In my previous blog post I tackled recording drums in the studio. Things get a bit simpler in this post as we look at different guitar recordings. I will be mentioning a few different microphones and other pieces of equipment, some of which I previously mentioned in the drumming blog, but for the sake of simplicity I have listed them below along with their retail prices.
- Sennheiser MD421 – £268 – Dynamic
- Shure SM57 – £79 – Dynamic
- AKG D112 – £99 – Dynamic
- Electro-Voice RE20 – £329 – Dynamic
- Blue Baby Bottle – £291 – Condenser
- AKG C1000 – £99 – Condenser
- Rode NT2A – £229 – Condenser
- Radial Pro-RMP – £85 – Re-amp box
Electric Guitar Recordings and Electric Bass Recordings
Before recording a guitar there are a few procedures that you should go through:
- Consider if you need a new set of strings on your guitar. If they are discoloured or show signs of wear, then you most likely do.
- Check that the intonation and action of the guitar is correct.
- Make sure your guitar is tuned (this is a must)
There are two ways to approach guitar recordings and bass recordings, and these come down to personal preference in sound. The first way is to purely DI, or direct inject, the guitar into the mixing console using a jack cable. This method is simple to record and also allows a lot of possibilities when it comes to editing. This includes being able to use impulse responses from other guitar models and mimic the sound of almost any guitar or amp you like. DI also provides a very clean tone to use as a base for editing. When using this method make sure to use a DI box to avoid an impedance mismatch between the guitar and mixer, particularly on guitars with active pickups. If your guitar requires a battery, then it will be using active pickups.
There is also a best of both worlds way to record guitar and that is through the process of re-amping. Re-amping is when a guitar part is recorded using DI, and then played back through an amp and recorded again. This works by using a re-amping box that takes the output of a mixer and routes the signal through an amp. A great box to use for this is the Radial Pro-RMP listed above. When re-amping, using a combination of three different microphones in different positions on the speaker cone is a good way to experiment. You can also work out what recordings sound right for you.
The diagram on the left, shows the general area of the cone you should aim for with each microphone. Popular spots to try are just off centre from the middle, halfway between the centre and outer ring, and on the outer ring. Marking the outer ring and centre of the cone with tape is useful and saves you time when replacing mics.
Try to experiment with the distance from the amp as well in order to catch more room sound. Often the reason producers re-amp a guitar is to capture the sound of an echo chamber or specific style of room. Note that some of the mics I have listed above are condensers and some are dynamic. Make sure to only try condenser microphones in your guitar recordings, and preferably clean guitar at that. More distorted tones will not sit well with the sensitive diaphragm of a condenser, and leads to clipping in takes. Alternatively, condenser microphones work well to pick up more bass than a dynamic mic.
Acoustic Guitar Recordings and Acoustic Bass Recordings
Things get a bit more traditional when working with acoustic guitar or bass. Whilst many simple guitar parts can be recorded with one microphone, a stereo recording always produces more clarity. It also give you more options with mixing. Condenser microphones are particularly good as they capture more of the high and low end detail, unlike a dynamic.
There are several techniques that you can use to record an acoustic guitar, each producing slightly different results. From Blumlein to Mid-Side to X/Y there are various techniques that can be applied to recording.
If you are using two or three microphones, there are specific areas that will best capture the guitar’s frequencies. The bridge of the guitar, or the sound hole directly, will capture the body and warmth of the instrument, whilst also providing a lot of the bass frequencies for the instrument. This may be the one area of the guitar where a dynamic is suitable to use. At the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, a lot of the highs will be clearer to capture at the headstock or first fret. Finally, there is a sweet spot on a guitar around the 12th fret that will provide the mid range frequencies. If you only have one microphone to use, make sure if you are close-micing to record this spot.
When it comes to placing your guitarist, there are also a few tricks that can be tried and experimented with. If you require a lot more bass in the performance, try having the guitarist face the corner of the room with a microphone behind them to capture the early room reflections. This works with amps as well. Lifting the amp off of the ground or tilting it upwards will also help to prevent phase cancellation.
With bass, a large diaphragm condenser like the NT2A aimed at the bridge of the guitar (experiment by listening) will provide the most well rounded bass sound without losing clarity. In both cases try and prevent the musician from moving around whilst playing, as this will ruin the consistency in any of your guitar recordings.
Recording guitar requires a lot of experimentation, and can take many hours to find a sound you are looking for as a result. This is why preparation is key when recording guitar. Make sure the guitarist knows there parts and has the exact sound they want already arranged. From there only a few tweaks should be needed to capture the sound of the room and give great clarity across the wide tonal range of the guitar.
In the next post I will be covering vocals, from knowing how to deal with the singer’s ego to capturing that perfect vocal take.