Introduction to Recording Acoustic Guitar

In this section, we’ll focus on mic choices and basic mic placement for recording the acoustic guitar. These mics in these positions have been proven on countless sessions around the world, so they’re a great starting place for anyone tracking the acoustic guitar.

A good ribbon mic (or a pair of ribbons for recording in stereo), properly placed, will give you extremely natural sounding acoustic guitar recordings. You can easily capture all the warmth, size and detail you want for full, lush sounding tracks, or thin the tone out for more percussive or sparkly sounding tracks. All of the Royer ribbons perform well on acoustic guitars, although we recommend different positions for R-series and SF-series mics. Due to the gain requirements of acoustic instruments, we usually recommend that you use our more sensitive Active Series powered ribbons (unless you’ve got a slammin’ mic pre with lots of gain). All of the R-series mics will give good results on acoustic guitar, but for this writing, we’ll refer to the R-122 phantom powered ribbon.

Ribbons handle EQ very well! Acoustic guitars can be shaped beautifully with a little bit (or a lot) of eq’ing. The complexity of the track you’re recording, how many other instruments and vocal tracks your acoustic guitar will be sharing space with, the overall sound you’re looking for, etc., will determine the amount of equalizing you’ll want to do. Generally, it’s good practice to roll off some low end at about 100 Hz. Boosting at 10-12 kHz adds a nice sparkle, as well as helps the guitar cut through a dense mix. Don’t be afraid to boost as much as 8 or 9 dB of high end to achieve a more condenser-like response if you need it. Even with such drastic EQ, Royers will retain their smooth high end.

The closer to the guitar you place the microphone the warmer the sound will be, so if you find that your track is overly warm or boomy, back the mic off an inch or two at a time until you achieve the balance of warmth and top-end you’re looking for. It’s important to note that ribbon microphones tend to sound better when placed a little further back from where you would normally place condenser mics.

These are a few good starting points. Experimentation is always the key to your own unique sounds! The acoustic guitar is a beautiful instrument and ribbons will help you bring out the best in it.

Miking Up

A mono R-122 usually sounds best when it’s positioned at about the 12th fret, 5 to 10 inches off the neck. The back side of the R-122 produces a slightly brighter sound than the front side of the mic due to its offset ribbon design, so we recommend turning the mic around and trying the back side for tracking acoustic guitars. We’ve seen this method used on countless sessions and we highly recommend that you try it – it’s our favorite way to track acoustic guitar! (Note: this method applies only to our R-series mics, not our SF-series mics.)

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Steve Page of Barenaked Ladies tracking with a backward R-121.

An excellent method for tracking the acoustic guitar in stereo is to use two R-122’s positioned head-to-head in a Blumlein pair (X-Y). The two mics are positioned at 90 degrees apart, one facing the body of the guitar and one facing the neck. We suggest using the back side of both mics, remembering to flip phase at your pre’s.

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A spaced pair of R-122’s will give a nice, wide stereo recording. Again, we suggest using the back side of both mics, remembering to flip phase at your pre’s.

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electric guitar miking
Joe Garcia tracking at Milestone Recording & Post. Engineer, Annie Miles.

When using an SF-series mic, try the same position on the neck (12th fret) but at least a few inches further back from the guitar. If you’re using an SF-12 or SF-24 stereo ribbon mic, also experiment with the mic out in front of the guitar for great stereo acoustic guitar tracks.

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Pierre Bensusan tracking with an SF-24 and two small diaphragm condensers.

Another technique is to place an SF-24 stereo ribbon several feet above the player, positioned horizontally like a stereo drum overhead mic. It’s an extremely natural sounding position that picks up the guitar more from the perspective of where the guitarist hears the instrument.

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Multiple Miking

Some engineers like using multiple microphones when they track acoustic guitar. Blending microphones with different sonic personalities is an alternative to eq’ing – rather than tweaking frequencies, you simply choose from the different sounds available to you through the mics you’ve chosen. You can blend the tracks as you record, or record the mics to separate tracks and decide how you’d like to blend them at mixdown.

There are many ways to combine microphones. One simple way to go is to position an R-122 at the 12th fret (shown above), then add a small or large diaphragm condenser mic off the body of the guitar, aimed at slightly behind the bridge.

Another suggestion is to record a track of ribbon mic and a track of direct signal from the guitar pickup (if your guitar has one). You’ll get the warmth and natural response of the ribbon, with the more immediate feel of the pickup blended to taste.

Here are a few other methods to try.

Space a pair of R-122’s wide apart, one mic near the top of the neck and one near the end of the body, then add a large diaphragm condenser mic (Mojave Audio MA-200 shown) around where the neck of the guitar meets the body. Blend to taste.

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Now try the same setup, but with a small diaphragm condenser (Mojave Audio MA-100 shown)acoustic guitar miking acoustic guitar miking

Try the SF-24 overhead setup with a large diaphragm condenser positioned in front of the guitar.acoustic guitar miking acoustic guitar miking