How to Record an Acoustic Guitar with a Condenser Mic

how to record acoustic guitar with a condensor mic

The way you record your acoustic guitar with a condenser microphone will depend on a few factors, which I’ll talk about first, and then I’ll get more into the mic’ing techniques themselves.

Let’s begin!


First – Does Your Acoustic Guitar Actually Sound Any Good To Begin With?

Be honest, do you think your guitar actually sounds any good as it is?  If you think it does, great, but if you’re not sure, you need to assess this pronto prior to recording.  

If you know someone who has experience with recording who can honestly say that your guitar sounds good without you having to do anything, that’s helpful.  

You’d be amazed how many people think they have a decent sounding guitar but it actually isn’t until they record it that they realize that it sounds terrible, because something is wrong with it.

destroyed acoustic guitar

Having a naturally great-sounding guitar is the first step to having a great sounding recording.


Consider What Kind of Music Are You Recording

Another factor is the kind of music and why you’re capturing that sound for a recording.

If you are hoping to capture a single track of acoustic guitar that will be added to a recording including other instruments, such as electric instruments, you might want a close microphone that picks up the sound without ambience from the room.

Here’s an example of a song I like that incorporates acoustic guitar. You can hear that it fits nicely into the overall sound of the song, which has a string section, and basically a full on rock band rocking out towards the latter half.  

This was all probably done with a condenser mic, I’m guessing, due to the amount of detail and clarity you get out of the guitar.  

Sometimes, you want that close mic’ed sound.  Other times, you might want the ambience and reverb from the room to inform the music.  

The above recording I’d say is somewhere in between.  Capturing all the elements you want might even require – yes, that’s right – TWO mics.  Maybe one condenser, one not.  That’s all well and good, and you can do that too.

Quite often, an acoustic guitar is used as a song’s main rhythm instrument, but not always.

Consider the end product. Are you going to add flute, organ… maybe some stand up bass? Is this song going to have a sitar in it?  What if the sitar and the acoustic guitar are right in the exact same frequency range.  

WHAT THEN??  You can’t always neglect thinking about these things, and expect the producer to fix everything later.  That’s just not sensible.

Keep in mind that condenser mics are going to bring out more details in the sound, so that could mean that the frequency ranges in various instruments might clash more, the more detailed the sound is.

I always ask myself, what would Jimmy Page do?

jimmy page recording acoustic guitar at stargroves


Sound Dispersion

Now you might be wondering why I haven’t specifically talked about placing the mics yet?

Well, there are a number of other considerations I think you need to be aware of first, with another such consideration being sound dispersion through the instrument.

how sound travels through a guitar

In other words, you should understand how the sound gets dispersed.  

The type of acoustic guitar, and the way you play the guitar, will influence the sound as much as how you place the microphone.

What if you’re the producer and this is the guy you’re recording!

The style of the player and the way the sound travels are two things an experienced producer will anticipate, but if you are new to all of this, you might need to think about these things before getting started.  

I mean, if you’re a punk and you don’t care how your recording is going to sound when you’re done, feel free to skim ahead. These days, even punk rockers don’t want to have bad-sounding acoustic-based recordings!  

Right, Tim Armstrong?


Lots to Consider

It helps to put your instrument’s unique characteristics into perspective when thinking about the recording.  

The wood, of course, resonates when you play, your strings are going to vibrate and produce sound, and even the air inside the instrument works in complex ways that can influence the sound out of the sound hole.  

Meanwhile, I must emphasize again that condenser mics are more sensitive to everything.

Ask yourself questions like this:  What kind of wood is it?  How big is the guitar?  The soundboard and bridge of the guitar can influence the vibrations, too.  

Even the freakin’ pick guard is going to affect the overall sound.  Holy dino-balls.  Ultimately, these things will affect microphone placement and it is worth considering before you start.

Take a look at this weird looking acoustic guitar.

weird shaped guitars

The variance in shape and acoustics of different acoustic instruments means you should take a good look at your own guitar and really listen to where the sound is coming from, in relation to how you play.  

Are you a finger picker or do you use a pick?  Is the pick metal or is it plastic?  Is the pick hard or soft?  When you strum, is your hand close to the sound hole or somewhere else?  Overwhelmed yet?  Don’t be.  Just take it slow and be thoughtful.

The sound hole is usually where most people will mic an acoustic guitar, but you might want to capture more than just the sound coming out of that hole – eg. fingers picking, certain sweet spots found elsewhere on the guitar, etc.  

Did I mention condenser mics are sensitive yet?


What Mic(s) to Use?

