Posted tagged ‘Acoustic guitar’

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO PART 47 – MIXING GUITARS

January 23, 2012

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 47 Mixing Guitars – Acoustic

Over the last several weeks in the TCM Mastering Home Music Studio series, we’ve looked at Vocals, Drums and Percussion in the mix stage. This week and next we turn our attention to Guitars – Acoustic, Electric and Bass Guitars.

Recording Classical, Electric & Bass Guitars.

If you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish, check out the TCM Mastering site. Or contact us with your questions by clicking here. For more information about all the services that the TCM Music Group provide, click here.

A guitar sound or riff can make or break a song. Think of the beginning of ‘Layla’ or the infamous ‘Stairway To Heaven’ – attempted by hoards of potential guitar buyers in music shops around the globe.

Eric Clapton & Jimmy Page.

Consider carefully the guitar arrangement and how it interacts with the other instruments and vocals. Each instrument should have its own space in the mix. So if there are lead vocals in the middle of the stereo field, pan guitars slightly off to the left or right unless it’s a guitar solo (vocal not present), in which case it can take centre stage. As mentioned in an earlier blog, the bass guitar tends to take centre stage to work with the kick drum. But none of these suggestions are written in stone.

If you have a particularly busy mix, there could be a bass guitar (possibly two tracks – DI and amp recordings), a couple of acoustics, a couple of electrics and more. But just because you have all these guitar tracks, does not mean you should necessarily use them all the way through a song. A strummed acoustic could be brought in for the choruses to add some energy to them. A picked electric could be used in just the verses. Think how each instrument adds and contributes to the overall sound.

Every instrument has to find a place to sit in the mix and be heard. If the electrics are using a lot of sustained and distorted chords, you’ll use up your mix space very quickly. Adding too many effects to lots of different instruments can soon muddy the mix, so tread carefully down the effects path.

Acoustic Guitar

There are several different types of acoustic guitar – classical, flamenco, steel string acoustic (6 and 12 string), dobro (resonators) and more. Each type has its own sound and is favoured by a certain genre of music. We discussed recording acoustics in this blog.

Steel String Acoustic, Classical & Acoustic-Electric Guitars.

One of the most annoying sounds captured when recording an acoustic guitar is the squeaking from the fingers as they move up and down the fretboard. You can try to remove or reduce these sounds by using your automation to pull down the level at the precise time of the squeak. However, this is sometimes difficult or impossible without affecting the musical level too.

Pro Tools – Showing Problem Snap Or Squeak To Be Removed.

Showing Close Up Of Problem Audio.

Fixing Problem By Using Pen Tool To Draw New Wave Form.

Showing Result After Pen Tool Has Fixed Problem Audio.

Most good DAWs allow you to fix mistakes in the signal’s waveform by drawing them out with a ‘pen’ or ‘pencil’ tool (Pro Tools is one such DAW, see the series of 4 pictures above). This last method is destructive in some DAWs, so make sure you keep a copy of the track prior to working on it.

Zeroing In On An Annoying Finger Squeak, Using The Waves Q4 EQ Plug-In.

An alternative is to set up an EQ plug-in on the track so that the offending frequencies are ducked at the appropriate point. The plug-in can be automated to cut specific frequencies at specific times in the mix. This way you’re not removing the whole signal at a particular time but just a particular frequency in the signal, making it a less intrusive or severe solution to the problem.

We covered recording the acoustic guitar in this blog. The sound you capture depends on several factors including the quality and construction of the instrument itself.

But even if you were to record the same acoustic guitar for a few songs, chances are the recordings would sound different. One song may dictate a different approach over another – an acoustic guitar in a country song might require a different EQ to one in a rock song. Mic type and placement has a huge effect on tone as does the room, the player, the strings, whether the player used fingers or a pick, as well as the key of the song. Recording to digital or analog will contribute to the final sound too.

A Large & Varied Selection Of Mics To Record Acoustic Guitar.

So to get a great sounding acoustic in your mix, you need to have a good recording to start with. Remember the specific mic technique you use has a profound effect on the sound you capture. The closer you mic anything the more the bottom end will be emphasised. Ideally you want a full, rich sound without too much boominess – don’t make it sound too thin though.

