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Do You Mic Guitars (Acous or Amp), or Go Direct?


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Just wondering. I get good acoustic guitar sounds miking them, but I'm leaning more and more toward going direct- even if sometimes the pickups are sketchy. There seems to be a certain kind of immediacy that lets them fit better in a mix with electronic instruments.
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I've got a Rainsong OM 1000 and it sounds amazing. I've mic'ed it up. The Tascam DR-40 does a great job, with 2 SDC that can be A-B or X-Y, you can't go wrong with either.

CAD D-82 aimed at the bridge and Heil PR40 at the 12th fret sounded great too but it gets "shifty" if you move too much. I think the mics were too far apart from each other and too close to the guitar.

 

Recently I replaced the horrible LR Baggs Element pickup with a K&K Pro Mini. That made a profound difference, the Baggs sounded like crap DI'd and I think I can get a really nice sound with the K&K. It does sound amazing through the Fishman Loudbox Performer. I want to try using the summed post preamp as an acoustic guitar channel strip. The speaker can be muted. The right tools are onboard for great acoustic tone.

I've tried it DI'd into the Presonus Eureka but I didn't spend enough time tweaking. Some subtractive EQ could really smooth it out.

 

I also have a Yamaha NCX 12000 R nylon string that has under bridge pickups (like the K&K) and it sounds great plugged straight into anything. Nylon strings seem "friendlier" to going direct than steel.

This is that guitar direct and with an Audio Technica omni conference table mic on the first song - Grace:

Grace was my mother, I wrote this the morning after my brother called me to let me know she had passed on.

 

When you mic something, there is another sound, whatever room it may be - it has a sound. Pretty hard to get a congruent sounding mix when stuff sounds like it's in different places. So yes, I agree that going DI allows you to create the "space" everything sits in. Is good.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I get good acoustic guitar sounds miking them, but I'm leaning more and more toward going direct- even if sometimes the pickups are sketchy. There seems to be a certain kind of immediacy that lets them fit better in a mix with electronic instruments.

 

I think you have it pegged. Since, other than at the studios of old farts like me where my guitars go along with fiddles and banjos, but not electric guitars, synthesizers, and only rarely electric bass or electric piano because that's what the band brings in, it's difficult to find a musical production today that doesn't involve some electronic instruments. While an acoustic guitar might be miked as well as plugged in, the mic is more likely to be used as the secondary or sweetening element than the primary sound.

 

I think that the reason (just based on listening to fully mixed music) is that the electronic instruments take up so much acoustic space that the acoustic guitar only needs to feel like it's there in order to have its place in the mix. Since it's the rare pickup that provides the full equivalent of a good mic in the right place, it's easier to work with the limited frequency and dynamic range you get out of the plug.

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I've found it quite sufficient and obviously much easier to go direct with my Takamine EF341SC for the few acoustic things I've added on my live gig backing tracks. It would be fun to try some other techniques when I ever allot some time to my own recording projects.

Overall though, since my "productions" have never gone beyond a home recording demo level and I'm often pressed for time it's typically much easier to record direct for the acoustic and use my Digitech GSP1101, Line 6 software of Amplitube for electrics. I certainly like the idea of mic on amp though and I actually did that with my little '59 Gibson Skylark the last time I was recording some guitar. It's fun to compare those tracks to others recorded in a more direct fashion.

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OK, electric guitars.

I have Amplitube and GuitarRig and they are both nice.

But, most of the time I find myself plugging into my trusty Tech 21 Tri-AC. I always run it on a 9v battery and it is quiet until the gain gets cranked.

 

Sort of a stripped down Sansamp meant for live performance but it delivers. BMT controls and Tweed/British/Calif (Boogie) switch provide a huge array of tones.

I know it well and can tweak quickly. Presets can be made with a swift double click of one of the 3 footswitches.

 

And, I just got a Tech 21 Bass Driver DI version 2. Was goofing around with it last night.

 

I have amps and mics and that sounds good too but I was ripping away on bass last night after 11pm with a neighbor above and one directly connected on the other side of the wall my studio is set up.

Headphones, they didn't hear anything at all.

