5 Tips for a Great Acoustic Guitar Recording

I wrote this article for the Revolution Audio newsletter. You may find it useful.

5 Tips for a Great Acoustic Guitar Recording

Here are 5 tips for getting great acoustic guitar recordings in your home studio.

1 – Guitar Selection: Every brand and style of guitar has a different sound. Yamaha or Martin, a full size Dreadnought or a smaller Parlor style. They all sound different, your favorite or most expensive guitar may not be the best for every situation. Having a few choices available will help you get a lot closer to the sound that’s right for any song.

2 – Tuning and New strings: It’s very simple but often overlooked. Before an important recording session, put new strings on your guitar. Before every take make sure it’s perfectly tuned. If you use a capo remember to compensate with your tuning.

3 – Listening: Instead of just putting the mic where you think it will sound good, actually get up and walk around and listen to the tonal changes in each part of the guitar. When you find a favorite spot, put your mic there. This is a great starting point for a mono (single mic) recording as well as a good warm-up for your ears. If the song calls for a stereo acoustic guitar part, you still need to find the sweet spot for the mics. How high or low, close or far, you don’t know until you take the time to listen.

4 – Mic Choices and Position: In the studio it is unlikely you will prefer the sound of a dynamic mic on acoustic guitar compared to a condenser, but if you’ve never heard it, by all means try it, try all your mics. Large diaphragm condensers and small diaphragm condensers are the most common choices for acoustic guitar recording. Again, listen to the differences between mics and where you place them. The closer the mic is to the instrument the more ‘Proximity Effect’ (an exaggerated low frequency boost in the mic) there will be. Avoid using mics that might exaggerate lows, mids or highs in an already too dark, middy or bright guitar. Pick a mic that complements or balances the sound, dark mic on a too bright guitar for example.

5 – Processing: After you’ve done your best capturing the guitar right, you still may need to do some work to get it playing nice with all the instruments. In the mix you’ll usually need a bit of processing to make room for other instruments, control dynamics, among other things. Generally you need to: cut the very low frequencies, shape the mids to make room for vocals, compress a few dB to even out the performance and add a little reverb to give it space.


Microphone Failures

I saw this on a forum yesterday, someone found a craigslist ad selling a Rode NT1A with this picture. If this was the way he was using it, no wonder he’s selling it, the mic is really not going to sound good in that position.

Here are some other epic microphone failures.


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The History of the Shure SM57

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Granka of Fresh Produce Productions. Find him online at www.freshaudio.ca and @gmgranka on Twitter.

Wouldn’t it be lame if I said, “The history of the Shure SM57 is the history of rock and roll itself”? It’s a good thing I’m not saying that.

The Shure SM57 is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) microphones in the world. Virtually everybody that has heard a recording since 1965 has heard the sound of an SM57; on snare drums, on guitar cabinets, and on the Presidential Podium (that recording of Nixon saying “I am not crook.” was recorded by the SM57). So how did this cheap little microphone become so prolific? Let’s take a look at where it came from:

Before 1965, Shure had already made quite a name for itself in the audio industry. It was the most popular maker of cartridges for record players and had found microphone success in everything from securing the contract though making throat microphones for the US Air Force (allowing pilots to speak to each other over the roar of engines) to miking the man who brought rock and roll to mainstream America: Mr Elvis Presley.

The microphone that was often connected to Elvis was the Shure Model 55. This mic garnered acclaim because of it’s awesome-stupendous art-deco styling, its affordability  (ribbons were the predominant microphone type at the time), and its excellent sounding capsule: the Unidyne (developed by Ben Bauer in 1939). Engineers at Shure continued to develop their successful Unidyne capsule to make it better and better as time went by. Eventually a grumpy/ingenious engineer named Ernie Seeler developed the Unidyne III capsule, the very one used in the modern SM57 today. This capsule first found itself in the Shure Model 545, a microphone that looked veeeeeery similar to the SM57.