Rolling Off The Lows & Adding A Little Hi-End Sparkle.

Acoustic guitars produce a surprising amount of low frequencies. So in the mix, filter out the low-end picked up by the mic to get rid of the boominess. Anything below 60 to 80 Hz can usually be cut. Some instruments may need you to roll off higher frequencies (up to 400 Hz), just exercise caution the higher you go. You don’t want to take all the guts and body out of the recording.

The low-mids are often where the core sound of an acoustic resides. You have to experiment to find the exact frequencies that need cutting or boosting for each guitar. Acoustic instruments vary in tone dramatically between different types (classical or steel string), makes and models. Even two instruments of the same model can have very different acoustic qualities.

Cuts Centred At 100-300 Hz & 1-3 kHz.

Some guitars may need a very specific cut at 200 Hz, whilst others may need a wider roll off between 150-300 Hz. Conversely, if the guitar needs more warmth or body try boosting between 150-250 Hz.

Adding A Few dBs Around 5-7 kHz Adds Presence.

Some acoustics will benefit from a cut between 800 Hz-1 kHz. If you want more attack to the sound, try adding some 3-5 kHz. You can often add presence by adding a little 5-7 kHz. Whilst adding some 7 kHz will deliver a brighter sparkle.

Some producers like to marry a steel string acoustic guitar with the hi-hat. To facilitate this effect, add 10-15 kHz to the guitar until the two merge into one.

Two EQ Curves For Acoustic Guitar.

Always do a comparison between your EQ’d sound and the original, to ensure you’re getting closer to the sound you want. And switch between listening to the soloed instrument and the rest of the tracks to see how well it sits in the mix. Never EQ in complete isolation. If you want more information on the use of EQ, check out this earlier blog.

On the subject of EQ, if you have to add more than 5-6 dB of any frequency you may have a problem with your recording. So you may want to re-record or consider something other than EQ to ‘fix’ your problem sound. Also, adding EQ invariably adds noise, which is why so many engineers use subtractive rather than additive EQ.

Gentle 2:1 Compression With -15dB Threshold.

With regards to the use of compression on an acoustic, it depends on how prominent the guitar is in your mix. If your song is based around the acoustic guitar and a vocal, for example, I’d suggest no compression at all on the guitar. Unless the performance is so uneven that a little gentle compression may help it to sit more comfortably in the mix.

But remember, you may apply some compression at the master fader and there will most likely be some compression applied in the mastering stage.

Gentle Compression Used For Acoustic Guitar.

If the acoustic guitar is just one small part of a much busier mix with lots of instruments, then some light compression (ratio 2:1 to 5:1) may help it to be heard amongst everything else. If the acoustic is being strummed vigorously, compression can produce a more consistent level in the mix, it can also bring out the pick noise rendering a more choppy, rhythmic, percussive quality.

Compression can help to bring out the harmonic content of an acoustic buried in a mix and increase its sustain if needed. Don’t forget, compression raises the room noise too. So in a home studio setting that could mean raising the volume of computer drives, background traffic, air conditioning etc.

A Multiband Compressor Controls Tonal Balance & Dynamics.

Use your discretion and again A/B compare between compressed and original sound. Click here for more information on compression and other forms of dynamic processing.

In a busy mix, the attack portion of an acoustic rhythm guitar strum is often more important than hearing the sustain which gets overshadowed by other instrumentation. If you want to achieve more attack on strummed acoustics, try this. Use a gate or expander to pull down or ‘duck’ the level of the sustain. By employing short attack and release times, this will catch the attack of the strum but will apply gain reduction between the peaks. It doesn’t have to be too severe to produce improved punch. Check out this blog for details on gates and expanders.

There are numerous effects you can use on acoustic guitars. We’ll briefly look at reverb, delay, double tracking and chorus.

A Selection Of Effects Plug-Ins.

Reverb is a great way to create ambience in your track. It’s generally pleasing to the ear. The use of an effect like reverb depends to a large extent on what the instrument is doing. Is the acoustic being strummed or picked? Is it being used as a solo or backing instrument? Short reverbs, like some room settings, can give an interesting and unusual quality to the instrument. Longer reverbs will make the guitar sound more distant in the mix and can muddy the sound if too long. Don’t forget to EQ the reverbed sound to get rid of any boominess. The reverb can either be panned to join the dry guitar or split with the dry signal left and right.

