TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 11 Recording Acoustic Stringed Instruments

This week and next, I’ll be discussing miking and recording stringed instruments in general.

The previous blog post in the TCM Home Music Studio series – recording Acoustic Guitar went into some detail for that particular instrument. I chose the acoustic guitar because of its popularity in the Home Studio setting, but it will also prove useful to refer to it as many of the techniques discussed there can be used for several other stringed instruments.

Dobro, Harp and Violin.

Whatever stringed instrument you have to record… Sitar, Mandolin, Dobro, Dulcimer, Harp or Violin, there will be certain basic similarities in the miking techniques despite this family of instruments having a huge variation in appearance and sound quality…..the piano (a stringed instrument) has already been discussed in an earlier blog post.

This family of instruments have certain common characteristics. They all have a box or chamber that resonates and amplifies the sound produced by the strings.

Bouzouki, Ukulele, Koto and Hammered Dulcimer.

The main differences will lie in the choice and type of microphones to use for each particular instrument.

With these types of acoustic instruments, the room you use plays an important contributing factor towards the ultimate sound you record. So as much consideration should be given to the room sound as the mic choice.

This next point may seem obvious but I think it’s worth mentioning and it applies to any acoustic instrument…..if you have a truly beautiful sounding instrument that has cost several thousand pounds, you are not going to do it justice by using a cheap $50 microphone to record it. However, you don’t have to use really expensive mics to capture a great sound or have an instrument that cost thousands. But simply put, a cheap mic will not get the best results. So always go for the best you can afford.

Use your judgement and where possible always try a few different mic choices before deciding on a particular one. You may be lucky and get a good result that you’re happy with using a cheap mic, but ultimately, you get what you pay for.

And always listen to the instrument you’re going to record, from various angles with your ears before setting up any mics. That way, you will hopefully determine the best spot to place your mic.

Mandolin and Banjo

In many respects the Mandolin and Banjo can both be treated like the Acoustic Guitar.


A collection of vintage Gibson Mandolins.

You can therefore utilise the same mic techniques and positions described in the previous blog post for Acoustic Guitar. But experiment until you find the sound you like. As with all stringed instruments the tone can vary quite dramatically from one instrument to the other even between the same make and model.

Remember, to get the best out of an acoustic instrument don’t mic it too close. Allow the sound to emanate. This usually means a mic distance of a few feet, as long as the room acoustics are good enough. Small diaphragm condensers work well for capturing the brightness of these instruments.

Plectrum Banjo.

An alternative tried by some Banjo players is to attach a miniature microphone clipped to the tailpiece aimed at the bridge, which allows movement.

It’s important to consider the player in any given situation. If the player is used to performing live he/she may not like keeping still when performing and might find it difficult to record in a static position. So you always have to be prepared to be flexible in your approach.

Dobro and Lap Steel Guitar

Here’s a little bit of trivia for you…..the Dopyera Brothers started the Dobro manufacturing company in 1928. And in 1993 Gibson acquired the name.

The Dobro and Lap Steel type guitars present a unique set of problems when recording. The Dobro can be played upright (against the body like you would play an acoustic or classical guitar) or flat on your lap like the Lap Steel. And this group of instruments can be plucked, but tend to be played with a metal or glass slide over the strings, which can produce an  unusual amount of unwanted string noise.


Microphone position for Dobro or Lap Steel Guitar.

Using the mic position A (above) the string noise can be reduced to an acceptable level with a bit of tweaking… angling the mic towards the body and away from the strings. Some players dampen the strings behind the slide with their little finger, which helps reduce the sound of the strings between the slide and the nut.

Good results can be achieved with a dynamic Shure SM57. Or try the Neumann KM185 condenser…expensive but gives a great sound. Fitting a pick-up can often give good results, or using a combination setup of mic and pick-up.

Always remember to record each mic or pick-up to a separate track on your DAW (for greater flexibility in the mix) and if you use more than one mic, check for phasing problems.


Bridge Over Troubled Water – Producer Roy Halee. 

Music Producer Roy Halee basically distilled down the recording process to five instructions…..I couldn’t put it any better.

This ‘mantra’ is especially important when recording instruments which are unfamiliar to you, because you will have little experience of what they are supposed to sound like.

Most Home Studios may not have a separate control room like the pros, but if you can get the same sound coming out of the speaker monitors that you hear coming directly from the instrument, you can then do anything with signal processing to get the effect you want.

Some people comment that you can get brilliant samples of all the acoustic instruments I’ve discussed over the last few weeks, so why bother going to the trouble of recording the real thing?


There are indeed some amazing samples of acoustic instruments these days, but you really need to be able to play them like the instrument you’re imitating if it’s going to sound real.  There’s certainly a place for sampled music and we’ll discuss that whole subject along with MIDI in a future blog.

Many musicians just love the process of capturing a performance and an instrument in a recording. And if done well, it can sound totally unique unlike anyone else’s sound…..there’s the satisfaction.

If you need recording, production, mixing or mastering services check out the TCM Music Group website for details of what we can offer. There are packages available for any budget.

Next week and the week after, I’ll continue with the Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass as well as the Harp and String Ensembles for those of you who may want to add a touch of class to your recordings.

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Artists, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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