Last Updated on January 20, 2024 by Victor Estevez
If you’re a musician or songwriter looking to record your acoustic guitar at home, you might be wondering how to capture the best possible sound with just one microphone. In this article, we’ll provide you with tips and techniques to help you record a high-quality acoustic guitar track using only one mic.
Whether you’re recording a demo, a full album, or just a simple acoustic track, learning how to record with one mic is a useful skill to have, especially for those who are just starting in home recording.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about recording an acoustic guitar with one microphone, including tips for choosing the right location, preparing the room for recording, selecting the right microphone, and mic placement techniques. So let’s get started!
When it comes to recording an acoustic guitar, the location can make a big difference in the final result. Here are some tips for choosing the best recording location:
Choose the Right Space
Start by finding a quiet room in your house where you can record without interruptions. Look for a space that has minimal background noise, such as a room away from traffic or other sources of noise. Look out for windows and fans, as they produce more background noise than you would think.
Consider Room Acoustics
Once you have identified a quiet space, you should consider the room’s acoustics. A room with too much reverb (think about an empty room without anything in it as an extreme) can create a messy, muddled sound, while a room that is too dry (no echo at all) can create a thin and lifeless sound. Here are some tips for improving the acoustics of your recording space:
Use Soft Materials
One way to reduce reverberation is to use soft materials to absorb sound. Hanging blankets, quilts, or clothes on the walls or placing them strategically around the room can help to dampen echoes and reduce unwanted reverb.
Position Your Guitar Correctly
Positioning your guitar correctly is also essential for getting the best sound. Avoid placing your guitar in a corner or against a wall (the sound hole facing the wall), as this can cause reflections and add unwanted resonance to your recording. Instead, place your guitar in the center of the room, or if you can’t avoid being close to a wall, place your back on the wall. And the best would be to also place soft material between you and the wall as well.
Preparation for Recording
Before recording your acoustic guitar, there are some things you can do to prepare your room (as we mentioned above) and also your equipment to ensure a smooth recording process.
- Clear out any unnecessary items and clutter from the recording space to minimize background noise.
- Look for a space with good acoustics and minimal background noise. A quiet room with minimal reflections is ideal for recording.
- Use quilts, clothes, or other items to improve the acoustics in the room. Hanging blankets or placing pillows around you and the guitar can help to reduce reverb and create a drier sound. Think about the recording rooms you may have seen in videos. Everything soft can be used to swallow sound (couches, mattresses, carpets, your closet full of clothes, etc.) important is that the sound waves are swallowed by soft surfaces and reflected by hard ones. The areas most important are behind you and behind the microphone.
- Sort your cables and other equipment to avoid accidents and problems during recording.
- Choose the right guitar for recording, taking into consideration the tonal qualities and type of music you’ll be playing.
- Make sure to tune your guitar properly before recording to ensure accurate pitch and intonation.
- Consider changing your guitar strings before recording to achieve a fresh, bright sound and avoid any unwanted buzzing or noise.
Mic Placement Techniques
Proper mic placement is crucial when recording an acoustic guitar with one microphone. The position of the mic can greatly affect the sound quality of the recording. Here are some mic placements to consider:
- Near the sound hole: Placing the microphone near the sound hole of the guitar can produce a warm and full sound, but it can also lead to a boomy and muddy recording if the mic is too close.
- Near the 12th fret: Placing the microphone near the 12th fret can produce a brighter and more balanced sound, but it may not capture the full range of the guitar’s sound.
- Closer to the fretboard: Placing the microphone closer to the fretboard can capture more of the guitar’s lower frequencies, but it may result in a less detailed and muffled sound.
- Experiment with distance: Try placing the microphone at different distances from the guitar to find the sweet spot. A good starting point is to place the mic about 6-12 inches (15-30cm) away from the guitar.
Our favorite placement to start
You will find as many opinions of the perfect microphone placement as people recording. But you got to start somewhere to build your own opinion, so here are some placements we like to start with (if using one microphone), adjusting them by ear as we go.
With a small diaphragm microphone:
Version 1: On many guitars you get a nice and balanced sound if your microphone is about 12-24 inches (30-60cm) away, and points straight at the guitar top under the fretboard (or above if you are playing a cutaway). Start with the center of the area (the borders being the sound hole, the fretboard, and the curve of the side of the guitar). If your guitar is heavy on the bass move more to the neck, if its treble is more pronounced move more to the sound hole.
Version 2: Position the microphone in front of the guitar, about 12-24 inches (30-60cm) away from the sound hole. Move the microphone sideways till it lines up with the 12th fret, as this is the sweet spot for recording most acoustic guitars. Angle the microphone at a 45-degree angle towards the guitar’s sound hole.
With a large diaphragm microphone:
Try to place it in front of the fretboard also about 12-24 inches (30-60cm) away in between the 12th and 14th fret. Make sure that you are not too close to the sound hole as this often results in an inferior, muddy sound.
Mic placement adjustments to try out
- Experiment with mic placement to capture different sounds and tones.
- Move the microphone closer to the sound hole to capture a fuller, bassier sound.
- Move the microphone closer to the fretboard to capture more of the guitar’s high-end frequencies.
- Try different distances and angles until you find the sweet spot that works best for your particular guitar and playing style.
Remember to listen carefully and adjust the microphone position as needed to achieve the desired sound. It’s also a good idea to record a few test tracks to hear how the guitar sounds with each placement.
Level setting is an important step in the recording process that can greatly affect the final sound quality of your acoustic guitar recording. It involves adjusting the input gain of your microphone to ensure that the signal is strong enough to be captured by your recording device without clipping or distorting.
You want to avoid recording at a level that’s too low, as it can result in unwanted noise and hiss. However, you also don’t want to record too hot, as this can result in clipping and distortion.
To set the levels, start by playing your guitar as loudly as you would during the actual recording. Then, adjust the input gain on your audio interface or mixer until the loudest parts of your playing are reaching close to -3 dB on the level meter. It’s important to make sure that the levels never reach 0 dB, as this can cause clipping and distortion.
Once you’ve set the input gain, it’s a good idea to play a few test recordings and listen back to make sure that the levels are consistent and the sound is clean. If you notice any clipping or distortion, you may need to adjust the gain again or lower the input level of your recording device.
Proper level setting can make a big difference in the quality of your acoustic guitar recording and can prevent issues such as unwanted noise or distortion. It’s an essential step that should not be overlooked in the recording process.
5 Helpful Tips Before You Start Recording
- Use a reference recording: Before starting your recording, listen to a reference track that features an acoustic guitar. This will help you get an idea of the ideal volume level and sound you’re aiming for.
- Room preparation: Look for a space with good acoustics and minimal background noise. A quiet room with minimal reflections is ideal for recording. Soft fabrics swallow unwanted reverb and should be placed strategically.
- Adjust the gain and Monitor your levels: Start by adjusting the gain on your preamp or interface to ensure you’re capturing a strong signal. While recording, keep an eye on your levels, you should aim to have the loudest parts of your playing just below the point where the microphone starts to clip.
- Experiment with mic placement: You may find that certain placements result in a better balance of volume and tone.
- Make adjustments in post-production: If you find that your levels aren’t quite right after recording, you can make adjustments during the mixing stage. Use a compressor or limiter to even out the levels and bring up quieter parts of the recording. However, be careful not to overdo it, as this can result in a compressed and unnatural sound.
By following these tips, you should be able to achieve a well-balanced and professional-sounding recording of your acoustic guitar using just one microphone.