After making sure you have a tuned instrument as well as a solid understanding of the way your acoustic guitar produces sound, you’re ready to think about your condenser microphone placement situation.

how to record acoustic guitar with a condenser mic

If you choose to go with a close condenser microphone type of set-up, it’s best to find a microphone that can really handle the transients that tend to be fast and the frequencies that tend to be high.  

Awesome brands I recommend include Rode, Neumann, and Audio-Technica.

rode miking acoustic guitarOne of the things to look out for with condenser mics is that they capture such a wide range of frequencies, that it is easy to have too much of one thing.  

Moving the mic an inch one way can mean too much bass, and an inch that way can mean too much treble.

That said, there are many great brands of condenser mic out there which can really do what you want and get you the sound you’re after.

condenser mic acoustic guitar


Watch out for Feedback!

Because condenser mics are so sensitive, you need to be aware of all your levels, if you are the one recording yourself, and you don’t want your input on your mic to be too high.

Feedback and distortion are not your friends in acoustic recordings, and when you record an acoustic with a condenser mic, it is easy to run into both these things very easily.  

With electric guitar, feedback can sound fucking great.  I’m not talking about that kind of feedback.  I’m talking about the kind that will make you go deaf if you’re wearing headphone and potentially ruin your recording.  

See these peaks below?  Not good, not good at all!

bad audio waveform

If you aren’t vigilant (or your producer isn’t), you’ll end up with some gnarly sounds that might require you do a track all over again, or, at least, calls for some editing.

Sometimes, if the inputs are too high, or the guitar is too close to the mic (or both), just touching your guitar can create some crazy-ass feedback, so watch your levels closely.

Check out the mic placement on the image below.  Depending on how the levels are set on the pre-amp, this mic might be too close.  

Alternately, it could sound just fine.  Once you’re in the situation below, you’ll find out soon enough what “too close” means.

best-microphone-for-acoustic-guitars


Microphone Vs. Direct In

Because recording with a mic can be super finicky at times, some producers opt to go with a direct-in approach, since some acoustic guitars have jacks to support feeding into an audio interface directly.  

This is really only an option with certain guitars that are designed to do this.  Normal acoustic guitars can’t do this.  Going direct in, we feel, isn’t necessary if you learn how to mic your instrument properly.

That said, here is a video that demonstrates the difference between using a mic to record your acoustic guitar, versus going direct in.  We’ll preface this video by saying that you will lose valuable audio and warmth if you go direct in.


Back to Close Mic’ing

Right, so you can go direct in if your guitar allows for it, but it’s probably better if you don’t, because you get better sound with a mic anyways.

You may well have to do some experimenting with close mic’ing, which entails finding the right microphone as well as the right positioning.

Start by placing the microphone between the fretboard and the sound hole.  Move the mic about a foot away from the guitar.  This is a good place to start.  

It’ll capture the vibration of the strings being strummed and when they’re picked, and it’s not going to be too close, while being close enough to test your levels.

micing acoustic guitar

In some cases, you’ll want to put the microphone closer – as in just inches away from the sound hole for more bass.

This might call for a mic with a gooseneck, so it can be mounted and moved as needed.

gooseneck condenser mic acoustic guitar


Distance Mic’ing

The further away you get from the guitar, the more the mic is going to pick up the room sound and the guitar sound together.  

Sometimes this is preferable, depending on the sound you’re after.  In this case, you can test to see exactly how much distance you want to hear in your sound.

If you are in a room with crappy acoustics and zero ambience, distance mic’ing is going to sound bad.  If you’re in a room with a cool natural reverb, you might want a bit of that in your recording.  

Like, say, you recorded a song at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  You might want some of that spiritual reverb on your track, right?

st. paul's cathedral


Bass without Boom

As mentioned previously, if you wanted to close mike the guitar, you could place the microphone between the fretboard and the sound hole to capture the bass sounds.

In the video below, you’ll find a demo which is done with a Neumann TLM 102 and 103 to capture the bass without all the deep boominess that will totally mess with your recording.

In this video, the microphone is placed above the sound hole but close to the guitar. It should be angled towards the player’s hand near the hole. That will give you a taste of the bass power without overwhelming the recording with the boom.


Multiple Microphones

As we said near the beginning, there’s nothing wrong with strategically placing a couple different mics to get different sounds. Maybe one at a distance and one close up.  

Try a few different configurations.


Unidirectional Vs. Omnidirectional (Cardioid) Mics

Condenser mics can often be set to pick up just one direction (unidirectional) or multiple (omnidirectional, cardioid), and so this is another consideration you’ll want to think about when mic’ing your acoustic guitar.

