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My Acoustic Guitar Recording Setup

The following is a copy and paste of something I wrote on an internet forum, not too far from here. I repeat it here ’cause it’s fundemental to my recording practice and might be of interest to my fellow guitarists and weekend warriors in the studio…

I read a lot of huffing and puffing about acoustic guitar recording strategies, and, to be honest, it caused me a lot of heartache for a while. I describe below how I ended up for my new CD, and beyond. (Note this is primarily intended for solo guitar, or guitar and vox, tracked separately.)

I’m afraid I’ve given up entirely on spaced mic techniques for guitar recording. I only use X/Y setup with small diaphragm condensers. (I would try mid-side, but I don’t have a figure-8 mic.)

My reasons for my X/Y setup are three-fold:

1. When I listen back through a hi-fi system at normal listening distance, a guitar recorded with a spaced technique sounds unrealistically big – in fact it sounds about 12ft wide! This might sound impressive to some, but it makes me nauseous.

2. Phase cancellation. No matter how big it sounds in stereo, if I hit the mono button on the recording console, the middle of the guitar disappears leaving the sides hovering disembodied in space. More nausea. (Maybe that has more to do with my skill at setting up a spaced pair, but for the other two reasons, It’s now academic.)

3. To a listener in an audience any further than 6 feet away, the guitar is a mono source. Any stereo information is by virtue of room reflections.

So this is how I proceed: I use two Neumann KM 184s in the X/Y configuration, about 18″ from the guitar. These mics aren’t matched, but I don’t consider that so important. (Sidebar: I had actually recorded more than 30 guitar parts using ORTF before being forced to admit it wasn’t going to work for me and had to abandon them and start again using X/Y.) Now, (some folks say that) X/Y can appear to give a very tight stereo image, but it truth I find the image more realistic – and anyway, if the image needs a bit of stretching I can use a bit of mid-side processing.

The future? I’m considering getting a figure-of-8 and do some M/S for real for the next record. Or two, and do Blumlein. This gear purchasing never stops…

(Now an A/B setup with mics pointed at saddle & neck / body joint [I]can[/I] sound fantastic – just make sure you audition in mono. Mono-compatibility doesn’t matter to a lot of folks, but it does to me – so I don’t use it.)

More for general interest, here’s my signal path:

Mics: KM 184s (guitar) in X/Y setup 18″ from neck/body join; Audio Technica AT 4033 (vox)

  • Pre-amps: per Allen & Heath GS3 console
  • Soundcard: RME Multiface
  • Software: Cubase SL
  • Plug-ins: Voxengo and Kjaerhus dynamics and Voxengo convolution reverb.
  • Monitoring: Mission Cyrus amp and JBL 4208 monitors (it’ll do for now!!)
  • Phones: Sennheisser and Beyerdynamic
  • PC: self-built using QuietPC case, Seagate Barracuda HDDs, AMD 64 CPU, Zalman heatsinks, fans and controller.
  • So that’s it. I’d like to read your comments and ideas. What strategies have you found successful? What about acoustic guitars that are intended to sit in a mix?