Recording the Guitar - DIY Style


Recording Guitar

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Never before has recording technology and studio knowledge been more accessible. Now is the time to start recording the guitar cheaply and with world class results. For decades, these tips were sealed up in the worlds top studios:

String Choice

The acoustic guitar can wreak havok on a audio track. String squeaks are a big complaint for guitarists and many spray the strings and fretboard with "Finger Ease" lubricant for less 'string talk' when playing. D'Addario makes strings called 'Flat Tops" which have almost zero finger noise and feature a warmer tone. Also try "Silk and Steel" strings which are even mellower than the FLat Tops. The Silk and Steels have less string tension than the Flat Tops and typically used for folk. Both string types mentioned above can literally transform a cheap acoustic guitar into an amazing sounding instrument. They are quieter and present a far more balanced tone across the strings. Both are favored by finger style players and also used by recording artists looking for the edge in the studio.

Room Acoustics

Will you be recording the guitar in your apartment? In the garage? Is that a refrigerator humming in the background? Unplug it! Your chosen environment affects the sound in a big way. Are the neighbors too loud? Kindly ask them to STFU so you can rock. Luckily, the acoustic guitar is generally quiet compared to other instruments. A few moving blankets can soak up unwanted reflections inside and muffle outside noise. Moving blankets are even used on major label recording sessions and be had for cheap/free. The Producers Choice Blanket kit is currently the cheapest way to acoustically treat a room at a pro level. It is also reversible, so you can flip the sides to change from black to white.

Microphone Choice

There are a few celebrated microphones used to record the guitar, but most are too expensive or no longer being made. Generally, a small diaphragm mic is used for a tight clean sound, whereas the large diaphram mic captures a larger and more prominent sound. You can even use both to achieve a stereo sound. For starters though, just use one mic and dive right in.

Currently, the best/cheapest 'small diaphragm' mic is the MXL 603s which has changeable capsules. As for large diaphragm mics, the Neumann U47 is considered the holy grail. Unfortunately, it's ridiculously expensive and hard to find one in great shape. Luckily, it has been reverse engineered by Recording Hacks. They made a faithful recreation of the original capsule, which can turn your cheap chinese mic into a high end mic that is remarkably close to the original U47. All of MXL's transformerless microphones are wonderful candidates for an upgrade. The harshness of these mics is replaced with a smooth and natural sound, perfect for acoustic instruments and voice. Now you can buy the DIY Mic Kit from Recording Hacks and build a world class mic on a budget.

Levels

Dialing in a well balanced sound takes patience and a good pair of studio headphones like the Sony MDR 7506. Start with one mic, 12 inches from the sound hole, pointed where the neck meets the body. Move the mic around to find the 'sweet spot' and you are basically done. Each guitar is different though, so be sure and experiment to find the best possible mic angle for the guitar. When you finally hit record, keep in mind that your loudest moments should be around -18db but never go louder than -12db during the recording. This is common knowledge among the worlds top engineers and it provides more headroom and a professional sound. Now that you are equipped with these basic tips, relax and have fun knowing that your final product will reach its full potential. Do your best with what you have. The bottom line is that you can record the guitar at home with amazing results.

 

by Ben Long

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