Acoustic Guitar and Vocals - Three Foolproof Techniques
Acoustic guitar can be a complex instrument to record. Mic placement alone can completely change the tone of the guitar and the feeling of the recording. Throw in a vocal at the same time, and your sound can quickly fall to pieces if you’re not sure what you’re doing. In this blog post I want to share three foolproof techniques for recording acoustic guitar and vocals at the same time, perfect for cover videos, live streams or even your next EP if it captures the right vibe.
The simplest method (on paper) is to use one microphone to capture both your guitar and vocal. This is great if you’ve only got a limited setup, if you’re aiming for a more old school sound on the recording or if you simply enjoy taking the minimalist approach. However, because you’re trying to pick up both sound sources with one mic, you will need to experiment with the positioning to get the perfect blend of guitar and vocal.
With this technique, you need to imagine the microphone is glued to two axes. Use the vertical axis to adjust the balance between the vocal and guitar. Use the horizontal axis (backwards and forwards) to add or take away room sound. Go too close and both guitar and vocal may start missing the microphone, sounding dull or too bassy. Move it too far away, and you’ll start to hear too much room sound, losing intimacy.
It’s worth noting that with this method, there is always a compromise. It’s a bit of a balancing act, so you probably won’t be able to pick up the very best of the vocal, or the guitar. That said, it is a great method for recording simple demos or anything that calls for more of a “live” sound.
One Microphone and a DI
The second technique, and perhaps the easiest, is to use a microphone on your vocal and (if you have an electro-acoustic) the direct jack output from your guitar. With this technique, you will get a great vocal sound, with a small amount of bleed from the guitar and a crystal clear guitar sound, with no bleed at all. This works well if you need to put lots of effects, like reverb, on the guitar, but not the voice.
The set up is simple. With the microphone, you can focus entirely on the vocal. Check out my blog post on recording amazing vocals at home for some tips on that! If you’re hearing too much bleed from the guitar in the vocal microphone, tilt it up slightly, so the sound from the guitar is hitting the back of the mic more than the front.
The biggest compromise here is that the DI guitar track is never going to sound as nice as a mic’d up guitar. It always sounds very unnatural and harsh to me. You can aid this by adding a small amount of room reverb to put it in a more realistic space or by picking up a bit more guitar with your microphone and blending the DI in subtly for some more definition. (sort of a halfway point between this and the one microphone technique)
The two microphone technique requires the most gear, and can be a bit harder to set up, but in my opinion the results are well worth it. This technique is all about using the pickup pattern of the mics to your advantage. Most microphones have a cardioid pickup pattern, meaning they reject sound from the back, and pick it up at the front. Think of them as torches (or flashlights). The area where the light shines is where it picks up sound, and in the area where light doesn’t shine the sound is quieter.
Using this we can reject the vocal from the guitar mic by having it slightly higher than normal, pointing down at the guitar. Then, we can reject the guitar from the vocal microphone by angling it up, from below your chin, therefore pointing away from the guitar. Both microphones should be fairly close to each sound source. The further away they are, the more bleed you will pick up.
For the vocals, I’d recommend a dynamic mic, like an SM57 or SM58, because it will reject the guitar a bit better. For the guitar, a large diaphragm condenser mic would be better, because it can pick up the intricacies of the instrument really well. That said, if you have different microphones, try them out and find what works best in your room, with your voice and your guitar, it may be different!
This technique gives you some great control over the guitar sound. Start with the mic about 8 inches away from the instrument, facing the point at which the neck joins the body. Rotate the mic in the direction of the sound hole for more bass and less fret noise, or rotate towards the neck to reduce boominess and pick up more intricate play styles.
As with everything in music, these techniques aren’t set in stone. Use them as starting points and experiment with positioning to find what works best for you! If you need any help just email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.