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Acoustic Recording Techniques:


Dr. Ellwood

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About a week ago I did a track with my Dobro for the Jam Tracks thread here on the Forum. I was not happy with how the track came out and I am looking for ideas on mike position and what your favorite techniques are. For this discussion assume using only one mike, here is the track, please ignore the latency http://www.soundclick.com/bands/songInfo.cfm?bandID=372411&songID=4647729
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I have found recording acoustic guitars tough as well. I think really high quality condenser mics are supposed to help, I have never bought one though. I think the room sound may also play a big factor. You really have to move the mic around to find what sound you want, it makes a big difference in the midrange characteristics of what gets recorded.

 

I have had much better luck cheating. I mic the guitar but also blend in some pickup/amp sound on another mic. If I try either one or the other I just can't get it. My miced signal is always thin and weak sounding, the amped signal really adds some oomph to it. I tend to record all my guitar parts in stereo anyway. I would thing a Dobro would really benifit from this technique.

 

I play around with the panning to make it fit in the track well. I also use a different reverb on each track, it starts to add a simulated room sound when I do this. Cool Edit Pro has so many cool reverbs and the mixing controls are really easy to experiment with that I just try alot of things till I get what I want.

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I know you're assuming only one mic but google "Blumlein Pair" for an excellent acoustic guitar recording method. Also, if you haven't been there, check out this thread (there\'s about 70pages now I think) featuring Bruce Swedien. He discusses mic techniques in depth and is readily available to answer any questions.
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Ok thanks Gruupi, I also use Cool Edit Pro and really like the program. I don't have a pickup on the Dobro so it has to be all acoustic at least untill I get one installed on it. For one thing I had to put the Dobro into a uncomfortable playing position to get any kind of signal it seemed. I used the USB mike to record it, I guess it just takes loads of experimentation to get a good track.
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Originally posted by PBBPaul:

I know you're assuming only one mic but google "Blumlein Pair" for an excellent acoustic guitar recording method. Also, if you haven't been there, check out this thread (there\'s about 70pages now I think) featuring Bruce Swedien. He discusses mic techniques in depth and is readily available to answer any questions.

Great Paul, I will read it!! I have two of those USB mikes now maybe that will help, I guess I just didn't take enough time to set up for the track but I'm not used to dealing with acoustic recording.
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I just listened to your track again and the playing sounds good, the dobro is actually recorded decently. But the overall mix is busy, the electric guitar competes too much for the same sonic space both musically and auraly. The dobro panned hard to one side sounds odd to my ear, all the other instruments are stereo or centered then the dobro is (pardon the pun) out in left field.

 

So the recorded dobro in itself isn't the big problem here, its the mix and choice of instruments playing notes in the same range. I know some producers can pull things like this off but most of us need to simplify things. You can use EQ to further separate the 2 guitars but this usually starts to sound fake or processed. I wouldn't mind the dobro panned somewhat to the left but this is too much.

 

I am not trying to be too critical or harsh here, I struggle with the same issues with mixing and can't solve all these problems myself. Sometimes its good to just let a fresh set of ears hear it and make suggestions, which is what you are doing.

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Oh no problem at all Gruupi, the singer Todd who was kind enough to do a vocal track for the Jam Tracks thread asked me to try a dobro track on it and I had never recorded the Dobro I usually play electric slide. I decided to put a electric standard track in there too and the latency problem threw off my timing on it trying to monitor the recorded signal and that was the result LOL!! I've never really tried to mix or pan with the Cool Edit Pro so maybe I can go back and record it again and leave off the electric track? I was just trying to get something nice for Todd.
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You may be able to just mute or turn down the electric track. And there is a pan slider right next to the volume slider where you should be able to place any track where you want in the stereo field. Maybe try it 30-50% left instead of hard left. Then the electric guitar 30-50% right and see if that separates them enough but still isn't to spread out. Panning can have a huge difference in how your mixes sound, I almost never use post EQ, I find panning and thinking out what is on each track a much better way to get a mix that sounds good.
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Ok the only technique that has worked for me with an acoustic. Is sitting down, putting a Mic in front and pressing record. You can spend WAAAAAAAAay too much time placing the mics and checking levels etc etc... Get it down so it is acceptable and then play with it after :)

 

Anyway thats my $.02

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There are more ways to mic a guitar than you can shake a pick at... and in my experience, each instrument sounds different and requires different micing techniques depending upon the player, the song, and the sonic space.

 

Generally, I would use two mics.

 

Generally, I start with a mic at the 10th or 12th fret, aiming along the neck towards the body at a kind of 45 degree angle to the instrument. (30, 60, whatever...)

This mic is closer to the instrument, typically within a foot.

 

The second mic is farther away... typically 18 inches or more. It is placed perpendicular to the face of the guitar, below and behind the bridge... like between the bridge and end pin, but lower.

 

I always use a SD condenser on the first mic, I might use anything on the second.

 

Another technique which might work for you is to put the mic over the players' right shoulder near his ear... pick up what he hears. The room could make that a problem if it is too reflective though.

 

Here are some typical problem issues... placement of the mic in the room, placement of the player in the room.

