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How to record acoustic guitar at home in 5 easy steps

So, you have an acoustic guitar. Maybe you even wrote a song. You want to record your ideas, but you don’t know how! Well, I’m here to help. This is a basic guideline for how to record your acoustic guitar at home in five steps.

About the author

I’ve been an audio engineer, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and recording artist for about 10 years now. I might not be a household name, but I’ve worked with a long list of artists, studios, and venues over the years, and I have a pretty firm grasp on how to get the best sounds out of anything. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Elliott Smith and Joni Mitchell. So naturally, recording acoustic guitars became one of the most sacred and special practices in my journey.

recording acoustic guitar at home
Image: Higher Hz

What do I need for recording?

At the very least, to record any guitar, you will need:

  1. A room: If you don’t have a dedicated recording space or acoustic treatment, that’s okay! However, it’s best to try to record in the most quiet environment available to you. This will help avoid any unwanted noise or reflections.
  2. An acoustic guitar: I hope I don’t need to explain this one much further.
  3. A microphone: While some microphones are more suitable on guitars than others (more on that later on), almost any microphone can be used. Most cheap entry-level microphones will do the job just fine, or at the very least yield usable results.
  4. A mic stand: Back in the day when I was first starting out and didn’t yet have a mic stand, I used some very questionable methods to reliably place a microphone. I would tape them to stools, balance them on my desk, hang them from the ceiling with a zip tie and a thumbtack or two. This was fine and dandy, but once I got a mic stand I very rarely did any of those things again. It’ll make your life easier in the long run to go out and buy one.
  5. A cable: Most likely an XLR.
  6. A DAW and audio interface or recording console: If you have a tape machine, that’s great. If you don’t, however, you’ll need a computer, any DAW, and an audio interface.
  7. Headphones: Having headphones, aside from helping you stay in time with your backing track, will allow you to accurately monitor your recording without bleeding into the microphone. Earbuds are better than nothing at all.

Now that we’ve covered all of that, let’s get into it.

Here’s how to record acoustic guitar:

  1. Configure your recording settings
  2. Place the microphone
  3. Gain staging
  4. Monitor and test
  5. Play and record

Step 1: Configure your recording settings

Make sure that for whatever method you’re using to record, your routing and settings are set appropriately. For an analog setup, simply make sure that your tape is set and your routing is clear.

In a digital setting, make sure your routing is configured to the appropriate ins and outs, and that you’re recording in 24-bit depth and at least 44.1 kHz sample rate for professional-sounding recordings.

Step 2: Place the microphone

Plug the XLR into your microphone and run it into your interface, then place your microphone.

As a general rule of thumb, start by placing your microphone about 6-8 inches away, aiming it at the 12th fret of the guitar at a slight downward angle. This will help reduce any unruly low-end boom.

Step 3: Gain staging

Your next step is to do what engineers refer to as “gain staging.” It’s a crucial thing to do when recording any and everything, as it will ensure that you don’t clip at all during tracking.

The most basic way to do this is to play as loud as you may play when recording, and then to adjust your gain until your output isn’t clipping the signal (turning your meters red).

Some folks have differing opinions at what parameters your peak signal should be reaching. Some say -6 dBFS, others -18 dBFS, some even go lower at -20 dBFS. I’m in the middle and usually aim for -12 dBFS or -14 dBFS.

Step 4: Monitor and test

With headphones on, play a bit and monitor for any adjustments you might want to make before tracking. Sometimes a slight adjustment in your mic placement or gain settings can go a long way. If you don’t hear anything bad or unwanted, it’s time to record!

Step 5: Play and record

Hit record and perform! If you’re a beginner to this, I’d recommend trying to get everything in one take. If you make a mistake, keep playing through the track regardless. Overtime, this will improve your technique, your precision, as well as your confidence.

Some people don’t need more than one to three takes to lay down a part, but if it takes you longer than that, don’t compare yourself to that! The only thing that matters is getting the recording to be the best as it can to your taste and preferences.

recording acoustic guitar - mic position
Image: Higher Hz

Tips and tricks

Snap, crackle, pop

If you’re getting any pops or hiss, first make sure that your cables are working properly and connected securely. If you’re getting a lot of background noise, try to either relocate or experiment with a closer mic placement.

Compression

Compression is best used in low doses with acoustic instruments. Start off with a more subtle ratio (2:1 or 3:1) and adjust the threshold and makeup gain accordingly.

For the makeup gain, toggle between engaging the compressor and bypassing it and set it until the general volume is the same for both. Compression isn’t a volume knob, it’s for evening out your dynamic range.

Mic placement strategies

If you’re not satisfied with your current sound and setup, adjusting your mic placement can usually be a good foil to this. Although, it’s important to understand how specific adjustments affect your sound.

Pointing the microphone more towards the fretboard and headstock will result in more brightness and clarity, while pointing towards the bridge of the guitar will give you a more woody and midrange-forward tone.

Normally, it’s best to avoid aiming directly at the sound hole, as this will tend to give you a more boom and low-end resonance.

Frequently asked questions

Should I use one mic or two?

It depends on what you’re going for. One mic setups will be more focused and intimate, while two microphones can help add more width and depth to your tracks.

How do I reduce fret noise?

Fret buzz either has to do with your technique or your guitar setup.

For technique, the only antidote to this is practice. Try running scales or chord inversions and focus on your tone to ensure you’re pressing the strings down with enough pressure to not cause any buzzing, and that your fingers aren’t allowing notes to ring out hitting another finger.

If it’s not your technique, it might be that you’ll have to adjust the action on your guitar. Usually, buzzing indicates that your action is too low.

How do I EQ acoustic guitar?

There isn’t any one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to EQ, the treatment that best serves your recording depends on a number of things: your guitar make and model, what tuning are you in, what mic placement did you use, what other instruments are in the arrangement.

Generally, it is best to cut out any unneeded low end, at least to 50 Hz. If the track still sounds muddy, you may want to cut out the lows from 150-200 Hz.

The midrange is usually around the 2-2.5 kHz range, which you can use additive EQ to boost presence and clarity. Also, if you’re looking for a bit more sheen and sparkle, a slight boost around 10 kHz will usually do the trick.

Conclusion

That about wraps it up for this article. Hopefully, you’ve found the information provided useful. If you run into issues, feel free to ask your questions in the comments section below.

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