On a lead acoustic, a delay timed to the tempo of the track can be very effective especially if used in conjunction with a sprinkling of reverb too…..John Martyn used delay and echo to great effect on some of his recordings. Timing the delay to match the track tempo is important to keep the sound clean and uncluttered. Try panning the delay(s) away from the original clean sound.

Double Tracked Acoustic Guitars – Note The Slight Difference In The Waveforms.

Double tracking is a popular recording technique where a performer sings or plays along to a previously recorded performance, matching phrasing and melody as closely as possible, resulting in a thicker sound. It’s used extensively for vocals as well as guitars. The effect is produced from the two ‘identical’ performances being ever so slightly different in pitch and timing throughout the length of the performance.

If the guitarist cannot match their performance well enough to produce the effect the result can sound quite confusing or cluttered. If this is the case, there are electronic plug-ins that emulate the effect, although none give exactly the same result as the ‘real thing’.

A chorus effect applied to a 6 string can sometimes come close to emulating a 12 string acoustic guitar. It’s a shimmering effect produced by combining two or more slightly different pitched signals. Experiment with the speed and depth of your chorus to get the effect you want. We discussed effects processors in this blog.

As with all effects be judicious in their use…..a little goes a long way! To find out more about the use of effects processors, click here.

Next week we’ll look at Electric and Bass Guitars in the mix.

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TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO – PART 11 RECORDING: ACOUSTIC STRINGED INSTRUMENTS

May 15, 2011

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…..eg. 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…..by 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.

TCM MASTERING: HOME MUSIC STUDIO – PART 10 RECORDING INSTRUMENTS: ACOUSTIC GUITAR

May 9, 2011

TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 10 Recording Acoustic Guitar

Continuing on our journey through the various instruments you may want to record in a Home Music Studio setting…..this week we cover Acoustic Guitars.

Classical Ramirez and Steel String Acoustic Martin.

Strictly speaking, the term ‘acoustic’ covers nylon or gut stringed – classical and flamenco guitars, as well as steel stringed – folk, lap steel and archtop guitars amongst others.

With a basic microphone and a little trial and error you can record an acoustic guitar and get a reasonable sound. But to get a great sound you need to consider many contributing factors…..

First and foremost, consider the guitar itself. It’s going to be difficult to get a great sound from a cheap, badly set up instrument. Having said that, there are plenty of guitars on the market that will allow you to achieve a great recorded sound without spending a fortune. I’m talking for as little as £130-£250. The Vintage V300 has had great reviews, can be bought for around that price and sounds fantastic. Yamaha, Epiphone and Fender also produce good quality guitars in the same price range and beyond.

Classical Contreras and Country Acoustic Gibson.

Of course if you have the money, then the sky’s the limit…..Ramirez, Contreras, Martin, Taylor and Gibson all produce excellent instruments. And depending on the genre of music you’re recording eg. rock or country, if you have the choice you may prefer to use a specific make over another to get the desired sound.

Before a recording session, change the strings to give a less dull, brighter sound. But remember to give them time to stretch, so that they will keep their tuning during the performance. If you’re recording a steel string guitar, experiment with several different picks or finger picking styles to get the sound quality you’re trying to capture.

You could even try taping two picks together separated by a coin…..I think I read that Brian May of Queen actually uses a coin in place of a plectrum. Some guitarists put talcum powder on their fingers before recording to reduce squeaks from the strings. The point I’m trying to make is that before you place a mic, there are a few things you can do to alter the sound coming from the instrument.

 

Early picture of Les Paul in his Home Studio.

Now because we’re considering acoustic instruments, the room you’re recording in will have an effect on the sound. Technology has moved on from the days when Les Paul (above) made his ground breaking recordings, but the Home Music Studio room still presents one of the biggest problems when recording acoustic instruments of any shape or form.  For more thoughts on how you can change a room’s acoustics, check out this blog post.

Always listen to the sound of the guitar directly with your ears first, before placing any mics.

Close Mics on Acoustic Guitar.

