Beginners guide to recording Acoustic guitar

One of the commonest instruments used in popular music, the Acoustic guitar can also be one of the most difficult to record for a home or budget studio.
In this piece we look at some simple rules and concepts that should ensure you get the best recording possible.
The first thing to remember is that if you get a good initial recording, it saves the amount of processing you have to do at the mix down stage, and this is a GOOD THING!
Acoustic guitars are sometimes referred to by engineers as ‘Jangle Boxes’, and with good reason.
As a rule they send out frequencies from all over the place, and the sound a listener hears when they stand in front of a live acoustic player is a combination of all those different frequencies at once.
So one of the first things to consider is the guitar itself. Make sure it sounds as good as it can before you even begin to record it. Does it need new strings? Is it properly in tune? Does it sound good? Is there any chance of borrowing a better one for the recording. Sounds simple, but it’s very important, if the guitar doesn’t sound right before you start, its unlikely to get any better later on.
Once you have the best sounding instrument you can get, take a look around you.
What is the room doing to the sound?
Is it a big wide expansive room that allows natural reverb and an airy ‘live’ feel, or is it a small bedroom filled with soft duvets and pillows and curtains that will swallow all the signal and leave you with a flat, dead sound going into the mic? Again, these are hugely important considerations, If you capture the sound of a Cathedral echo as part of your recording, its VERY difficult to get rid of it.

Generally speaking the best microphone for the job will be a condenser mic. They are generally much better at handling the higher end frequencies that an acoustic guitar puts out.
The next decision is whether to use a Mic with an OMNI pattern or a CARDIOID pattern. The OMNI pattern will be much better at picking up both the guitar and the sound of the room, whereas the Cardioid will take much more of the guitar, and is therefore a good choice for a smaller room.
There have been millions of pages written about Mic placement, and in truth its one of those esoteric arts that each engineer will have their own theories about. However, there are a couple of simple rules that apply to almost every situation.
Most of us are familiar with seeing the image of a guitar player on stage, with a microphone placed very close to the soundhole, but miking on stage is a different art to miking in the studio.
In the studio, you have the luxury of trying different mic positions, capturing a mixture of the guitar and the room, and we recommend you take some time to do this. If you place the mic too far away from the guitar you risk recording too much room noise, you lose definition and run the risk of increased noise from the mic preamp as you raise the gain. Too near, and you lose the feel of the room.
Generally  you will find a sweet spot in every location, where the blend between the two is best, but as a start, we would recommend aiming the microphone at the point where the Guitar neck joins the body. As a general rule, the closer you get to the soundhole, the warmer the sound, and as you move nearer the neck you get a more treble based signal. As regards the distance, this will depend on all sorts of factors including how hard the guitarist is playing, whether he’s using a pick or fingers etc. but start around a foot away and listen to how the sound varies as you move closer or further away.
Finally, remember that guitarists are a varied bunch, one will sit beautifully still and play accurately with the minimum amount of fuss, while another will flail about wildly, creating creaks from the stool, hands squeaking up and down the strings, and it’s your job to capture the performance complete with all its nuances.

Plywood is cheap and has a shiny side. A couple of sheets 5’ X 3’ are a useful thing to have. You can put them in front of a guitarist to allow the sound to reflect off the shiny side, and this will have a big affect on your recorded sound.
Nashville tuning, is a trick used by some session players to create a really bright and jangly sound. Simply replace the bottom three strings of the guitar (the thick ones!) with another set of top strings. You can then tune the ‘new’ bottom three strings a full octave above where they should be and create a very Jingly sound indeed.