 

So yeah, direct for electric guitars and basses too.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Acoustic guitars: my 6 and 12 string both have Fishman piezos under the bridge. I never liked that tinny constipated tone of a piezo direct. Fishman used to make modeling pedals for acoustic guitars, they take the piezo signal and model a proper acoustic timbre out of them, and you can blend piezo/model tones. I bought a dreadnought and 12-string modeler pedal and they sound very nice.

 

I can get good bass tone through an Ampeg SVP-Pro rack mount preamp direct to recording.

 

I have several options for guitars. I have a Vox Tonelab SE modeler which I use for demos/scratchpads but its strong point is the modeled effects. I really like genuine tube amps, and I recognized the value of multiple 4x12 with different speakers. I mix and match amp with cabinets for the tone I am looking for and this has been a very versatile system. The nice thing about the Tonelab is I can bypass the amp models and just use it as an effects pedal to the guitar amp. I also have the H&K Red Box cabinet DI and the old Groove Tubes Speaker Emulator. I always like some room ambience when recording guitar.

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I've been going in the opposite direction - i.e., I've been mic'ing up synths or running them through amp sims to strip them of their obtrusiveness and make them sound more like guitars run through lord-knows-what pedalboard.

 

The right mic and the right acoustic guitar - there's something holy in that marriage for me that this man won't put asunder.

 

nat

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For non-acoustic guitars (the normal stuff used in rock and roll), if the guitarist uses his amp as an instrument, I need to mic the cab in order to capture a recording that sounds like him. For both of the good rhythm guitarists we have had in our covers band, this is what I have done.

 

Our lead (solo) guitarist is a different case - he uses his amp only to create volume. He has been in our covers band since 2004. I just take the line out feed from his amp, and the result sounds like him. The complete isolation of his sound provides a side benefit when mixing recordings later on. I record all instruments and singers on a multitrack recorder. There are many songs that our lead/solo guitarist starts by himself (examples include Cake By the Ocean and Woodstock). Many times he starts the song when not all band members are paying attention, so someone is blurting something into a mic. This does not "present well" if posting a video to youtube. Because our lead/solo guitarist has his signal completely isolated, I can scrub out the random remarks that might have come from any of the 6 vocal mics that our band has.

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I've been going in the opposite direction - i.e., I've been mic'ing up synths or running them through amp sims to strip them of their obtrusiveness and make them sound more like guitars run through lord-knows-what pedalboard.

 

The right mic and the right acoustic guitar - there's something holy in that marriage for me that this man won't put asunder.

 

nat

 

I'm starting to think whether to mic or DI does have a lot to do with the other instruments. In a mostly electronic production, the ambiance of a mic'ed guitar sounds out of place but similarly, in a mostly electronic production, direct guitar sounds weird.

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I've been going in the opposite direction - i.e., I've been mic'ing up synths or running them through amp sims to strip them of their obtrusiveness and make them sound more like guitars run through lord-knows-what pedalboard.

 

The right mic and the right acoustic guitar - there's something holy in that marriage for me that this man won't put asunder.

 

nat

 

I'm starting to think whether to mic or DI does have a lot to do with the other instruments. In a mostly electronic production, the ambiance of a mic'ed guitar sounds out of place but similarly, in a mostly electronic production, direct guitar sounds weird.

 

 

I often do both, no reason not to just run another cord to another channel. Mic the guitar and run a DI, easy. They should be reasonably close to in phase. Now you have options.

Another option that can be overlooked but sound nice is a soundhole pickup.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I try to use a microphone on as many things as possible. I love the sound of that, and tend to distance mic my acoustic guitars anyway. I have been running synthesizers through speakers and sticking a mic on them for years too. I love the sound of that.
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Another option that can be overlooked but sound nice is a soundhole pickup.

 

This is not my experience compared to microphones placed other places. What have you found that works? I haven't found it a great place for a microphone. Sounds better then a piezo pickup maybe, but that isn't a high bar.

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Another option that can be overlooked but sound nice is a soundhole pickup.

 

This is not my experience compared to microphones placed other places. What have you found that works? I haven't found it a great place for a microphone. Sounds better then a piezo pickup maybe, but that isn't a high bar.

 

Your definition of a "great acoustic guitar sound" and mine may vary considerably. I am not judging, just noting a reality.

 

I started playing guitar avidly when I was 13, I've never stopped and I am now 65 years old. I play a variety of acoustic, electric and bass guitars. I love it, it is my joy.

