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Recording acoustic guitar as per Apple's Acoustic Sunrise

Hello people,

I've been recording since 1984 and yet i cannot achieve the admirable quality level of the Acoustic Sunrise recording. (We've all heard that little tune on imovie etc). It can also be found on Youtube (if such links are allowed on this site):

I can play as well, I own a Taylor 810, I have very decent mics (Beyer mc930, at4051b (2), Lauten Clarion and a few more).

Can anyone on this forum claI'm to be able to record acoustic guitar just as well and would anyone care to tell us how they go about it?



DonnyThompson Fri, 02/10/2017 - 04:29
Yes, I've recorded acoustic guitar(s) many times over the years that sound "as good" as this sample you posted here. The method varied a lot, depending on where I was working, the sound of the room, and what I had available to me mic-wise and preamp-wise.

I mean, I could give you a few basics that I adhered to; a nice LDC through a fairly transparent sounding preamp; or, sometimes a good SDC - like a KM84 or 85 somewhere between the 12th and 14th fret, about 4"-6" off the fret-board. Other times I used an M-S array ( usually with two 414's), but I also did plenty of sessions where I went straight mono tracking as well...

Other mics I've used include AKG 414's, Neumann U89's, and Schoeps MK's...

It really all depends on the tone you are after - but other variables ( beyond mics and pres) include the guitar itself, the room, and... the player matters a lot too.

For example, someone like James Taylor is known for picking/playing in a style that provides incredible clarity and definition. I've heard him live many times, and every time I have, his guitar sound is the same as it is on his recordings ( stellar), so we have to assume that his style figures pretty large in his ultimate sound. ;)

Also, David... You didn't mention the preamp(s) you are using with those mics you listed...

Then, aside from the front-load chain used for tracking, there's also the processing that is used afterwards in the mix ( or perhaps even on the way in as part of your front load chain) things like various compressors (Tube, FET, transformer-less and tube-less), along with various transient designers, EQ's, reverbs...yada yada.

Why don't we take this from another angle - how about recording your version of this song - or something similar style-wise ...??
Do what you've been doing thus far, perhaps what you've been doing that gets you the results you like for the most part, and then upload it here ( using the "upload a file" button to the right of "post reply", the RO media player will support files up to 12 meg), and perhaps we can then listen and dissect it together as a group of engineers? It doesn't needs to be a long performance, or a whole song... even a minute would suffice.

Please provide details of your tracking and mixing workflow; the mic used, its pattern, mic positioning and distance, type of guitar (and string gauge)... along with the preamp you used (and audio i-o device if the preamp is separate unit from the converter) what you are monitoring through, and how (and to what degree) your mixing/recording space is treated.

Who knows ? ... you may be closer than you think. ;)

DavidH Fri, 02/10/2017 - 08:25
Hi Donny, and thanks for your reply.

Glad to hear a mere mortal can get great results. Next step is to see if mere mortals can achieve similar results in a home studio.

I don’t own a preamp. I go straight to Saffire Pro 40 preamps and into Logic. Other than my Lauten clarion, Beyer mc930 and at4051b’s, i own a great Kel hm7u, a new nt1 and an old at3035. I have direct experience with 87’s, tlm103, km184, Schoeps cmc6, 414’s, senn mkh40 etc. These are all great mics i wish i owned but i really don’t think mics are my main problem.

Of course I agree that All factors in the chain are important. James Taylor is a great example. It is also an example of how a mix works. To my ear, his guitar (if taken alone) sounds almost shrill but it sits perfectly when nestled into his songs. Best of all though, is the fact that were he not a great songwriter no one would care bout his guitar work.

What do i hear when i listen to Apple’s Acoustic Sunrise? I hear a great guitar player in a lively room, new strings on a medium sized guitar (probably with a cutaway), maybe metal fingerpicks, close mic’d. (Almost as lovely as my ultimate guit sound — Bob Dylan Seven Curses circa 1964.)

I think i will take you up on idea of posting an example of one of my recordings. I really don’t have the time to learn Acoustic Sunrise but i will post a little tune of my own that i have been trying to record decently.