It’s hard to say which setting is best, because it depends where your mic is placed, along with distance, etc.  My advice is to play around with the directionality of your mic to see what sounds best.

rode nt2a close up


Conclusion

I hope that this article on how to mic an acoustic guitar with a condenser microphone gives you enough things to think about when you’re about to record.  

There is definitely a lot to consider, and we wish you luck with your recording!  If you want, drop me a comment and let us know if this article helped you in some way.  

Also, feel free to link to your recording. I’d love to hear it!

How To Record An Oboe

how to record an oboe

An oboe is a “bright” sounding, double reed woodwind instrument that is somewhat similar to a clarinet, and most often made from wood.  It plays in the soprano range, and can be found playing either solo or with an ensemble.  

modern oboe

Like any instrument with a lot of character to its sound, it can be tough to record an oboe well, but, with the right mic setup, it shouldn’t pose a problem.  

Today we’ll be discussing how to record an oboe to get the best sound for your recording, regardless of what style of music it is.

How An Oboe Produces Sound

Because it has a bell at the end, you might think that an oboe produces sound strictly out of the its bell, like a horn, but this isn’t exactly the case.  

recording an oboe with a mic

An oboe is designed to produce sound throughout the instrument, including from the sound holes which are covered by metal keys. The bell also produces sound, but, for recording purposes, you’ll want to mic the whole instrument, using a mic that can capture all of its nuances.

Overall, you’re going to get some click-clack from those metal keys as the instrument is played, which is one reason you shouldn’t mic it too close.

Use an Omni-Directional or Hyper-Cardioid Mic

Also, take note that when recording an oboe, you should not aim a single directional mic at the flared bell at the end of an oboe and expect to get an amazing sound. No, it would be more prudent to have an omni-directional or hyper-cardioid mic near the instrument and slightly above it to get the best sound.  

By “near”, you can go back a few feet and we suggest placing the mic slightly overhead so as to capture the fullness of the oboe in the particular room you’re using. 

Testing 1, 2, 3

Always test your sound first.  We recommend doing a variety of sonic tests of your oboe before trying to get your perfect “take”. These tests will include your player playing a few notes, or even up to 30 seconds, and you can record them live, and then adjust the mic after analyzing playback.  After a few trial runs, you’ll get a better idea of where the mic should be placed when you hit “record”. You are looking to find that sweet spot!

how to record an oboe

Watch this video showing a recording engineer working with an oboist to get the best possible sound out of her instrument.  Note the mic placement as well.  There are two mics in use here, including a Rode K2, located about 3-4 feet away, as well as a Neumann KN 183 even further back.

Mic’ing Various Woodwind Instruments

Here is another video showing the mic’ing of various woodwinds, including an oboe.

You will see here that the microphone is placed overhead, and that it is a cardioid microphone so it has extra sensitivity and omni-directional capabilities.  The oboe mic’ing takes place about half way through this video.

Oboe Frequency Range & Ensemble Recording Considerations

As we’ve mentioned in other articles about recording instruments considered to be classical in nature, if you are “building” your sound, eg. one instrument at a time, you’ll want to be aware of the various frequency ranges that you’re recording with your oboe. Ensembles, when recorded all at once, are one thing, but piecing together an ensemble one instrument at a time is quite another thing altogether.

For instance, the entire frequency spectrum is going to fill up quick if you keep adding instruments to it, so you’ll want to make sure that your oboe isn’t taking up valuable space in the ensemble, unless of course it is the lead instrument and you want it to cut through more.

young girl playing oboe

The general range of an oboe is Bb3(233 Hz) to F6(1396.9 Hz).  If you haven’t recorded an oboe before, don’t worry too much about these figures.  Just take a general note of how you want the oboe to fit into your recording, and go from there.

Conclusion

Oboes have been referred to as sounding like ducks if they could sing.  They’re also said to be quite difficult to learn how to play, so, if you are recording oboe, expect that your oboist might be a real pro musician since they’ve probably taken a long time to learn their craft.  If done right, oboes can sound amazing in a recording, whether they’re solo, or part of a group.

young coconut musician

Mixing for Loudness – A Few Helpful Tips

loudest instrument in a mix

To fight or not to fight? 

That’s the question when it comes to the popular “Loudness Wars” that all music producers are familiar with.

If you have no clue what I’m referring to,  it’s the constant dilemma during mixing as whether to push your song’s loudness so high that it losses some of its quality or do you keep it quiet but maintain the track’s distinctive quality?

the loudness wars

Now, whatever horse you’re betting on in this race, you have to agree that some level of loudness is required if your song is ever going to be heard on radio or in the club, especially for contemporary genres such as rock, pop and house.