I've been a guitar tech/repair/luthier, an open mic night host, a bar band gigger and a bit of a history buff.

I would highly recommend Deep Blues and Rock and Roll, an Unruly History - both by Robert Palmer (the author not the singer).

 

At the same time, history can inform but now is now and anything goes in my book.

What is important to me is the expression. Is a story being told? That's what I care about when I play and listen.

 

I do consider the guitar in the context of the history of American music, this is what I know and love.

 

There is an early tradition of playing the guitar like you are killing chickens. The player might be performing at a house party, a fish fry or a dive bar - packed with people, no PA system and trying to get something going so people can dance. Pummel away and sing at the top of your lungs!!!!!

Early recordings of blues artists indicate this style, that sort of volume was also needed for the megaphone to vibrate the needle enough to cut a usable groove in the record.

Charley Patton, Son House etc., this is how they are heard now and it is how they were heard then.

The resophonic guitar (Dobro) changed things, it was much louder. Eventually, the piano and technology changed things too. Pianos were loud, if the dive bar had one they could hire a piano player and get a better party started (= sell more drinks) because it is louder.

 

Enter Leo Fender. He made amps at first and then the first factory produced solid body electric guitar. Did he intend for his amps to have all the knobs dimed (early Fenders went to 12 - take that Spinal Tap!!!).

Probably not but that's what players did and it created a new sound. Leo made bigger, louder amps. Dick Dale dimed them. Pete Townshend talked Jim Marshall into building a 100 watt amp and an 8-10" cabinet (later cut down to the 4-12" - the "Marshall Stack"). And Pete dimed those, sometimes several at once. He was certainly not the only one.

 

Back to acoustic guitar. The variations are endless. Types of strings, number of strings, tunings, fingers, picks, bottlenecks. Do some sound great and others not so great?

 

Purely a personal opinion.

 

It is true that a certain sound may suit a particular song or style. It is also possible that many other sounds may suit that particular song or style if the player is sensitive to the story being told.

 

I just finished skimming the George Massenberg forum and among the threads that caught my attention were those regarding how to record acoustic guitar. There are quite a few of those threads and many posts sharing something that worked well for them at that time. There are some classic techniques that will usually work well most of the time and there are all sorts of variations on those techniques.

 

Some of these techniques include tracking the pickup from the guitar. There is a consensus that most undersaddle pieozo pickups have a bit of a nasty transient (if measured as voltage is it quite a spike!!) and usually the B string is too loud. Certainly some do sound much better than others, the B-Band pickups are far less harsh to my ears although they don't really solve the loud B problem.

 

I've also noticed that removing an under-saddle pickup and installing a solid saddle that touches the bottom of the saddle slot will improve the acoustic tone of every acoustic guitar - and I've done quite a few that way.

 

There are under soundboard options, lots of them now. I think K&K might have been the first manufacturer, not positive of that but they do make some of the best sounding acoustic pickups.

The K&K Pro Mini I've installed in my Rainsong has 3 sensors, one goes under the high E string and the other two go inbetween the G/D and the A/E. Moving the high string sensor over solves the loud B problem, it is pretty even (no acoustic guitar can be completely even - the strings are all different and the soundbox resonance, sound hole diameter etc. play a part too).

 

My Rainsong 12 string (WS 3000) has a Fishman system with an under-saddle pickup and a tiny condensor mic up closer to the sound hole. There is a blend knob for those two sounds. I can get a nice sound doing direct with that.

I've also found that nylon string guitars usually sound pretty decent with under-saddle pickups, the strings themselves soften the attack and solve the loud B string problem.

 

Sound hole pickups I've used include the Duncan Maverick, a "lipstick" shaped one that is no longer made, the Mag Mic, and I think I have a Woody laying around here somewhere although it could be one of the Dean Markley ones - they look similar. I've also used an EMG active soundhole pickup which has adjustable pole pieces so the loud B can be solved by adjustment.

 

I have a Shadow and Barcus Berry sound hole pickups but have never gotten around to trying them.

When I mentioned them as an "option", that's because nothing picks up the sweetness of the bass string with the clear definition of a soundhole pickup and blending a bit of that into whatever else you are using might be of benefit. It is a difficult spot to mic, the soundhole. Really easy to get a boomy indistinct sound there with a mic, but a pickup somehow gets a pass.

