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Mic tips for acoustic guitar?

Discussion in 'Guitars' started by erockerboy, Dec 12, 2001.

  1. erockerboy

    erockerboy Guest

    I'm still not satisfied with the acoustic guitar sounds I've been able to capture. How do you guys get a nice "primary" guitar take, with some stereo presence to it, while avoiding boominess and phasing problems?

    FYI, I'm doing a lot of R&B records where guys are asking for a very forward, present guitar sound... "like the Craig David record" or "like the Babyface record".

    Most of the time I use any of a handful of local session players. Depending on what the tune calls for, the part can be either fingered or picked, nylon or steel string. The player and instrument almost always sound quite good in the room. Getting "that sound" thru the mics, of course, is a challenge.

    The problem I'm having is: getting a nice dimensional stereo thing happening, without all kinds of weird phasy sh*t that I end up trippin' on later. Mono sounds are a lot easier to get; usually I can grab a TLM103 or KM184 or something, and get something usable by moving the mic around. Multiple mics are a lot trickier for me. I've experimented with an XY pair of KM184's, coming down from behind and over the player's shoulder. I've tried getting in close with a LD condenser and using a KM184 as more of a "distant" mic. Oftentimes I'll get a sound that is pleasing in stereo, but turns into phase hell in mono.

    I also find it difficult to get sounds that I like without using EQ, especially on the low and low-mid boominess that you get when using a LD condenser in close to the soundboard. I like the "presence" of close-micing, but the boominess can be a real problem. Using a small diaphragm mic mitigates this somewhat, but my KM184's can get strident when they're close in.

    Any thoughts? Do you guys more often use single or multiple mics on acoustic guitar? Any tips on placement?

    Thanks in advance...
  2. Bear's Gone Fission

    Bear's Gone Fission Active Member

    Jan 4, 2001
    I'd try one of two things. Either go with a M-S array, with your well placed mono mic providing the center image and a figure eight behind it giving the side information, or go for a three mic array. Again, your mono mic is your center image, then figure out how to grab stereo information that helps the first mic and giving a bigger sense of space. Aren't "Decca trees" a three mic thing? That might be a starting point. The "over-the-shoulder" technique always seemed mono to me, as it's basically a way to grab the whole, balanced and blended sound of the instrument in one spot, but what do I know. I'd figure for the l-r mics you'd want a taste of how the guitar radiates differently to the player's left and right.

    Good luck, and let us know if you get the sound and how you did it.

  3. ckevperry

    ckevperry Active Member

    Nov 7, 2001
    2 things you didn't mention..

    With a good room you can back off more and preserve the tone to keep that 184 from being strident.

    And your preamp can help the color a lot. A focusrite red gives great sparkle, a Great river is just solid all around, a buzz audio is very forward and jumps off the speaker...and so on.
  4. sign

    sign Guest

    Try an ORTF pair of 184's or 451's

    Good luck!
  5. erockerboy

    erockerboy Guest

    Thanks for the suggestions guys.

    WIth regard to Decca Tree or "ORTF" setups... aren't those kinds of config's designed for recording large ensembles in a big hall? i.e., your basic classical recording setup. I'm not really going for that.... I'm looking for a very forward, present guitar tone with some stereo-ization to it, but without a lot of room ambience. IIRC, the wide spacings used with the Decca and ORTF setups are intended to get wide coverage across a large ensemble, while capturing plenty of room ambience as well.

    Bear, have you ever tried M-S on acoustic? The M-S thing I've always found intriguing, but I don't have a figure 8 mic in my arsenal right now. I've always wanted to try this, though. Can anyone report on the effectiveness of M-S on acoustic guitar in your experience?

    Kevin, I agree that pre's can make a huge diff, and frankly I don't have a mic pre in my rig right now that I am lovin' on acoustic. I've got Manley, Focusrite and 1073 pre's to play with right now, of which only the Focusrite really gives me the kind of "forward" tone that I'm looking for on acoustic. I'm tempted to pick up a 2 channel Hardy or Great River unit to fill the gap. Whaddya think?