SCAN guide to recording vocals in the home studio

Scan home recording guide


The problem of recording Vocals for the smaller studio has been a constant source of difficulty over the years.
If you stop and think about it, the Human voice is the most emotive ‘instrument’ we have. From being born, we are used to the sound of a singing voice, and consequently, most of us are experts on the subject without even knowing. Consequently, if a vocal is ‘muddy’ or ‘boxy’, the average person on the street could tell you it doesn’t sound ‘right’, much more authoritatively than they could say a badly recorded guitar or bass.
So, first things first…..
It needs to be quiet. I mean REALLY quiet. It may be that most of your time, the music you make will require a big, shouty vocal, but what about the day when you need to record that quiet, softly whispered love song, and all you can hear is the whirr of your hard drives in the background.
Second things second…..
I’ve seen people design studios on paper, and happily state, “ the vocal mic can go over there”, purely because it looks nice on paper, without giving any thought as to how near a wall the mic may be, or  what surfaces will be behind the singer etc.
Best practice says that you should place your vocal mic at least 3 feet away from any reflective surfaces i.e. walls, and there should be a non reflective surface behind the singer. Then make a ‘clean’ recording  i.e. no effects at the input or output stage. This recording will be the most important aspect of all the vocal recording you ever do, because if you can get a good clean initial recording at this stage, everything else is a bonus, but if it sounds wrong here, it will always be a case of trying to compromise using effects and eq’s and frankly, there ain’t enough time in anybodys world for that!
Third things third…….

Scan guide to home recording
Microphone choice.
There are many microphones in the market place for you to choose from, and many of them are very good value and quality indeed, however, here at Scan, we have conducted our own trials to assess which microphones will work best in which situation. These aren’t the only options, but in our opinion they are the best!



Mouth to Mic:
Many people understand that if you record an acoustic guitar, and want to change the sound a little, without using EQ’s or processing, you can alter the position of the mic, either a little further up the neck or away from the soundhole another couple of inches, but the same is true of a vocalist. In fact the best session singers are not necessarily the ones with the finest voice, but the ones who know how to control it best.
A great singer will ‘work’ the mic, leaning in closer for quiet breathy qualities and pulling back and slightly offset for lungbusting high notes or shouts. Watching a great singer is hugely enjoyable for engineers and producers, because the biggest pain is trying to record a vocalist with no mic technique at all.

Making music with your Computer

Lots of reasons, but here are some very good ones….
Making Music is a beautiful thing.
It’s a creative, satisfying use of your time. And maybe, if you end up proud of the stuff you produce, you can burn it to a CD, and in years to come, your great grandkids may hear it and get an idea of the kind of person you were….and that’s a beautiful thing too.
The advantage of using your computer is that it’s easy, cheap and you don’t need any musical training.
The guys who write today’s music software, make it pretty darn easy for anyone to be up and running in a short amount of time. Programs like Ableton live have transformed the way people are able to make music, and the ‘LE’ or light versions of these programs cost very little indeed, yet are packed with most of the features you’ll need.
Most top studios use a computer at the heart of their recording set-up, and even a home computer studio can allow guitarists and singers the opportunity to record themselves in much higher quality than was possible in top flight recording studios 20 years ago.
Most top producers and studios have a computer at the heart of their set-up, not only as a recording device but as a virtual instrument. Software is available that can transform your computer into incredible sounding Pianos or Saxophones, even whole Orchestras in some cases, and there are special MIDI controllers that allow you to ‘play’ these instruments in very creative ways.
Most software packages come with a manual, and reading it is a GOOD THING!!!!
Seriously, save yourself many hours of frustration, by allowing yourself one good hour with a manual.
There are many articles on-line which explain the best place for your recording set-up, and these are well worth reading, but a few obvious points would be:
Try and pick a nice quiet spot to locate your ‘studio’ set-up.
Read a little bit about acoustic preparations, tiles, foam etc. Just a few judiciously placed acoustic treatments can make a huge difference to your finished recording.
Try and get the best Monitor speakers you can afford. They really are that important!
Here at Scan we recommend  certain monitor speakers, and you should check the website to find the right ones for you.
There is a wealth of information out in Cyberspace about everything to do with recording. Some of it is very useful, but some can get you bogged down. As a basic rule, if you don’t understand the terms they’re using, find a site that uses words you understand.
Making music is a joyous thing, if it starts to stress you out, you’re doing it wrong!!!!


Miking a drum kit

Nowadays, there are a  plethora of ways to get drums into your music.

