Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Acoustic guitar can make a great addition to all sorts of arrangements. But how do you capture this delicate beast? One of my recently mixed songs, "Blue Sunlight" by Scouty, was largely based around this instrument, and from that experience I present to you: 3 of my favorite ways to mic acoustic guitars.
These methods have provided me a variety of interesting tones, and I've even blended recordings using multiple of these techniques to create a very robust guitar sound. I think you'll find them reliable and very helpful in your recording process as you try to capture that perfect acoustic sound.
One thing that you'll notice in all of these mic setups is I'm always using a condenser mic (or two). More often than not it's a small diaphragm condenser, such as the Rode M5, but a large diaphragm can also work. Condenser microphones are known for being crisp, clear and bright, which I find captures the essence of acoustic guitar very well. As always, you are welcome to experiment, sometimes a dynamic mic can make for some interesting darker tones.
1. Single Condenser Mic
This first one is quite an easy setup for those recording at home with minimal equipment. All you need is one microphone, and a large diaphragm vocal mic can work just fine for this.
One of the main principles in positioning your mic is to avoid the direct blast of air from the sound hole. If you were to place the mic directly in front of it, you'd end up with a very muffled sound that's not exactly pleasing to the ear. So you want to be completely out of the way of the sound hole.
My favorite positioning is about 6 to 12 inches directly in front of the 12th fret, with the microphone pointed towards the soundhole (as pictured above). Because of the cardioid pickup pattern of most condenser mics, you're capturing the subtle brightness of the strings coming from the neck, while focusing on the more rounded sound coming from the body of the guitar, and still being out of the way of the soundhole.
I find that for one microphone, you can't beat the balance this setup will get you.
Things to try: Experiment with placing the mic in front of the bridge and pointing towards the soundhole, instead of in front of the 12th fret. Being closer to the body of the guitar, you may find that you like the more boomy low end.
2. Stereo X/Y (or Coincident Pair)
Stereo miking acoustic guitars is a great way to make sure your guitar sounds wide and full from the get-go.
Miking an acoustic guitar with an X/Y approach usually requires a matched pair of small diaphragm condenser mics, placed at a 90° angle with each other.
There are a couple of great reasons to choose this mic positioning:
I personally love how a stereo miked acoustic sounds. It in every way surpasses mono in my book. The width and fullness of the sound makes you feel like you're standing right in front of it, with all its beautiful nuances.
Because the diaphragms are right on top of each other, you avoid phasing issues that can often come with stereo miking. While the mics are aimed at different parts of the guitar, the sound arrives at both mics at the same time, which keeps everything copacetic in the mixing world 👌🏼
Placing the X/Y pair follows the same principles as placing a single mic: Avoid being directly in front of the soundhole, and I find that in front of the 12th fret works best, though I usually place this setup a little bit further from the guitar.
Things to try: Same as before, experiment with placement! In certain situations I really liked the sound I got from placing the pair near the bridge.
3. Spaced Pair
This is a great way to create a very wide stereo image of your guitar, though it comes with a few risks. (However, as we know, great risk can yield great reward.)
There are two dangers in particular to be aware of:
Certain placements can cause the left and right to sound extremely different from each other, to the point that they don't sound very good as one stereo track. Not to say those tracks couldn't be used, but it's just something to be aware of.
The second issue is phasing. As discussed in the drum section of my post Essentials for Editing Your Multitrack, if the phase of two stereo miked tracks is not aligned, it can negatively impact the sound. This happens when the same sound reaches two mics at different times.
Both of these issues can usually be avoided by following the 3:1 rule:
The distance between two microphones should be at least three times the distance between the microphone and the source.
So if I have one mic six inches from the 12th fret, the other mic should be at least 18 inches away from the first one. This should prevent any phase issues, and keep your guitar sounding as it should.
My favorite way to use a spaced pair is with mic A about 6 inches from the 12th fret (detecting a pattern yet?), and mic B a bit further back and towards the body, at least 18 inches from mic A.
Things to try: Play around with using one small- and one large-diaphragm mic! A common technique is to use a small diaphragm close to the guitar, such as in front of the 12th fret, while the large diaphragm hangs back and captures more of the room tone. This can provide some interesting options when it comes to mixing.
Comment below if you have a particular way you like to mic your guitars, and let me know what you'd like to see from this blog in the future!
If you’re looking for a mixing engineer for a future project, request a free quote from me to learn more about how I can take your music to the next level!