Guitar player is me. Studio is my living room with hardwood floor. I’m sitting on a wooden chair (i mention that cause the sound is quite different when i plop down on my sofa.) I’m fingerpicking (natural nails) a Taylor 810 with old strings (a deliberate move as i was trying to avoid the ‘too-stringy’ sound the Elixir polywebs usually give. Must try other strings). Single Beyer mc930 1.6 ft from 14th fret ( i tried every one of my mics at different distances and stereo combinations) . Into Saffire pro40 and directly to Logic — no processing during recording. The sample mix i am posting is EQ’d only (to remove some rumble).

Thanks so much.

oops, the system is not letting me upload a 11.4 mb aif file. (Says security error). Will post this and follow up with file later.

Boswell Fri, 02/10/2017 - 10:44
I would agree with everything that Donny has said, as he has huge experience in this area.

For myself, on a good day under studio conditions, with the right performer on the right instrument, I would aim to get recordings that match or even surpass your iMovie example. That's not to say that I can achieve that by always using the same mic and the same pre-amp, as every performer and instrument is different, but then so is the material being recorded, and also the purpose of the recording. The acoustic space is another crucial factor, but at least I usually have some control over that.

Your Acoustic Sunrise example has things easy for itself in that it's the only sound source in the recording, so it does not have to match vocals or other instruments in tonal quality, frequency range or spatial effect. I think you would be surprised if you were to put that amount and type of compression and reverb on to recordings of other instruments in an attempt to make them sound as though they were recorded in the same space as that guitar.

Your Taylor 810 is a nice instrument both to play and to record, and you will probably get decent enough tracks using a TLM103 going into the Saffire Pro40. However, two red flags pop up in my head based on things you said.

The first is the wooden floor. This type of floor is among the most acoustically reflective surfaces that are commonly encountered, and can wreck recordings in ways that range from subtle to awful. My recommendation is to put down at least a large mat over the space around you, the performer. You should also make sure you are not sitting in a position in the room where you have similar distances to each of the walls and the ceiling, in order to avoid reflections off these additional surfaces causing additive echo effects.

The second point is that I would very rarely use just a single microphone for this type of recording. In a really good sounding and acoustically treated room, then a second "room" microphone further away from the instrument can add space and character to the intimate sound from the close microphone without too much worry about phase effects between the two. In a lesser room, a carefully-positioned stereo pair of close microphones can add width and space without giving phase problems. I increasingly use a pair of Rode NT2-As in Mid-Side (M-S) configuration for solo acoustic guitar, as the resulting tracks give great flexibility in control of the image width as well as being able to position it easily when combined with other instruments.

I'll wait to hear your recording extract before commenting further.

DavidH Fri, 02/10/2017 - 13:35

Got word that i can only upload mp3. So i converted the file and here it is.

So, once again here are the details.

Guitar player is me. Studio is my living room with hardwood floor. I’m fingerpicking (natural nails) a Taylor 810 with old medium gauge strings. Single Beyer mc930 1.6 ft from 14th fret. Into Saffire pro40 and directly to Logic — no processing during recording. The sample i am posting is EQ’d only (to remove some rumble). No other processing.

As you can imagine i tried various configurations before this one including recording in my basement (dead sound), spaced pair, close miking, an archtop guitar, new strings on my Taylor, playing softer, playing harder and different mics. So far this is the best i have come up with.

I look forward to comments.


Attached files DavidH finger1.mp3 (1013.5 KB) 
  • 44738216740-davidh_finger1.mp3

DavidH Fri, 02/10/2017 - 16:36

Thanks for the reply Boswell. I can’t disagree with any of your points. I think you can be proud of your accomplishments if you can get similar results to Acoustic sunrise. I can’t. (By the way, I’d be curious to know what you find lacking in the Apple recording. Seems pretty well perfect to me.)

Funny you should mention mid-side cause this will be my next experiment along with a different brand of strings for my Taylor.

Point taken about recording in a room with a hardwood floor — but it is (was) worth a try.

What i’m trying to figure out is if i can get close to the Apple recording with the gear that i have and in the space that i have and with the level of know-how that i have gathered over the years. As i mentioned previously, i started recording in 1984 on a Teac 144 (lots of fun) but i have not done it professionally and have gone long periods without touching a microphone. I’m more of a songwriter and recording is a necessity. Getting a hang of Logic is already quite a step and i can’t help wondering if someone with more recording and mixing experience might not be able to coax a better result out of exactly the same basic setup.