 

Monitoring... WHY does the player need to hear his playing looped thorugh they system and back to him? Can't he hear it WHEN HE PLAYS IT????!!!!! (This is one of those 'button' issues with me... we get so damned 'professional'... what a crock. It is like reverb on the vocals during tracking... to blur the image so the guy cannot hear when he sucks.)

 

In mixdown... sonic space... everything has a place, everything in its place. If you violate this, you make mud.

 

You cannot 'improve' a bad track, you can only try to hide how bad it is. Spend time with micing and using good recording techniques just as you spend time rehearsing, and mixdown becomes an easy job. Shit around, and mixdown becaomse a chore.

 

I get to work with nice mics and nice gear, but we all started somewhere and if you spend the time to learn to get the best that you can get out of what you have, you'll be a better recordist for it. All of these products like Cool Edit and Audacity, NTRaks and TStar and the freebees and sharewares do so much more than my little Phillips mono recorder with the magic eye and my Shure 55 mic.... and I used to record the whole band, playing live.

 

Bill

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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There are more ways to mic a guitar than you can shake a pick at... and in my experience, each instrument sounds different and requires different micing techniques depending upon the player, the song, and the sonic space.

 

Generally, I would use two mics.

 

Generally, I start with a mic at the 10th or 12th fret, aiming along the neck towards the body at a kind of 45 degree angle to the instrument. (30, 60, whatever...)

This mic is closer to the instrument, typically within a foot.

 

The second mic is farther away... typically 18 inches or more. It is placed perpendicular to the face of the guitar, below and behind the bridge... like between the bridge and end pin, but lower.

 

I always use a SD condenser on the first mic, I might use anything on the second.

 

Another technique which might work for you is to put the mic over the players' right shoulder near his ear... pick up what he hears. The room could make that a problem if it is too reflective though.

 

Here are some typical problem issues... placement of the mic in the room, placement of the player in the room.

 

Monitoring... WHY does the player need to hear his playing looped thorugh they system and back to him? Can't he hear it WHEN HE PLAYS IT????!!!!! (This is one of those 'button' issues with me... we get so damned 'professional'... what a crock. It is like reverb on the vocals during tracking... to blur the image so the guy cannot hear when he sucks.)

 

In mixdown... sonic space... everything has a place, everything in its place. If you violate this, you make mud.

 

You cannot 'improve' a bad track, you can only try to hide how bad it is. Spend time with micing and using good recording techniques just as you spend time rehearsing, and mixdown becomes an easy job. Shit around, and mixdown becaomse a chore.

 

I get to work with nice mics and nice gear, but we all started somewhere and if you spend the time to learn to get the best that you can get out of what you have, you'll be a better recordist for it. All of these products like Cool Edit and Audacity, NTRaks and TStar and the freebees and sharewares do so much more than my little Phillips mono recorder with the magic eye and my Shure 55 mic.... and I used to record the whole band, playing live.

 

Bill

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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Originally posted by Bill@Welcome Home Studios:

You cannot 'improve' a bad track, you can only try to hide how bad it is. Spend time with micing and using good recording techniques just as you spend time rehearsing, and mixdown becomes an easy job. Shit around, and mixdown becaomse a chore.

I agree completely and was going to make this point too. I look at it like trying to get rid of body odor by adding more perfume. It's best to start with a good, clean high quality signal up front.
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Good points from Bill. One reason to monitor when recording acoustic is so I can tell if I'm moving too much and disturbing the mike balance. Other that that, not very useful.

 

An alternative to Blumlein Pair technique is simply "Mid Side" miking. Same thing, only you use a cardioid for Mid mike, pointed at the source, and fig-8 for Side mike, pointed 90 degrees to one side (sometimes less). In this case, the two mikes don't need to be matched. The Mid mike is the main one and needs to sound good in mono (though more on this in a moment). The side mike is added to left (assuming it's pointed left) and subtracted from right, using a simple plugin like MDA Image.

 

The nice thing about Mid Side (same as Blumlein Pair) is that when summed to mono, the side mike disappears, so you don't get cancellation coloration that way. Another nice thing is that the mikes don't need to be matched. For example, I get good results using an SM57 for Mid and SP B3 for Side. Good preamps are important, of course (without a good preamp, I don't get enough gain on the SM57 for anything but very close miking). And the room has to sound good, otherwise there's not much point using this technique.

 

If the Mid mike's tone isn't quite correct, you can always add another mike (or the pickup), also panned center, such as the neck mike Bill mentions above. (Though, on a dreadnaught like my Martin HD28, I point it along the neck angled a bit AWAY from the body to reduce boominess from proximity effect.)

 

You can also use MS technique using the pickup as the Side signal. Just be sure to check in mono: the mike needs to sound decent by itself. MS used this way is far, far superior to using mike and pickup and panning them.

 

Whenever using two mikes that are not at the same point (or mike plus pickup), you should time-correct the two tracks afterwards. Record a good muted click on a high string to use as a reference at the start. Record to two mono tracks, or split the stereo track. Zoom in on the clicks, and slide one track so the clicks line up exactly. This minimizes phase cancellation coloring when the two signals are summed together.

