Recording Tips: Improving Your Acoustic Guitar Tone

An acoustic guitar is obviously a different beast than its electric brother and should be treated as such in the studio. The techniques and methods that are used to record an electric guitar are different from the way an acoustic recording should be tackled. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at some conventional wisdom as it's related to getting the best acoustic guitar tone in a studio setting.



Find The Right Mic

The key to any recording – whether it’s drums, vocals or any other instrument – is choosing the right mic for the job. As we’ve mentioned in our Five Common Mic Mistakes articles, a common error many make when recording is assuming that the most expensive mic is always the best. The thing is, each microphone has its own voice and way of capturing sound. Your job is to find a mic with sound capture characteristics that best fits what you’re trying to achieve. And sometimes, that might mean using a $200 mic instead of a thousand dollar one.

When it comes to recording an acoustic guitar, most aim for a mic that has good dynamic range capture and adds as little coloration as possible, allowing the full, natural tone of the acoustic guitar to shine through. You can use EQ on the mic to help with this, but you can only work with what you capture, so starting with a good, clean sounding mic is important.

If you’re not sure what mics to look at, here are a few of my personal suggestions at various price points:


AKG C214 acoustic micAKG C214 @ $399.00 -The C214 large-diaphragm condenser microphone has been designed as a cost-effective alternative to the high-end C414 family. Like the C414, the C214 offers a supreme one-inch capsule on an integrated suspension to reduce mechanical noise. A switchable 20dB attenuation pad allows recording of loud sources of up to 156dB SPL. A switchable bass-cut filter allows close-up recording with almost no proximity effect. The C214 captures sound by combining one capsule of the legendary C414 dual-capsule system and the patented AKG Back-Plate Technology, resulting in an outstanding performance close to the famous C414 XLII.



Neumann TLM 102Neumann TLM 102 @ $699.95 - The TLM has an overall reduced size that greatly adds to the compact appearance which unites all of the typical design components of a Neumann microphone. The TLM 102 is impressive in terms of sound: In the interior is a newly developed large-diaphragm capsule (cardioid) with a maximum sound pressure level of 144 dB, which permits the recording of percussion, drums, amps and other very loud sound sources, for example. Instruments that are not especially loud also benefit from the very fast transient response of the TLM 102. Due to its price and flexible field of application, the TLM 102 is ideal for the home recording and project studio sector, as well as for the broadcasting area, especially when clear lines of sight to the speakers are a priority.


Audio Technica AT2020Audio-Technica AT2020 @ $99.00 - The AT2020 from Audio-Technica breaks new ground in terms of quality and cost. Perfectly suited for today's home and project studio, the Audio-Technica AT2020 was designed by Audio-Technica engineers to fit comfortably in your mix and your budget at the same time. The perfect "first microphone," we're sure the AT2020 will find its way into many studios of all sizes. The AT2020 is also available in a USB mic configuration as the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB+, perfect for singer/songwriters, podcasters, voice-over artists, field recorders, and home studio recorders.


Earthworks m30Earthworks M30 @ $600.00 - The M Series has become the accepted standard for affordable, reliable reference and measurement microphones that are accurate in the time domain and frequency response. They are remarkably stable with respect to temperature and atmospheric conditions and are optimized for clean, very fast impulse performance providing accurate wideband response with virtually no handling noise. The Earthworks M30 is also available in as a matched pair, perfect for stereo recording techniques





Find The Right Mic Setup

Aside from the type of mic or mics you use to record, the way in which they are placed is the next most important aspect of getting a good acoustic guitar tone. As far as which setup is best, it all depends on the sound you are looking for.

acoustic guitar toneOne of the most reliable acoustic guitar recording techniques – one used on countless records – involves using two mics in an X-Y configuration (as shown in the image to the right). Because the mics are positioned similarly to how our own ears hear an acoustic guitar, this setup lends itself well to capturing a very natural sounding recording. There’s also plenty of versatility with this technique. Starting with the mics facing the 12th fret, about 7” away, you can move it a bit farther to capture more of the room acoustics; move it a bit to the left (closer to the soundhole) for more bass; or more to the right to emphasize the higher frequencies of the neck.

For single mic recording, you can use an omnidirectional mic placed between 6" to 12" from where the sound hole meets the frets. Because omnidirectional mics capture sound from every direction, the room in which you record will become a factor. Whether that’s a positive or negative depends on what you’re trying to achieve. You obviously won’t capture as robust of a recording with a single mic technique as with two mics but not every song calls for that type of sound.

Obviously, there are many more techniques out there that you should definitely try out but the two mentioned above are good places to start. Check our the video below for a good overview on some basic acoustic guitar recording techniques:


Don't Rely On DI (Direct Input) Alone

Many of today’s acoustic guitars come with built-in pickups and preamps, along with an output jack that allows them to directly connect to an amplifier or console. Known as acoustic-electric guitars, they work well in giving players a way to amplify their instrument for live use, although the onboard pickups aren't as useful in the studio. The problem with using them for studio recordings (regardless of their brand or quality) is that they tend to sound a little bright with an emphasis on the midrange frequencies.

If the goal is a natural acoustic guitar tone, you're far better off using microphones, but that's not to say you can't take advantage of an onboard pickup system if your acoustic has one. For example, you can always record directly to the console while using a mic setup and use the DI track to give the overall mix a little more brightness and shine.


One More Thing

There are obviously several different ways to go about recording an acoustic guitar. And regardless of how you choose to tackle a project, it is always a good idea to take a step back, listen to your guitar and think about the sound you're aiming for. With the tips above, you should be able to give yourself a solid foundation for a good acoustic guitar recording.

If you have any questions regarding the purchase of the products above or any other piece of gear, don't hesitate to chat with one of our friendly PAL pros by using the live chat feature below or by calling us toll-free at 1 877-671-2200!



Your Turn to Sound Off!

What are some other acoustic guitar studio tips for better tone?

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