Like many acoustic instruments, the acoustic guitar family produce different frequencies in different directions. So unfortunately, it is quite easy to accentuate certain aspects of the overall sound by using close mic techniques.

This is especially true, if you use a dynamic mic which will emphasise the bottom end at close range. They tend to have too limited a frequency response for guitars (but they might produce an effect which you like). Having said that the Sennheiser 441 seems to be quite a popular choice.

A more natural tone can be captured by moving the mic further away, but this will obviously capture more of the room sound too.

If you use a close mic technique (A above), you could

also try combining it with an ambient mic position too (B).

Looking at the diagram below, we can see various mic positions. The ‘default’ position (A) which is tried by many as their first attempt when recording, is to place the mic about 12 inches from the point where the neck meets the body, angled slightly towards the sound hole.

Various mic positions for recording acoustic guitar.

You could also try using a mini omni mic (B) and tape it to the outside of the body of the guitar between the bridge and sound hole, an inch or two above the bottom E string.

Alternatively, if you want a stereo recording try positioning a mic at the bridge and another at the 12th fret (C). You can pan them slightly left and right. Or use an X-Y coincident pair (eg. Audio Technica AT822 condenser) positioned around the 12th fret, but don’t place them too close, you want the full sound to be captured. And the closer in you mic the more coloured the sound will be.

 

X-Y Coincident Mic Pair.

There are mics which you can mount on the inside of the guitar body (D). They’re designed with a reduced bass response to be used in that position…..a good option for a live performance because they provide good separation from other instruments and prevent feedback from the PA, but there are better mic positions if you are recording in a controlled environment. However, this example along with example B are useful for recording guitarists who find it difficult keeping still while playing.

Remember – with all multiple mic set ups,

check for phase problems…..see this blog for more detail.

As I’ve said repeatedly in earlier blog posts, experimentation is the key to success, when it comes to recording. Try placing a mic underneath the guitar body or facing a reflective panel close to the guitar…..you never know what it’s going to sound like until you try it.

If you have to record a singing guitarist, try using a couple of figure-of-8 or bi-directional mics (see below). These types of microphone picks up sounds front and back, but not the sides. So they can be quite effective in picking up the vocal and guitar if placed just right.

 

Get good separation using Figure-of-8 Mics 

when recording a Vocalist and Guitar simultaneously.

A popular mic choice for acoustic guitars is either a small or large diaphragm condenser (or even a ribbon). These mics have a more even extended frequency response (than the dynamics) giving a detailed, clean sound to the instrument. What you want to try to avoid is using mics that will emphasise the string and finger squeaks…..particularly annoying if you’re recording a solo instrument. Large diaphragm condensers are good for capturing the depth of a guitar’s tone (eg. Rode NTK, Studio Projects T3), whilst the small diaphragm condensers (eg. Shure SM81, Octava MK012) also sound great on instruments with higher registers eg. mandolin and violin.

 

Dean Markley Acoustic Guitar Pickup.

A tip for recording acoustic guitar with a pick-up in a band scenario…..record the guitar with a pick-up for the band performance, this will give good separation from the other instruments. Then overdub the acoustic guitar with a mic, either to double track the earlier performance or to add a different rhythm or melody line.

As with all mic positions, you may need to use some subtle EQ to get rid of any boominess or to reduce unwanted squeaks.

And remember, always listen to the sound of the guitar directly with your ears first, then get to work capturing the sound you want with the mic(s).

There will be differences and compromises, but with perseverance you should be able to get close to the sound you want and more importantly the sound your guitarist likes too.

Choosing the right mic and finding the sweet placement spot will usually work better than any amount of EQ. So use EQ sparingly and save it for the mix stage. The same goes for compression and reverb. Remember, once you add signal processing and it’s recorded it’s always difficult and sometimes impossible to fully undo or correct it.

Just a final word of warning…..whenever possible try out a mic before buying. Quality control can be an issue with any mic, especially the cheaper less well known makes.

Next week I’ll cover some of the acoustic guitar’s relations and other stringed instruments.

 

We’ve been getting some great feedback lately, so if you already have a working Home Studio and have some music tracks that need that final polish…check out the TCM Mastering site, where you’ll find lots of useful information.  And if you have any questions just drop us a line.