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Recording Acoustic Guitar

Setting up and recording acoustic guitar so you sound great in under 5 minutes. Stop wasting time recording bad sounding instrumentals.
How to record your acoustic guitar and get the best sound in under 5 minutes

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You’ve got a song ready and you want to start recording it…

but you’re not sure how to set up your gear to record your guitar…

In this article you’ll learn how to find the best sound on your guitar, in your recording space, with your best mic, so you record a guitar part that best fits your song.

Instead of wondering if you’re doing it right… wouldn’t you like to know you’re doing it properly?

There is no “this is the best way to record your guitar” this is a “learn how to find your best sound for this song!”

Ready?

Below the video lesson is a written summary and bonus details to help you record your acoustic guitar, then check out the links to other articles in this series…

Note: it’s best to watch the video with headphones or on great speakers. 

Try out this method with your own gear and use your results! 

Even though the guitar sounds are coloured by the noise reduction I used to edit the video, you still hear how different microphone positions change the sound. 

Steps to Find the Best Sound for Your Acoustic Guitar

You can find the microphone position to record your guitar by trying out several different positions and choosing the best sounding one.

Here’s how:

1. Set up your microphone (* see Testing Different Microphones below) on a microphone stand so it’s pointed towards you as you play in a comfortable position. Be sure you can reach your DAW controls without bumping the mic or mic stand, and your headphone cables don’t get in your way (I’ve ruined takes because my headphone cables were bouncing off my guitar, the strings, the mic stand, almost pulled my laptop off my desk)

2. Open your DAW, set up a track. Set the input to the correct audio interface input for your microphone. Set the track output for the Master Bus, and the Master Bus output for your audio interface. Turn off the metronome during recording.

3. Play your guitar (slightly louder than you plan to) and check the input level in the track so the meter reads between 1/2 and 2/3, around -12dB.

4. Tune your guitar again (always check your tuning before pressing record). Hearing your guitar out of tune is distracting… you’ll just want to record it again.

5. Set the track to record, and press record.

6. Before you play, say out loud what position you’re playing in (as I do in the video), so you can remember when you listen back later.

7. Record a short part of the song “normally” (4 bars is enough. Longer doesn’t really help, it just takes longer) in the same style, using the same chords and voicings, same volume, same posture as you will in the song.

8. Move the guitar relative to the microphone and try the same part again. 

Do this several times.

You’ll have a pretty good idea which position is the best just from listening through headphones as you play, but…

The real test is the sound you hear back from your DAW.

So put your guitar down and listen to the whole track you just recorded.

Trevor Dimoff, songwriter, songwriting teacher, epicsongwriting, learn to write songs, how to write a song

Advanced Tip: 

If you have a different sound in mind for different song sections, you can pick from the sounds you’ve just played. Make decisions for musical reasons, not randomly. Perhaps a thinner neck sound for the verse would contrast with a slightly bigger almost at the tone hole microphone position for the chorus….

Write your ideas down… there’s nothing more irritating than forgetting a great idea because you were too lazy to write it down (done it!). There are times when life gets in the way and you might record parts of a song several days or even weeks apart. Stuff happens….

It’s also a great habit when you start recording more complicated song arrangements with several instruments. Take written notes so you remember your great ideas.

I’m writing in such detail because I’ve made every one of these mistakes I’m helping you avoid.

How to record your acoustic guitar and get the best sound in under 5 minutes

Testing Different Microphones

If you have more than one microphone you can test each of them to find the best sound. Do the same test for each one and pick the best sound for the song you’re recording.

I used a small diaphragm condenser microphone in the video so you could see what I was doing.

Usually, I use a large diaphragm condenser microphone for acoustic guitar (and vocals), a small diaphragm condenser is my second choice. Dynamic mics can work if you have a great one. The dynamics that I own don’t sound as good as my condenser mics.

  • You can test all your microphones for your vocals in the same way. 
  • Set them up and sing the same part. Record each on a separate track and then listen to each, one at a time. 
  • Balance them so they are all the same volume (either by ear, or by watching the volume meter on your DAW… people usually perceive a louder sound as a sounding better)

I used this same method to choose my favourite large diaphragm condenser. Instead of spending $350 and hoping it would work, I rented several microphones for a week and tested them in my recording space, so I knew I had the best one for my voice and recording space. It cost me less than $50 to test four microphones. I also rented three different pairs of studio monitors for a week to test them in my home studio. 

we got this face who needs a plan?, two border collies sitting in the front seats of a car, songwriting meme

Summary

Just like songwriting, recording your song depends on the context. Don’t follow paint by number advice, follow your ears and make decisions for musical reasons. 

It’s better to record a great sound than to waste time trying to fix a problem later.

Take a few minutes to record several microphone positions before recording a track.

Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll have a good idea of where to place your microphone, but double checking before recording will save you time later. It’s time investing in making your songs sound as great as you can make them.

Remember, home recording has a learning curve just like songwriting. 

Your first attempts at songwriting weren’t as good as what you can write now. Expect that it’ll take some time before you’re confidently recording as well as you expect and want to. 

Enjoy the journey and have fun exploring!

Help other songwriters by leaving a comment…

What is your biggest takeaway from this lesson?

More from the Singer Songwriter’s Ultimate Guide to Home Recording…

Improve Your Songwriting and Write Better Songs to Record

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff

Trevor Dimoff has taught, played and written music professionally for the last 25+ years.
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