    I have a session today and will play around some more. Thanks for the tips all!
  6. ckevperry

    ckevperry Active Member

    Nov 7, 2001
    Never tried a hardy...but the GR is great on most everything. Hi's to lows it is just solid. All you will hear is the mic with it...Your right, the manley and 1073 are too soft for acoustic.

    The Buzz audio pre is my other favorite acoustic preamp. Good for anything you want in your face..
  7. mapostel

    mapostel Guest

    WIth regard to Decca Tree or "ORTF" setups... aren't those kinds of config's designed for recording large ensembles in a big hall? i.e., your basic classical recording setup. I'm not really going for that.... I'm looking for a very forward, present guitar tone with some stereo-ization to it, but without a lot of room ambience. IIRC, the wide spacings used with the Decca and ORTF setups are intended to get wide coverage across a large ensemble, while capturing plenty of room ambience as well.
    The spacing of ORTF has not much to do with the width of the actual ensemble. The spacing is in order to capture interaural time differencies to "simulate" stereo perceiption. If you have an ORTF close to the guitar you will capture about the same amount of ambience as with a single mic. Your guitar will sound "unnaturally" wide but that may be what you are after.
    Enjoy your session ! :)

  8. crazy_guitar

    crazy_guitar Guest

    Well if you want a little bit of stereo image, but dont want a lot of room ambience, try using a really short delay (around 40ms) almost at the same level as the original signal, and try different levels on the delay. R&B recordings do this a lot. Makes the sound clear and upfront.

  9. Ang1970

    Ang1970 Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Joz, you forgot to mention panning the 2 signals. You could pan them to whatever degree gives the desired spread. But at 40ms it might get a bit "nervous" like a slap-back type echo. I usually start with the delay at 1ms, both sides panned hard L/R, and increase the delay to get the desired width. I usually don't need more than about 15-20ms. End up with 10-11ms most of the time.

    That said, I'm all for XY pair positioned a couple feet away in a well controlled room.
  10. Bear's Gone Fission

    Bear's Gone Fission Active Member

    Jan 4, 2001
    I don't own a figure-eight mic, so not much M-S for me. I believe you can fake it with two cardioid mics, though, each facing exactly opposite the other. Shouldn't need much of a matrix, if any, but lining up the mics for maximum mono phase coherency could be a pain. The beauty of M-S here is that it's supporting a mono mic sound you already like and just spatializing it.

  11. Ang1970

    Ang1970 Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    If you do use cardioid, you may want to angle them so there is less intersection of the patterns on the side near the sound source, and more intersection on the opposite side of the M mic.
    Kind of like a XY, but in reverse, or aimed away from the sound source. The more intersection with the M mic, the more the out of phase mic will "push" the M signal to the opposite side.
  12. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    .....the 'over the shoulder' with any good quality smallcapsule condenser and another at the 12th fret in close with a large diaphram 'out front' and mixed as the 'center' of the two others in wide-panned stereo seems to work for me.....also get a damn good acoustic...my taylor and the old gibson j-45 work real good.... :cool:
  13. Jon Atack

    Jon Atack Guest

    An XY or AB pair of 451s, KM84s, 414s, M149s or U87s with a quality stereo pre, a good player, fresh strings, in a good space usually works fine for me.

    I typically start with a XY pair about 18-24 inches out. It's worth spending a couple of minutes to find the right distance and position. Too close and it's boomy and needs too much EQ. Too far away and there's not enough signal/presence, and too much ambiance. Finding the best angle between the mics and the guitar makes a diff, too. Move quickly, and once you've found it, try to get the track down in a quick take or two.

    When mixing acoustic guitars in a busy R&B or pop track, don't hesitate to use high pass filtering from, say, 160Hz-320Hz on down.

