How to record acoustic guitar at home
You love playing the acoustic and want to record yourself? Here's a guide to help get started.
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 steps you need to achieve great results.
Also, check out our other article "How to record your electric guitar at home".
Prepare yourself and choose your guitar
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.
Choosing the right microphone(s)
Should you use a condenser or a 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 microphone (MTP 440 DM).
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 to record
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 recording of acoustic guitars
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 recordings?
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?
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 for recording guitar
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.
TLDR - 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
Creative ways to record acoustic guitar video
Here's a great video by Jay Leonard J for those looking for a few different methods of micing an acoustic guitar.