 

As to mics and mic position - again, variations are truly endless and depend on external circumstances. The room that is available, the tendency of the guitarist to stay still (or more likely, NOT!), the guitar being used and last but not least - the PICK. I have lots of picks, all different shapes and thicknesses. Sometimes all you need to improve the tone of the guitar in the context of your purpose is to change the pick.

 

That's some of what I know, anyway. Cheers, Kuru

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Well, context always matters. There's lots of room for every available choice being the best one in some situation. Live with a PA and I'm mixing? Whatever is in the guitar is what is used without complaint or commentary. Who wants feedback? - my great studio mics are the WRONG answer there. But in the studio? I would use external mics if accurate recording of the acoustic sound was the priority.
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Well, context always matters. There's lots of room for every available choice being the best one in some situation. Live with a PA and I'm mixing? Whatever is in the guitar is what is used without complaint or commentary. Who wants feedback? - my great studio mics are the WRONG answer there. But in the studio? I would use external mics if accurate recording of the acoustic sound was the priority.

 

I fully agree that context matters and that there is room for all sounds - from Keith Richards overloading a cassette recorder to get the acoustic guitar tone for Street Fighting Man to a pure, clean capture of a great guitarist playing a great guitar with great strings on it. There are a few rooms locally that I wish I had access for recording, the room makes a huge difference. So does not having a great room. The same is true with microphones or whatever you use to get your results.

 

If I took down some diffusion/absorption there is one spot inbetween my kitchen and living room that has a crazy flutter echo. Might be great for rockabilly but not if only one thing had it.

 

Craig's OP was about getting his acoustic guitars to sound like they were in the same space as the rest of his tracks, a sensible goal and I get exactly what he means by that.

At the same time, I don't know what that is since I am not there listening to the mix.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Craig's OP was about getting his acoustic guitars to sound like they were in the same space as the rest of his tracks, a sensible goal and I get exactly what he means by that.

At the same time, I don't know what that is since I am not there listening to the mix.

 

My 2020 album project, which will be done soon, is very heavy on synthesizers. Unlike the last several albums, the drums aren't acoustic drum loops, but from electronic drum kits. So the mix sound is direct and upfront. Miking the acoustic guitar put it in the background compared to the electronic sounds, not in terms of level as much as conceptually. So I've been going direct, but using a LOT of processing to get the pickups to sound good.

 

There is one song with a ukulele, but I use a contact mic so it still has that "direct" sound. However, it also goes through a synchronized delay, which gives it an "electronic" sound that makes it fit in better with the synths.

 

I've done lots of classical guitar recordings and of course, always used mics. The last one I did with Nestor Ausqui was in a room that sounded exquisite (and I'm not much of a "oh my room has to be so perfect" kind of guy). Subtle room mics came in super-handy, in addition to the two Gefells on the guitar itself. Frankly I'm surprised at how easily I was converted to totally direct acoustic guitar for the new project, but hey, the ears don't lie.

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Craig's OP was about getting his acoustic guitars to sound like they were in the same space as the rest of his tracks, a sensible goal and I get exactly what he means by that.

At the same time, I don't know what that is since I am not there listening to the mix.

 

My 2020 album project, which will be done soon, is very heavy on synthesizers. Unlike the last several albums, the drums aren't acoustic drum loops, but from electronic drum kits. So the mix sound is direct and upfront. Miking the acoustic guitar put it in the background compared to the electronic sounds, not in terms of level as much as conceptually. So I've been going direct, but using a LOT of processing to get the pickups to sound good.

 

There is one song with a ukulele, but I use a contact mic so it still has that "direct" sound. However, it also goes through a synchronized delay, which gives it an "electronic" sound that makes it fit in better with the synths.

 

I've done lots of classical guitar recordings and of course, always used mics. The last one I did with Nestor Ausqui was in a room that sounded exquisite (and I'm not much of a "oh my room has to be so perfect" kind of guy). Subtle room mics came in super-handy, in addition to the two Gefells on the guitar itself. Frankly I'm surprised at how easily I was converted to totally direct acoustic guitar for the new project, but hey, the ears don't lie.

 

Being flexible is a huge benefit to all Art projects, whatever the media may be. Allowing creativity to flow means trusting one's instincts.

And, acoustic guitars really are pretty weird. How did we get here? We take so many things for granted because we've been around them all of our lives.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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