  14. RecorderMan

    RecorderMan Distinguished Member

    Mar 28, 2001
    This doesn't cover the stereo aspect...but...if you want an amazing, punchy Agtr, with lot's of body, not boomy and definition try this:

    Use a sm57 about 8"-12" +or- from the sound hole; on the top side of the sound hole. Use some headphones and make it's final position based upon how much string/body ballance you want. Run into your 1073 and if you've got one...an 1176. Now to tape. The sm57 mimimizes the boom,enhances them mids(basically what an Agtr is anyway,"mid's") and allows you to add a bit of top from the 1073 (If you need it). Sounds lo-fi, but I have been able to blow quite a few skeptics away with the ol' sm57 & a Neve/1176.
  15. I've got some acoustic guitar sounds I'm very happy with in the following way.

    - put brand spanking new strings on the guitar. Seriously, old strings will make more difference than any mics or mic technique. From my experience acoustic strings start loosing their sheen quickly and after about a week probably aren't worth recording if the acoustic guitar plays any kind of upfront presence in a song.
    - Take a large diaphragm condensor and point at the 12-15th fret from about 6 inches away. This will be more "sparkly" flavor of the acoustic. I used a TLM103. Take an SM57 and capture the box, normally pointing it behind the soundhole somewhere. be careful to not get too much strumming noise on this second mic. I happened to use an SM57 on the takes I really liked, but I think the real flavor comes from the TLM103.
    - Once the mics are place relatively in position, give the player the headphones and have him or her move around subtly until they recognize where the "sweet spot" for the mic setup is. Seriously, leaning an inch or two forward/sideways is all the difference in the world.

  16. drumsound

    drumsound Active Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Bloomington, IL
    I get great results with small diaphragm mics in XY. I put them around the 18th fret, which minimizes boom. I go 8-12" for the guitar and I get a very present big acoustic sound. I totally agree about strings. Within a day or two on the guitar is best. Great River pre sounds great on acoustic, but I just did a record where I used the console pres with this set-up and it opens up the whole band. I usually use AT Pro37R or Shure SM81. The AT is more present; the Sm81 is a little warmer.

    If you want a more Jimmy Page sound, go mono and use a slower compressor. The over the shoulder, Chet Atkins thing is good for this. If I'm going mono, I will often move the mic to different spots on a song to song basis.

    Have Fun and good luck!
  17. RandomGuest

    RandomGuest Guest

    Feb 10, 2001
    I had a good experience with a vintage C24 once...

    I often use one output of my Royer SF12 for mono acc.

    Never tried MS, dumb I know, must get round to that soon..

    I like wearing headphones when aranging the mic, I suppose you could do that too with 2 mic's.

  18. irushant

    irushant Guest

    If isolation isn't a big deal, you might want to consider trying omnis. Finding the stereo image you're looking for might be a bit of a placement task but you can get some presence without the boominess of cardioid proximity. KM183s would do nicely; or, if you want more beef, a larger diaphragm omni in front of the sound hole and a small diaphragm @ the 12th fret. Needs a friendly room and absolutely no competition, but the sound can be both present and very natural.

    Just a thought.

  19. erockerboy

    erockerboy Guest

    Holy cow... some great info up there!

    Thanks for all the tips guys. During my gtr session the other day, I messed around with some alternate mic spacings but ultimately came back to the XY pair of KM184's. I dunno, gonna need some more foolin' around to figure out the whole phasing thing. Some very useful looking tips in this thread, however. Look forward to trying 'em out! Thanks again!

    Kev, I took your advice and am auditioning one of those 2-ch Buzz Audio mic pre's. Sounds pretty damn excellent. Very 'forward' and transparent. As usual, I am fairly stunned by the drastic diff's in tone that accompany different pre's. The Buzz is definitely a different beastie compared to my 'warmer/fuzzier' Manley's and 1073's. It always surprises me how dramatic a difference you get, 'just' by switching pre's. Highly educational.

    Will try out some of the above techniques and report back. Thx again all!
  20. Just caught up with this thread.I'm currently working on a project using M-S for acoustic Guitar.I'm using a Rode NTK as the centre,about 16 inches out from 12th fret-ish,and a jm478 as the figure 8.I needed to muck about with the room a bit,but it works great solo and in the mix,and of course no phase problems whatsoever.As always,the guitar and the player are the most important elements.I use this arrangement increasingly for percussion and also some backing vocals.Its very real.
    Regards,Dave Lewis.

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