If you’re a mastering engineer, perhaps you wouldn’t want to mix loud but the client expects it. So how do you achieve those high levels without compromising your great project? Ride along!


How Loud Should Music Be in the Final Mix?

First of all, why is it even important to make your song loud? For starters, while most music players automatically balance the loudness level of all tracks, some don’t.

So if your song is played on such a player, it will seem quieter relative to other commercial tracks.

Secondly, your song may become less popular as most DJs won’t play it in clubs and festivals, owing to its quiet nature. No one wants to play a record that lacks ‘dance-floor energy’.

mixing for loudness

Mixing a Song Properly

In pursuit of a loud but great-sounding mix, this goal must be achieved at the mixing stage during production.

Trying to get the mix louder at the mastering stage often leads to distortion and clipping. Speaking from personal experience, here are some things to pay attention to during the mixing stage of a song:

Leave some headroom during mixing – From what I’ve observed, mixing at high loudness levels usually leads to a mix that has very little room for improvement.

I would recommend somewhere in the neighborhood of -4db. Increasing the loudness will then be easier.

music mix with headroom

Compression – I know this sounds cliché but bear with me for a moment.  Generally when you leave a track with a lot of huge transients, (and the main body of the track is quieter), turning up the volume will almost certainly lead to clipping.

This is especially true for kicks. If you compress the kick first, then turn up the loudness, you lose some punch but your kick sounds louder without clipping.

compressing a kick drum

Pay attention to your loudest instrument – Depending on the genre of your song, some instruments will be louder than others.

In drum and bass for example, the drums take priority. The temptation, especially for new producers, is usually to turn this ‘preferred instrument’s’ loudness up.

Don’t! What you need to do is reduce the loudness of the other instruments, thereby making room for the important stuff.

Every time you push up the loudness of one track, you lose some headroom that you will need later.

Do remember that for an instrument to stand out, everything else has to make room, i.e. be quieter.

loudest instrument in a mix

EQ is your best friend – Most people think that equalization is only use to clean up tracks and stir things up a little.

Most people are wrong! The low end of a mix can rob your track of valuable headroom. This works indirectly.

Most instruments contain low frequencies that aren’t necessary but play a huge part in reducing the loudness. 

But it’s not as simple as cutting off all the low frequencies. Every sound is different and you need to pay very close attention to see what frequency range is the real culprit.

In my experience, 9 out of 10 times the low-mids are usually to blame for lost headroom. I’ll give you an example: You could have a vocal that is most audible at 3 kHz but your lead piano is also getting in the way at this frequency.

EQ-ing the piano by slightly reducing the frequencies at this area will make your vocals sound clearer and louder.

While you have not touched the vocal, this psychoacoustics trick deceives your ears into thinking that your vocal track is now louder.

eqing a vocal mix

Achieving the Final Mix

Okay, now you’ve created a sweet mix that sounds clean and has quite enough headroom. What next?

It becomes a matter of preference. You slowly increase the loudness using compression and then limiting.

NOTE: Always make sure the limiter comes after the compressor in the master chain, for obvious reasons.

For those who don’t know what a compressor does, it simply reduces the loudness of some instruments, while enhancing that of the quieter ones.

The end result is a mix with a smaller dynamic range. Again, compression is a matter of taste.

You, as the producer know how you want your song to sound in the end so play with the compressor until you’re happy with what you hear.

mixing with a limiter

Next comes the limiting. The limiter will then get your mix to the loudness you desire by allowing the peaks you want to cut through (based on your settings) and then cutting off everything else.

Final Thoughts

The ideas we just discussed are not set in stone. Every mix is different as is every producer. My goal is just to give you some ideas and hacks that might come in handy when you hit the studio next.

The loudness war doesn’t seem to be coming to an end soon and I hope you find these tips helpful on your next project.

Also, I’m not really a fan of fancy plug-ins so feel free to explore that if that’s your cup of tea, in your pursuit of a quality yet loud mix.

I’m a minimalist by nature so I don’t believe you need Ozone in your DAW, to create a great track. Nevertheless, apply those tips and see what you can do. Happy producing

DAWs For Home Studios On A Budget – Magix Music Maker Premium Review

magix-music-maker-premium

For the modern musician, the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the hub of any recording setup.

Whatever genre of music you put out, you require a software program that brings together the processes of composing, recording, mixing and mastering your tracks.

There are many who shell out on studio time to have this step taken care of for them, and there are even some who rely on old-school recording techniques – whether for effect or for money-saving – that sometimes even includes analogue equipment.