 

Lots of homeys record using two mikes, pan them apart, and forget to check the result when summed to mono. The panned sound can be fantastic, and the summed sound terrible due to phase cancellation coloration. Always check the result in mono, and if it sounds like shite, fix it. A recording that sounds like shite when summed to mono will also sound bad in a lot of other common listening situations.

 

As mentioned above, though, none of this matters if the arrangement doesn't work. Arrangment is far more important than any engineering detail. Great arrangements poorly recorded can still make good cuts. Vice versa, nope.

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BTW, most articles on MS technique state that the side mike must be fig-8. This is true to capture a true image, and very important if there are multiple instruments on a real soundstage. In the present case of simply creating a nice image for a single acoustic instrument, a cardiod mike works just fine as the Side mike. Sometimes even better, if the ambience is better to one direction than to the other.
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Bill has given you some real good info. A couple of notes.

 

Lee can't record with either M/S (mid-side) or Blumlein pair techniques. His mics are cardioid condensers, specifically Samson C01u mics. (The direct to USB version of the C01.)

 

Your best bet is either a spaced pair or X/Y from a position where you like the sound. Put on a set of headphones and have someone move a single mic around the instrument until you find a sweet spot. The sweet spot may very well be over your shoulder. If you like the acoustic sound of your dobro (or an acoustic, etc.) then you'll likely be able to get a decent sound near one of your own ears. If you like you can play with stereo by X/Y near your ear (or in another sweet spot) or put one on either side of your head. So long as bleed isn't an issue this can work wonders for acoustic instruments.

It's easiest to find me on Facebook. Neil Bergman

 

Soundclick

fntstcsnd

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Last time we used a Blue mic about 4- 5 inches from where the neck meets the body, then we ran into a preamp with our guitars direct so each guitar had 2 mixable sounds. It is cool cuz the piezo can add kind of a more electric sustain almost and some clickity clackity.

 

I am no expert though.

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Damn! Yesterday's post never posted! :mad:

 

First, Blumlein pair requires figure-8 (bi-directional) mics which Lee does not have. He's using Samson C01u's, the direct to USB version of their C01, a cardioid (uni-directional) mic. Blumlein works great.

 

Second, Midside, also requiring the figure-8 pattern mic (as you stated), is considered a waste if time by many, including the aforementioned Bruce Swedien. The reason is the stereo image is acceptable, but not particularly impressive and we rarely rely on mono reproduction anymore. That isn't to say you shouldn't be cognizant of mono compatability of your stereo tracks, but you can accomplish mono compatability with other, more dramatic stereo mic'ing techniques.

 

Also, it helps a LOT to have a good sounding room for Blumlein pair as the figure-8's pick up room sound from their "rear". Blumlein in a mediocre sounding room can be detrimental to your sound.

 

X/Y is still your best bet, Lee. Let someone place the mics around you as you play while monitoring on headphones so you can hear the difference in placement. Over your shoulder can be good, as your ears are hearing the timbre of the instrument from there. Of course, the mics are NOT your ears, so YMMV.

 

I like Bill's spaced pair idea because it allows you to mix the immediacy of a close mic with the room sound of the distance mic. Again, it helps to have a room that sounds good for best results.

 

Keep experimenting!

It's easiest to find me on Facebook. Neil Bergman

 

Soundclick

fntstcsnd

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I just recorded some acoustic last week...and I tried a single mic (a GT AM62 tube LDC)...tried it straight on, from 1'-2' feet back in cardioid.

Sounded good.

 

Tired the same in Omni.

Sounded better.

 

Then I did something unorthodox.

Placed a pair of the AM62 mics about 6' apart and about 3' off the ground so that they were about sound hole height when I stood, but just a bit lower, so I could get more of the highs and each at a 45 degree inward angle.

Then...instead of moving back from the mics...to form something of an equilateral triangle...

...I moved forward so that I was almost standing in-between the mics, as I wanted to get a big stereo spread.

 

And...THAT is what worked and sounded best!

I was not in perfect line between them...maybe only about 1'-2' feet back (which kinda' goes against the 3-to-1 rule, since I was about 3 feet from each mic, and they were 6 feet apart from each other)...but, it sounded best.

 

Give that a try.

Put on your headphones...turn 'em up so that you are not hearing too much of the live guitar, but more of what is coming from the mics...

...and then as you play, experiment moving in/out from between that 6 foot spread.

Of course...having a good pre amp for the mics, with plenty of decent gain helps a lot...so I don't know how those USB mics will work in my set up.

 

I used a multi channel Sebatron tube pre amp with the AM62 mics. The pre also has some onboard EQ, allowing me to set the LF on Cut, Deep or Flat...and the HF on Air, Bright or Flat for each channel.

I set the left side (neck mic) for LF=Deep & HF=Air...and the right side (body mic) for LF=Flat & HF=Bright.

It's a big stereo guitar sound...with room for a lot of variations due to the different EQ settings on each channel of the pre.

miroslav - miroslavmusic.com

 

"Just because it happened to you, it doesn't mean it's important."

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