This is in response to Gabriel O’Brien’s article in Wood&Steel [Vol. 98 / Issue 3], “An Introduction to Recording Acoustic Guitar.” The excellent article aptly shows the tried-and-true method of placing a cardioid mic about 12 inches from the top, pointing a touch off the hole. One can always expect excellent, natural-sounding results from this single-channel (mono) capture.
For a “stereo” method, the article briefly mentions the possibility of using an XY pattern, but I find that XY still captures the instrument more or less in mono (even when the channels are fully spread, the guitar appears compactly centered), while providing a broad “stereo” spread of the acoustic environment around the guitar. Nice! But…
Years ago, I pioneered a two-mic acoustic guitar recording technique that provides two distinct-sounding channels that can be very effective in a mix:
Mic 1, which can actually be pointed a few frets back from the end of the fingerboard, picks up what I would call a “scooped” sound — lots of bottom and a bright, stringy top, but not much “meaty” midrange.
Mic 2, pointed near the center of the lower bout, picks up very little bass and absolutely no stringy treble, but effectively captures the meaty midrange of the instrument — thus filling in the spectral range that is missing from the Mic 1 signal.
As such, the two channels allow for a range of interesting mixing or blending options, such as:
- Spreading the sounds of the guitar widely across the stereo speakers
- Enhanced adjustment of tonal balance to suit a given orchestration, etc.
Because the mics point to different sources of radiation from the top, the signals do not interact in a way to cause a lot of phase cancellation when summed to mono.
Just thought I’d share.
Gabriel replies: Thanks so much for your thoughts, Larry. I mentioned coincident XY recording as a popular approach to acoustic guitar with multiple microphones in the same way that I’d mention ORTF or a spaced pair, like what you’re describing. You’re correct in that it’s not particularly “stereo sounding.” I assume many use XY because it simulates human hearing. However, my goal when recording guitars is circumstantial. For studio work, I’m usually trying to seat something in a larger mix. For video content, I’m usually trying to give listeners my impression of what the guitar sounds like to the player so the listener can determine whether that’s a guitar they’d like to try out in a store and possibly own — an important distinction — and to show what a guitar can do. In the studio, for solo guitar or singer-songwriter setups where acoustic guitar is the main instrument, I often use two to three microphones. I’ll usually start with the first in the position I previously mentioned: about 12 inches from the treble side of the upper bout. When adding a second microphone, I often place it shoulder-high to the player’s strumming arm, angled slightly down toward the bridge from three to four feet away, thus obeying the three-to-one rule. I’ll go into more depth in a future article, but for now, thanks again for sharing your experience. I look forward to trying out the technique you suggested.