The rest of us examine our options regarding a DAW to install on our computers so that we can get to grips with these step ourselves.

fl-11-workflow1

Our options are quite varied; typically, we look to Logic if we are Mac users, or we look to Fruity Loops, Pro Tools, Cubase, Reason or Ableton to learn and work in the music making process.

This is fine, as these are the most widely used industry standard programs in the majority of professional studios.

The problem is, Avid’s Pro Tools will cost in the region of $600, while FL Studio, with all the plugins, will cost upwards of $1000.

What bedroom producer, still learning the craft of music production and recording, would risk such a hefty up-front investment in something that might never really take?


Magix Music Maker Premium

To sidestep this problem, I would like to posit an alternative DAW for your consideration: Magix Music Maker Premium.

magix-music-maker-premium

This software comes out swinging in its competition with the heavy hitters, and offers enough features to produce songs that many might find difficult to differentiate from hits made on the more expensive alternatives.

With the inclusion of 12 Soundpools (comprising 8,000 sounds and loops in various musical styles) plus numerous VSTi synths, VST plugins and the capability of running any other VSIs and VSTs you want to install, there is really no limit to what you this program can do.

Feature Pick

Magix Music Maker 2016 Premium

Buy On Amazon

The User Interface

The UI of Magix Music Maker Premium is simplistic and similar in its functionality to that of Logic.

You can place, or draw, blocks of prerecorded sounds or MIDI loops into the on-screen grid, with a summary of basic channel effects and dynamics on the left, and the option of bringing up a more advanced mixing station at the bottom of the screen.

There are a number of built-in channel effects for you to use, including EQ, Compressor, Reverb, Delay, Stereo Enhancement and Filter, with the option of adding up to 2 VST effects to a block, and a further 2 to a channel.

While this limits you to a maximum of 4 plugins to use per channel on the grid, in most cases you will find that this, plus the built-in effects at your disposal, is sufficient for your mixing needs.

Here’s the official Magix video tutorial for the software.  This should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for with this software, if you have 15 minutes to spare.

More Features Of Magix Music Maker

The mixing board can feature up to 99 channels running simultaneously, and includes a master controller with its own dB limiter and built-in mastering suite that has some genuinely strong features.

MIDI composition screens and synth controllers open in mini windows as you activate them, so you can tweak and experiment with the individual controls for them.

The footer window on-screen has a range of tabs to move between virtual instruments, mixer, file browser and Soundpool library.

Everything is intuitive and easy to find, and the features are surprisingly rich.

magix-music-maker-vita-solo-instruments


Upgrading and Longevity

Once you have purchased your software, there is really no reason to ever buy something different. All downloadable VSTs can be run in Magix Music Maker, and there is no limit to how many you can add to the library.

Put it this way: I started out with Magix Music Maker 2013 Premium, and I still use it now as one of my main avenues for recording. With a suitable USB audio interface, you can record through microphone or any electronic instrument, and MIDI controllers are supported as well.

The software runs well, as long as your computer has the necessary processing power to keep up with everything.

Any latency problems that arise can be fixed by tweaking the settings, and the occasional glitch can be fixed by restarting the program (these are very rare).

It is advisable to regularly backup your projects as you work on them, to ensure you don’t lose anything. There is a built-in feature that usually does this anyway, but there is the occasional inexplicable failure of this feature, so it’s best to stay on top of it yourself.

Here’s a sample of what you can do with Magix musically…

Limitations

Earlier I mentioned the restriction to a maximum of 4 external plugins that can be assigned to a single channel. Another glaring limitation of Magix Music Maker is its lack of a buss channel assignment capability – buss channels are completely absent from Magix Music Maker, and this can be problematic for more advanced mixing procedures.

It is possible to improvise your way around this, for example by bouncing 2 or more channels into a single wave file, then applying further effects to that wavs file on a separate channel.

This isn’t ideal, but can be sufficient during mixing. Alternatively, you could look into purchasing the professional Magix program Samplitude, which is a more advanced and rather more costly piece of software that truly does stand alongside the heavy hitters mentioned at the start of this review.


Conclusion

Magix Music Maker Premium, for its price and relatively low profile, is a superb piece of software for beginners to middleweight producers/recording artists.

It is an excellent starting point to learn the craft of music production, and its beautifully simple UI is matched in brilliance only by its impressive upgrading capabilities.

In the long term, its limitations will probably push the most dedicated of musicians to go for its big brother Samplitude, or else one of the other mainstream programs, but with enough dedication you will be able to make professional quality tracks with the low upfront investment Magix requires.

If you are taking your first steps into the music recording world, I highly recommend Magix Music Maker Premium as the perfect DAW to get your feet wet and keep using right up to the point of becoming an advanced music producer and sound engineer.