You love playing the acoustic and want to record yourself, either at home or in your rehearsal space?
Anyone can pick up some gear and pull it off, but there are certain details to consider if you want to stand out and shine.
We'll illustrate the essential ingredients and procedures required to achieve great results.
Also, check out our other article "How to record your electric guitar at home".
Prepare yourself and choose your weapon
First things first, you should know what you want to record and be able to play it perfectly.
Whether you’re using a steel-string western guitar or a classic nylon-string is up to you. Make up your mind and decide the best fit for the music you’re going to play. Nylon has a softer attack and more low-end, while steel strings are better at cutting through the mix and tend to have a higher amount of upper mids and treble.
Note: the bigger the guitar, the richer and fuller it'll sound.
Choose your mic(s)
Condenser or dynamic microphone for acoustic guitar?
Small diaphragm condenser microphones feature superior transient response and fast attack properties.
The transients are where the natural, characteristic sound of your instrument sits.
Microphone choice largely depends on the sound you want to achieve, as well as on the condition of your recording space. While we recommend a small diaphragm condenser mic (LCT 040 MATCH, LCT 140 AIR), you can also go for a "bigger" sound and use a large-diaphragm condenser (LCT 440 PURE, LCT 441 FLEX) or go the other way and employ a dynamic model (e.g. MTP 440 DM).
It's all in the details
Since both steel and nylon-string acoustics have a very detail-laden, nuanced sound, a condenser microphone is your best bet. While large diaphragm condensers can pick up more sounds from your room, small diaphragm condenser mics are more direct and can pinpoint a very specific spot more easily.
Dynamic microphones can still be used with an acoustic guitar.
They are less sensitive than their condenser counterparts, which means they need to have a little more gain from your mixer or interface and will pick up less tiny details.
Find the right place
Your bedroom, your band’s rehearsal space, your garage, or even a tiny house in the forests, right in the middle of nowhere.
A quiet location is better than one with background noise.
It’s very important that you’re feeling comfortable, no matter where you’re going to record.
Pick a place that lets you relax your mind, yet still keeps your creative juices flowing.
How mic placement affects the sound
To achieve a balanced sound with a single cardioid pattern mic, place it about 30 cm (12”) away from the guitar, pointing at the 12th fret, where the neck joins the body.
If you desire more low-end, move the microphone closer to the soundhole, although not directly pointing at it.
Placing it near or behind the bridge of your guitar yields more low frequencies as well.
Mono or stereo?
While some prefer a mono signal no matter what, some rather go stereo. Recording in stereo adds room and depth to your signal, which enables an authentic listening experience and also comes in handy when there’s a sparse mix and the guitar is not just one instrument among many but rather prominent. In this case, it needs to stand out and carry the song.
Besides that, you can always record your acoustic guitar with a stereo setup and then mute one mic to still go mono if you prefer the sound. Blending two microphone signals is also an option to consider.
You want to have one microphone pointing right at your guitar, and still be able to add just a slight bit of ambiance to add some dimension from a mic positioned further away? Well then, stereo it is.
Start to experiment with one mic 15 cm (6”) from the guitar and another one, for example, at a distance of 50-70 cm (20-30”).
Listen to how moving that the second microphone changes the resulting sound.
Popular stereo techniques include AB, XY, and ORTF, among others (see below).
With the XY technique, try placing the mics pointing at the area around the 12th fret as well, at a 30 cm (12”) distance from the instrument.
Another thing you might want to try is to move them further away from each other, with one of them staying in position near the 12th fret and the other one somewhere behind the bridge.
This setup lets you blend the signals at any ratio for more treble or bass in post-production.
The best polar pattern
We usually recommend a cardioid polar pattern for acoustic guitar.
This characteristic is simple and effective at suppressing unwanted interference from the side of the mic (off-axis sound suppression).
That’s why small diaphragm pencil condensers like the LCT 040 MATCH or LCT 140 AIR usually have a cardioid polar pattern.
Of course, everyone's invited to experiment and step outside their comfort zones.
If you desire to dig deeper, here's a guide that shows how the different polar patterns work.
Additional outboard gear
Your audio interface should be able to provide 48V phantom power if you want to use a condenser microphone.
When choosing an audio interface, check which generation of USB your computer supports, and think about the number of separate channels (inputs) that you’ll record simultaneously.
Even if 2 channels are good enough at the moment, you might want to consider having 4 and be safe in the future.
Consider good quality XLR cables. They’ll last much longer than cheap ones.
The easiest way to judge the sound quality of your recordings is by using a good set of studio headphones.
It’s also good to have those for mixing, recording, and so on. Especially in an acoustically untreated room, which most of us have at home, headphones are recommended.
Try to avoid using open headphones when recording. Otherwise, the sound from your headphones may bleed into the recording.
What's a DAW?
The abbreviation stands for Digital Audio Workstation.
There are many different software options available. They feature different user interfaces, but their essential functionalities are often similar.
There are some good free ones, and we suggest starting with a free one. It will take a while until you need more functionality.
Therefore, a free DAW is a perfect place to start your recording career.
If you're just starting out, you'll find plenty of good video tutorials online.
Recording guitar and vocals at the same time
Some prefer recording both with a single mic. We agree that is a good less-is-more approach but not having separate tracks strictly limits your post-production possibilities.
Therefore, we recommend recording your guitar with one microphone and your vocals with another, if available.
The two-mic technique usually has two cardioid pattern models to make use of their off-axis suppression (see above). One of the mics is used for vocals, the other points at the 12th fret area of your acoustic, a good 30 cm (12”) away from the guitar, for a balanced-sounding result.
Long story short
- Practice the song that you’ll record
- Choose a surrounding that’s comfortable to you
- Sit in a chair that suits the application
- Make sure your guitar is in tune
- Keep backup strings and picks nearby
- Check and set the audio interface input level
- Position the mics, listen to the sound, re-position if needed
- Have a good time, this does make you sound better
Quick guitar maintenance tips
How do I keep my guitar in shape?
Look at the height of its action, fret buzz, and other usual suspects in the land guitar maintenance 101.
We also recommend wiping the guitar with a dry cloth before and after picking it up, especially the strings/fretboard area and the back of the neck. This removes moisture and prevents the buildup of dirt that hinders fast and smooth playing.
How often should I change strings?
You should be fine if you do that every 3 months. To pull it off like a boss, keep a tuner, a string winder, and a string cutter nearby.
A pair of pliers should suffice for clipping loosened strings.
Heavier gauge strings are louder and have more sustain, but you need to apply more force, and some aren’t comfortable with that. A lighter gauge will be easier to play but sound quieter at the same time. Apart from that, some find that lighter strings bend way too easily.
How about pick gauge?
Everyone's “Pick of Destiny” is different.
A thicker plectrum will feel stiff to some and can be harder to play, but it’s also more precise and probably good if you do a lot of lead guitar and single-note lines. Thinner ones are more flexible and thus well-suited for strumming chords while plucking single notes will result in a slightly lighter, quieter sound.