Some Acoustic Thoughts! Thanks Ken!
1) GIMMIE SHELTER - step one was getting the guitar out of my Drum room / studio into
the house. My living room, with its wood floors and plaster walls gives a much, much
better overall sound. Acoustic guitars react with the acoustic space they're played in.
My dead-dead drum room had me adding all manner of Roland Room Amb effect to get it
to sound live. Not too shabby, but the real room was much better. Plus, the
performances I'm able to get out of Mike are much better with the room lighting up as
he digs into the body during the chorus, and laying back in the verse, etc. The
dynamics are much better because the player is being fed a more realistic reference
2) MIC THE SPACE, NOT THE GUITAR. You don't press your melon up against the body
of the guitar to listen to it, so why super-close mic it? That's like jamming a 57 up
against the grille cloth of a Marshall stack and saying, OK...I'm done...! Give the signal a
chance to develop and mingle, so it'll sound like it does when it reaches your ear. An
acoustic guitar is wonderfully complex in its tonality. The body overtones mingle with
the tone from the neck, as they dance with the tones from the bridge and nut. We mic
the space - my Rode NTK tube mic low, pointing at the body near the right hand, about
10" - 18" away, and a stereo pair of SM-81's capturing the mingled tones in stereo...one
at the bridge (about 2 - 4 feet away, panned left) and one at about fret 12 / left hand
area...about 3 - 4 feet away (a lot of the tone comes from the fretted string...its a
mistake to think guitar tone only comes from the body or hole) PLUS: when the mic's
are farther away from the headphones, the click and/or mix won't bleed into the mics...
3) IMAGE IS EVERYTHING - we don't kill the stereo imaging by raising the center channel
NTK too loud. Its only there to deliver pick attack and some of the warmth of the body.
Its not essential the warm roundness be in stereo. Its a supporting player only. About
70 - 80% comes from the stereo pair above. Don't be afraid to play with the pan of
those mics...its so important. For double lines, I'll pan the "main" line (or melody line
acoustic) at about 10 and 2. For the second line (those funky Mike chords for the
second line) I put them on the fringe at 7 and 5. Imaging is often overlooked, but for an
acoustic guitar centered project like ours, its critical. Imaging will convey so much of
the emotion you're trying to capture....hard pan L-R for space or size, closer pan 11-1
for intimate passing phrases and tail out fades...
4) TOO MUCH BOTTOM END - this is the death of most acoustic guitar mixes. Sure, the
guitar sounds great on its own - but when the band kicks in with piano, bass and drums,
it sucks. The guitar sits across about the same acoustic space as the human
voice...which is why we can all relate to the guitar - it's in the center of our aural /
psychoacoustic zone. It needs to sit in the fabric of the song, just jangly enough to
contribute to the overall rhythm, but with enough bottom scooped out that it will
dove-tail nicely over the bass, and under the piano and vocals. As a rule, I kill all
non-solo acoustic guitar (basically all post intro stuff) below 800 hz. I may kill all below
1000 or even 1200 depending on the tune.
5) TOO MUCH 'VERB.... enough said. I hate over-effected stuff. I've been guilty, I've
repaid my debt to society, Hi I'm Ken, a recovering FX-junky. Good tunes, good tone,
good dynamics, good mixes don't need much. The instruments are beautiful, let them
shine. I'll trade all 199 reverbs, flangers, phasers and delays for one good compressor,
anyday. Unless you're doing all sorts of special effects stuff, a little room ambiance is all
you'll really need.
There's so much more real guitar players here can offer - these are my twisted takes as
a drummer / recording artist.
1) Good Tone In = Better Performance Out
2) Don't Mic too closely - let the room work and the very complex tones mingle
3) Imaging impacts the way our minds think through the music. Leverage that and put
your stuff in different places in the 3D acoustic space
4) It needs to sit in your final mix - and by scooping out the bottom end it will sit nicely
between the bass and the piano / Vox
5) Don't make the tone slug it out with the effects...it'll lose everytime