The Model 545 was pretty successful because of its great sound and its ground-breaking end-address capsule. Prior to the 545, microphones were more prone to feedback and less accommodating to close-miking because the capsule didn’t get right up against the sound source. This allowed more ambient noise to enter the recording. The 545 found itself in a lot of US studios, again because of it’s low price and superior rejection.  The Model 545 was most notably used on Brian Wilson’s voice on a little album called Pet Sounds to track his voice separately while recording vocals shoulder-to-shoulder with the Beach Boys.

Meanwhile, back at Shure Brothers Incorporated, the crazy engineers kept trying to improve upon the 545. Television was becoming a big thing, so they decided they would build a mic for this demographic.

They already had an excellent capsule, but they needed a microphone casing that would withstand the rigors of TV studios. So they did what any 11-year-old child would do and tried out their designs by cooking them, dropping them, and immersing them in salt water. Once they had a superhero microphone that survived the tests, they gave its body (same as 545) a non-reflective coating for the cameras, and removed the on-and-off switch (you don’t want pesky talent accidentally turning off their mics). In 1965, when the uncreative naming people at Shure affixed an SM to the model name to indicate that it was a studio microphone, they were referring to TV studios.

Eventually word of this microphone’s infamous durability traveled into the burgeoning live sound industry, and techs starting bring along these trusty little mics. Studio engineers loved them too, not only because they sounded good, but also because they had extremely high SPL ratings. This meant that  they could use these mics to get the sound that was becoming increasingly popular: close miking.

There you have it: the indisputable history of the Shure SM57. Tell your friends.

The Shure SM57; the classiest thing in this photograph.

Sources:

Shure Incorporated Official Website
Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Beatles – Geoff Emerick
Wouldn’t It Be Nice: Brian Wilson and the Making of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds – Charles L Granata


Phantom Power and Ribbon Mics

Jon Ulrigg of Shinybox Ribbon microphones has posted a quick tutorial video about phantom power and ribbon mics, a subject of of much debate and speculation. Jon makes it all crystal clear.

Check it out!

DIY Subkick microphone

This is an old, but very effective trick for miking kick drums. Take a Yamaha NS10 speaker cone and use that to capture the extra low frequencies of the drum. Without going into too much theory about this, a dynamic microphone and a speaker are essentially the same thing, they are both transducers. They take acoustical energy and convert it into electrical energy or vice versa.

Yamaha Subkick microphone

So what you do is take the speaker out of the box, solder a male XLR plug on a short cable to the speaker terminals. Pin 2 goes to (+) and Pin 1 goes to (-) pin 3 is not used. The matter of mounting this speaker to a stand is a different matter, this is the main reason to go buy the Yamaha Subkick microphone, because of it’s great, easy to use mounting system, that and its also more durable likely than the home version. One way to do it is to take a standard mic clip apart and fitting the slotted part securely to the corner mounting holes of the speaker, that is if the speaker you are using has the 4 corners and not just holes drilled just around the cone [square not a circle]. Or you can attach it to a microphone boom or goose-neck permanently.

The output of the subkick is very hot, meaning you are going to have to attenuate the signal for it to be of any use to you. An inline -20dB pad, a pad at the mic pre, or one built into the mic will need to be used. This guy used a 10k Ohm in series with pin 2 and a 1k Ohm resister across pins 1 and 2 to drop the output about 20dB.

Mic placement: These work really well at the edge of the drum parallel to the skin. Try it under a floor tom too.

Why the NS10? Most time you see these in a studio it will be with an NS10 cone, but why? From what I’ve been told it is because there are usually extra NS10s lying around a studio, all studios had NS10s, you could predict how it would sound, and they have a frequency response that works well. Don’t know how much truth there is to that. You can use any speaker you want, it will obviously make a difference in the sound.

Finally, here is a picture I took of one of the two diy subkicks at Metalworks Studios. Note mounting, placement, and inline pad.

DIY Subkick with NS10 woofer and inline pad