From regular samples and loops, through dedicated sample construction kits, not to mention the various incredible software packages that allow the manipulation of MIDI or REX based loops, you’d be forgiven for thinking that no-one really needs drummers anymore…..

But there’s a catch.

And it’s a really big one…………

Real Drummers will almost always make your track sound better.

Feel , Groove, ‘Human Quality’, Dynamics,  these are all things the computer programmes try to achieve, yet hours and hours of programming time are wasted, when all that’s needed is a real drummer.

The Downside?  Drumkits  are big, loud and cumbersome. Oh, and did I mention Loud.


So how do we go about recording them in our studio……

Well, first things first. You do need a room that’s big enough to hold a full kit, plus room to mic it up, and preferably  space for the sound to move around.  If the room’s too small, your recording will bounce straight back off the walls and your recording will sound boxy and small. The bigger the room the better, in terms of  room mics. These are mics that will capture the sense of space around the kit.

Also, you really do need to be in a different room to monitor the sound properly.

However, let’s say, you have a suitable room, you know a suitable drummer, and you want to record a drum track. Here’s the low down……


Seriously, Drum kits are noisy bits of hardware, that are constantly being hit and thumped, and consequently, bits rattle and jangle and these will seriously mess up your recording. You’re gonna need, spanners, and drum lugs, gaffer tape and tissues, anything to stop the extraneous noise.

Also, if you can afford it, new drum heads ALWAYS sound better than old. So replace them if you can.


Make sure the drums are tuned. Again there a million articles about this, but fundamentally, the drummer should be happy with the sound of his kit, before you start to record. Do the Kick and  Snare sound good together? Are the Toms tuned to descend in the right increments?

All this preparation will pay off when you start to record.  Promise.


It is possible to record a drum kit with just a couple of  microphones, but in truth the best way is to try and mic up everything.  If that’s not possible, then at least try to find 4 mics for the kit , and a couple of overheads for the room.

I won’t go into which mic’s are best for what in this piece. Suffice to say, there are many different mics available which manufacturers will specify for different jobs, and this info is ALL over the internet.


Whichever mic you choose, place it halfway inside the Bass Drum Shell, at a slight angle and pointing at the spot where the foot beater strikes the skin. If you then boost the eq around 60hz and cut it slightly around 150 hz, you should get a nice Bass Drum Sound without too much midrange wash.


Probably the most important drum in the mix, the snare is the one which usually gets ‘messed’ with the most.

To capture a good signal, place the mic horizontal with the top of the snare with the head of the mic just over the rim of the snare drum.  You can mess around with the eq around 10 khz to give it some ‘crack’, but as I say, experiment to get the sound you’re looking for.


Sometimes, enough of the signal from the Hi-Hat will bleed into the snare mic, to give you a pretty good sound, but if you do decide to mic the hats, try and use a condenser mic with a cardioid pattern, and try to point the mic away from the snare, aiming half way across the top of the top cymbal. Eq-wise, take out some bottom end, and then experiment with upper ranges to get a crisp sound.


The best way to get a good Tom sound is to aim at the centre of the Tom skin, WITHOUT getting in the drummers way! The idea is to have all the toms sound like the same drum, but tuned differently, rather than sounding like 3 or 4 separate and different instruments.


Again, use condensers with a cardioids pattern, and aim to set these up around 4 feet apart, and point them to the left and right of the kit.


Once all your mics are in place, have the drummer play the kit at the level he will be playing during the recording. I say this because, it’s important that you don’t set up all the levels ready to record, only to find that when the track kicks in, the drummer starts to play twice as hard as he did during set up.

How do the Kick and Snare sound together. Can you hear the Cymbals clearly? Are the Toms the right way round??


Finally, if you’ve followed all the above, you should be getting a decent set of signals into your machine. Experiment is the answer to getting a good sound, and you should allow yourself at least half an hour to get a good mix.

Also, many Bass players and drummers find it better to record at the same time.

Wherever possible, let them.    It’s a good thing………