with a decent acoustic recording.
The Best Microphones For Recording Acoustic Guitar
There are two types of microphones used on acoustic guitar: condenser and dynamic.
Typically, condenser microphones will capture a clearer and brighter sound than dynamic microphones.
You can use either type, but typically not together.
So let’s look at the best microphones for recording acoustic guitar…
Condenser Microphones (The Better Choice)
Because condenser mics capture a more defined sound than dynamic mics, most professionals choose to use them on acoustic.
Here are some of the best condenser mics for acoustic guitar:
Audio-Technica AT2035 (I own this)
The AT2035 is one of the top three mics for home recording, in my opinion. It was my first nice mic and it’s currently my go-to.
I use it on acoustic, vocals, and anything in between. Plus, it’s affordable (about $150)
It has a cardioid pickup pattern (i.e. it records out of one side), and the large diaphragm will make your recordings sound bigger and more engaging than a dynamic mic.
AKG Perception 170 (I’ve never used this)
The P170 is a small-diaphragm mic that can capture a wide range of frequencies, handling anything from acoustic guitar to drums.
This means it should be able to easily record the low-end, mid-range, and brightness of your acoustic guitar.
AKG is a name professionals trust. Oh, and it’s only about $100.
Shure SM81 (I’ve never used this)
It’s difficult to go wrong with Shure. If you see this name on a piece of recording equipment, it’s probably good.
This is a small-diaphragm condenser mic that will give you a crispy, clear sound, from what I’ve researched. It also has a bass roll-off switch, which will help cut out some of that unneeded low-end in the recording.
Just a heads-up, this mic is pretty expensive. It’ll set you back about $350.
If you’re on a budget (like me), you may want to check out my post on the best microphones for under $50.
Dynamic Microphones (Still A Good Choice)
If you have a dynamic microphone, that’s good too. Professionals in the audio engineering world use these a lot.
Shure SM57 (I’ve never used this)
Can you tell I like Shure?
The Shure SM57 is the go-to mic for a lot of musicians, producers, and engineers. I haven’t used it, but I hear you can get a dry, woody sound.
And that’s exactly what you want from an acoustic guitar.
Electro-Voice ND257 (I own this)
Okay, so I can’t find this mic available for sale anywhere online. Which makes me love it even more.
I took it off a karaoke machine at a Goodwill and bought it. Turns out, pro recording engineers compare it to the Shure SM58, the standard in dynamic microphones.
If you want to get an idea of what this mic can do, just check out the song I recorded with it (I doubled-up the acoustic guitar)…
Miking An Acoustic Guitar
Now it’s time to have fun. This is where we talk about recording techniques and mic placement.
I’ll cover the techniques for using one mic (mono) and two mics (stereo).
For this post, I’ll assume you’re using a condenser microphone (the most common type used on acoustic guitar).
If you have a dynamic mic, you can follow the same guidelines, but you may have to place the mic closer to the guitar because they’re usually not as sensitive.
Using One Microphone (Mono)
When I’m using one microphone to record acoustic guitar (aka recording in mono), I point the mic at the 12th fret or thereabouts.
You’ll want to place the mic about 6 to 12 inches away from your guitar — or two to three fists-length away.
Remember, if you want a bassier, umph-ier sound, point the mic more towards the soundhole (but not directly at it).
And if you want a brighter, more high-end sound, point the mic more toward the lower frets.
A the start of this post, I said you won’t be guessing about this kind of stuff — and you won’t be. This is called experimenting and testing.
It’s not an exact science, just wherever it sounds best to you in that 10th to 15th fret range about 6 to 12 inches away.
Every mic is different. Every guitar is different. Every room is different.
But stick to those general guidelines to find the best sound and you’ll be golden.
Using Two Microphones (Stereo)
Now let’s talk about stereo mic techniques — in other words, using two mics.
X/Y Mic Technique
This is a popular stereo miking technique, and for good reason. If you do it right, it can sound great.
Here’s how to do it:
- Get your two condenser microphones
- Align them so their diaphragms are at a 90-degree angle to each other
- Make sure the diaphragms are close to each other to avoid phasing
- Point their axis around the 12th to 14th fret
Phasing: when the recording signals from two mics that are recording at the same time are out of sync with each other
This way, one of the mics will pick up more low-end and the other will pick up more high end.
Then you just blend the two together in the mix and voila! Beautiful sounds.
A/B Mic Technique
The A/B technique, also called the spaced pair technique, is when you take a pair of condenser microphones and space them apart (surprise).
To avoid phasing, use the 3:1 rule — the distance between the two mics should be at least three times the distance that the microphones are to the guitar.
Even with this rule, listen closely during recording to make sure phasing is not a problem.
Here’s how to use this mic placement method:
- Point one mic around the 12th to 14th fret about 6 to 12 inches away
- Point the second mic at the bridge of the guitar about 6 to 12 inches away
- Follow the 3:1 rule
- Before hitting record, test the sound quality of each mic separately and then together
Then when you or your engineer friend mixes the song, the two signals should be panned hard left and hard right.
Trial And Error Is The Name Of The Game
Like I said before, everyone has different mics, recording spaces, and guitars. So some of this will be trial and error.
But if you follow the guidelines in this post, I know you’ll end up with a better acoustic guitar recording than if you’re just guessing willy-nilly.
You’ll waste less time and get higher quality sounds.
Questions? Ask ’em in the comments below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.