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Classical guitar Recording questions

A friend of mine is going to let me record my classical guitar in a special place at his house. He created a CMU masonry block castle 40’ tall. The castle at the bottom is 8’ diameter. He cut a door into the bottom and you can go into the belly of the castle. On the inside the castle belly is like a rounded ball with a hole in the top with a 3’ wide round opening going up to the top of the castle. My classical guitar when played in this chamber has the most unbelievable natural reverb and tone I have ever heard.

I have an opportunity to record in this chamber the weekend after Thanksgiving. I have 2 recording guys that offer me 2 ways to record:

1. The first wants to used digital recording. He has some $1,500 German mic to put at the top of the chamber and a directional mic for being in front of me.

2. The second wants to use a Tascam tape recorder and has some Sure mics.

If we use tape I will go to digital eventually as their will be editing involved no doubt.

Based on this scenario, what is recommended to get the best recording of my guitar?


Boswell Mon, 11/17/2014 - 02:46
Don't automatically equate a good recording acoustic with an echoey sound you like to hear when performing - the two can be at odds with one another. In fact, highly reverberant acoustics are some of the most difficult places to make recordings that play well on a CD in your living room. That said, there is some mileage in getting a performer into his comfort zone so he can give of his best, a bit like singing in the bath.

This is all about choice and positioning of microphones - the actual method used for recording is immaterial here, as long as it's of a good standard. It's certain that you need either one or two directional small diaphragm condenser microphones close (8" - 12") to the guitar to get the detail of the sound before it gets lost in the wash. After that, a pair of omni microphones positioned a few feet futher back to collect the ambient acoustic would be enough, although it will take a fair amount of experimentation to get an adequate placement for these. I would strongly caution against putting microphones "at the top of the chamber", as no matter how pretty you think the effect is when performing, mixing the output from them with the close sound from the guitar is a recipe for mud.

The secret when it comes to mixing is to get the best sound from just the two close microphones panned slightly apart, and then to bring up the A-B spaced omnis sufficiently that you are aware of their sound. You then reduce the contribution from the omni pair so that it's there but you can't hear it. That's not a tautology, it's advice.

Boswell Mon, 11/17/2014 - 09:50
You mentioned in your first post that you had the option of recording either digitally or to a Tascam analog tape machine of some sort. Depending on the quality of the equipment, you would normally be better going with a digital recording, as it should have lower noise levels.

The problem may be that, irrespective of the noise, lower quality digital gear could well give a worse recorded performance sound than a Tascam analog tape recorder, so there is no hard and fast rule. Tell us what the actual proposed pieces of gear are (including the microphones), and I'm sure there will be several replies offering a range of opinions on which you should use and how you should use it.

Incidentally, I have used a [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]Zoom H4N[/]="…"]Zoom H4N[/] quite successfully for acoustic guitar recording where in that case I was limited in what I could take to the session by what I could carry on public transport. The H4N was positioned close to the instrument on a camera tripod and a pair of ambient microphones on stands were placed about 6ft away. I mixed the 4 tracks later to give results that, although they did not match what could have been achieved in a studio, the performer was nevertheless very pleased with. I should add that the acoustic of that venue was good, and the naturalness was well preserved in the result.

As another tip, you will need to borrow or take along a thick-ish rug or mat that you can place on the floor under the performer and instrument, reaching out as far as the near microphones. This will cut down on floor reflections, the number one enemy in acoustic guitar recording.

anonymous Wed, 11/19/2014 - 06:41
IMO, this is going to rely more on mics and mic placement than format. I would agree with Bos and say that, if you are ultimately going to end up in digital, then probably you're best off to start with digital.. but, there are a lot of factors to that - which is why I said "probably".

Mics and mic placement will be more crucial here - IMO - and there are many options to look at in respect to this.

If it were me - and you are convinced that you don't want to use artificial reverb - ( and I'm just kinda thinking out loud here) - I would probably approach this recording in a similar manner as I would in recording a performance in a concert hall (with nice acoustics)... finding "the sweet spots" of the room, using various single and multiple mic placements, with various paterns (cardioid, Fig 8, Omni, etc) until you found a balance that you like. I would most certainly bus these mics to their own discreet inputs and tracks, but, I would also bus all of them to one stereo track as well, to see how they all sound together.

Monitoring in mono will go a long way in helping you find phase issues that are related to mics being in too close of a proximity to each other.

Here's the thing, though... you have to take into account that there are other parts of the sound of the space than just the reverberation that you like. Not knowing anything about the room - other than you saying that you love the reverb - all I can say is that there may be other factors at play here, and the very real possibility that there are some negative parameters that you might end up dealing with... things like phase issues, standing waves in certain lower frequencies, null points in the room, hyped upper-end issues like flutter echo, ringing, etc.

Remember that you are only hearing the space from where you are sitting. You aren't able to hear what's really going on in other areas of the space - like the ceiling, the dome you mentioned, etc.

Another thing to consider - I think that sometimes, we get caught up in the aesthetic "cool factor" of the location (I mean, who wouldn't like to say that they recorded in a castle, or The Sistine Chapel, or Winchester Cathedral, right? Because it's a cool thing to list in the album liner notes... ;) )

But in reality, there could be many problems that you might end up dealing with in situations like these.

I guess what I'm saying, is that you might want to at least consider recording this performance in a well-balanced studio environment, using nice mics (and nice preamps!) and then, add your space, depth and overall ambiance digitally, after the fact.

There are some gorgeous sounding digital reverb units out there that would likely make you think "wow!" after hearing them: Models from manufacturers like Bricasti, Lexicon, and TC Electronics, who all make some wonderful sounding reverb creators. And, there's always the convolution option, too - where you can load mathematical impulse files of reverberation from various well-known reverb processors, as well as from actual locations:

If you are bound and determined to use this space, then mics, mic technique, and mic pres will matter - a lot - as will the knowledge and experience of the engineer on this session in regard to mic technique.
If the person is knowledgeable in pro live recording technique - hopefully they would have some experience doing what you want to do (have you heard anything that this engineer has preciously done? I mean, something similar in style and sound to what you want?) then this will also be crucial in getting a successful recording, in the way you want to do it.

IMHO of course. ;)



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