acoustic guitar

Tracking Tips

Tracking Tips: How to Record Vocals and Acoustic Guitar at the Same Time

Whether you're a student with a mic and simple interface or a bigshot wielding a formidable console in a fancy studio, chances are good that you've recorded a singer-songwriter at some point.

The iconic minimal singer-songwriter setup generally consists of an acoustic guitar and a vocal. This basic arrangement may seem easy on paper, especially if you plan to track each source separately. But more often than not, capturing a natural, intimate-sounding performance demands more than pointing a mic at the 12th fret.

There is a surplus of ways to record and mix acoustic guitar and vocals. The most popular option is to track the sources separately, allowing for independent control. However, with the right artist and song, recording vocals and guitar simultaneously is often the best approach, because you can capture a single, special performance in one go, rather than stitching together two separate ones.

Learn to love bleed

In this video, Chris Mara, owner and chief engineer of Nashville's Welcome to 1979, captures a performance from singer-songwriter Kenton Bryant live with three microphones. Kenton Bryant composes songs that carry themselves like conversations between close friends, and this stripped down version of his tune 'Beer and a Bottle' bears his signature, personal writing style.

The name of the game here is range and coverage. Mara uses a pair of spaced sE8 small-diaphragm condenser microphones flanking the outer reaches of the acoustic guitar, and places the vocal mic, an X1 S, about a foot away from the artist.

The philosophy behind this technique is to specifically take advantage of bleed. Mic bleed, or 'spill', is typically met with a frown in the audio community. In fact, the function of one of our most popular products, the Reflexion Filter®, is to help mitigate just that! However, bleed — harnessed with intention— can facilitate a beautiful, natural-sounding performance that transports the listener to a chair right in front of the artist in the room.

Mara's thoughtfulness for the listener extends a step further with his choice to pan the mics from the audience's perspective. The result is a rich, organic sound that has no lack of fullness and realism.

The more you know

Recording isn't solely about technical ability. Great engineering also means understanding how to deliver and translate the message an artist is trying to express.

You can master the aptitude for phase alignment, placement, mic choice and the like, but knowing how to provide a framework for collaboration is a true testament of expertise.

Next time you work with a talented singer-songwriter, opt for Mara's organic approach. You may find that authenticity is the true winner of all shoot-outs.

 
 
Here's what we used to record this track:
 

sE In The Studio

Video: How to Mic Acoustic and Electric Guitars

Our friends at Sam Ash Music were kind enough to take the time to make this video with Jonathan Pines (of Fingerprint Audio, our US Distributor) and some of our favorite guitar microphones: the VR1 and VR2 ribbons and the sE2200 condenser.

Jonathan has recorded guitars for Larry Coryell, Adrian Belew, Wilco and more, and he does a great job explaining how to listen to your instrument, pick the right mic, and experiment with mic placements to achieve a multitude of different tones.

 

Sound Samples, sE In The Studio

The Gemini II Comes To Nashville

Nashville musician Bennett Lewis (Of Montreal, Lera Lynn, HoneyHoney)  has been using his Gemini II on a variety of projects at his home studio in Tennessee. We asked if he'd mind sending us some samples of the mic on his fine collection of string instruments, and he kindly obliged. Have a listen!

 

"Glad you dig the clips! Had a fun time making them. The mic is an absolute pleasure. Really warm and rich, yet plenty of high end sparkle."

 
BANJO
 
MANDOLIN
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ACOUSTIC GUITAR
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PEDAL STEEL GUITAR
 

Bennett is currently out on tour with Lera Lynn, known recently for her appearance on Season 2 of HBO's True Detective. Check out their tour dates on her website.