Martin DC-1EA few days ago I wrote 3 Reasons to Stereo-Mic Acoustic Guitar. While stereo-miked acoustic guitar can sound amazing, sometimes it makes more sense to use a single microphone. With that in mind, I’ve come up with the following list. (Be sure to share your opinions in the comments section.)

3 Reasons NOT to Stereo-Mic Acoustic Guitar

1. The guitar is cheap (or just doesn’t sound all that great.)

For several years I owned a fairly cheap Ibanez acoustic guitar. It didn’t sound awful, but it didn’t sound great. It was made out of a wood laminate and was lacking in the low end.

I tried recording that guitar with two mics, but it never gave me a much better sound.

If you think about it, it makes sense. One of the main reasons I proposed for stereo-miking acoustic guitar was the fact that it allows you to capture the entire instrument. However, if the entire instrument doesn’t sound all that great, capturing more of the instrument won’t help.

In case you’re wondering, I was still able to get a decent recording out of that Ibanez. I used the proximity effect to my advantage. I would place a large-diaphragm condenser a couple inches from the 12th fret. The recording ended up having much more low end than the guitar itself normally had. (You can read more about the proximity effect here.)

If you’re attempting to record a cheaper acoustic guitar, spend some time with a single microphone, find a “sweet spot,” and go from there.

2. You don’t want to deal with phase issues.

Since sound waves travel at a certain speed, any time you place two microphones on one source, there’s a chance that the sound waves will reach each microphone at a slightly different moment in time.

Any time this happens, the two tracks you’re recording are slightly out of phase, causing comb filtering to occur. There are technical charts and graphs out there that explain this in-depth. However, what basically happens is the guitar sounds thin. Each microphone by itself may sound great, but when the two are played together, the guitar suddenly lacks depth and clarity.

It’s the same concept used in a phaser/flanger guitar pedal. The pedal delays the signal a bit and blends it with the original signal, causing that thin “phasey” sound. This sounds great on electric guitar, but it’s usually not what you’re looking for in acoustic guitar.

The way to avoid this is to make sure the two mics are an equal distance from a single point on the guitar. This is easier said than done, since guitarists are notorious for moving around from take to take, which could potentially add to the phase issues. 

If you’re spending a lot of time getting the mics to play well together, then it may be time to go with a single mic and get back to recording. 

3. The acoustic isn’t a prominent instrument in the song.

If the acoustic guitar is the central instrument of a song — perhaps in a singer-songwriter demo — then it makes sense to have that guitar be as big as possible.

However, if you’re working on a huge session, many times the acoustic guitar becomes a very small part of the overall mix. If you listen to a few songs on the radio, you’ll hear that the acoustic guitar oftentimes sounds very light and thin.

In these situations, since the acoustic is going to be heavily EQ’d and buried in the mix, it won’t make any difference to stereo-mic the guitar. Save yourself some time (and hard drive space) and just use a single microphone.

Which do you prefer? Mono or Stereo? How do you use acoustic guitar in your music?

 

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  • D Brunskill

    I tend to record my acoustic in stereo, one microphone on the 14th fret (a large diaphragm condenser if one is available, otherwise just a 57) and then the signal from my guitars pick-up going into a D.I or straight into the recording device (if it has that feature).

    Sometimes I pan one a little left and the other a little right, but not always.

    • Nothing wrong with that approach, as long as you like how it sounds.

    • Michal

      I was just stereo tracking my acoustic in a similar way you describe. One mono signal coming from a large diaphragm condenser and another mono signal coming direct straight from the guitar. The problem I ran into was that my direct signal was a combination of the pickup located under the bridge and a tiny microphone located in the body of the guitar (I have a knob on the guitar to control the blend of those two signals). I ended up with a beautiful natural phaser embedded into my audio (probably due to the fact that I was moving a little bit during recording). That was a good lesson… and a perfect example of the phase problem that I’ve never run into before while recording the acoustic in stereo. 🙂

      • Yeah, that’s definitely a unique situation. 🙂

  • I like using 2 mics on an acoustic guitar, like technique number 2 in this article: http://www.christiancoriolis.com/record-acoustic-guitar/

    Not necessarily panned left and right – can sound nice combined to mono (perhaps with eq). But yes, mainly for a guitar-focused track.

    • I’ve gotten good sounds with that before…you gotta be careful of phase stuff, but it’s a great option to try.

  • Jon

    Hi Joe,

    Both your Mono and Stereo examples are very nice, I would be happy with either, but you also sound like a great player with a good technique with what sounds like a really decent acoustic guitar.
    Be interested to know what the guitar is and what microphones you used.

    Also, panning wise, did you hard pan the takes left and right, or was it more subtle. It sounds pretty natural but when I’ve tried it I’ve always felt it was a bit disconcerting.

    Jon

    • Hey Jon,

      It’s been so long since I recorded these, but I believe it was recorded with two M-Audio mics, the Luna and the Sputnik, and I’m fairly sure I didn’t pan them hard left and right.

  • Pingback: 5 Stereo Mic Techniques for Acoustic Guitar (or ANY acoustic instrument) | Home Studio Corner()

  • I really love your articles Joe, and so I’ve learned much from Ian too, and ended up in the wonderland of Bob Katz, but that’s another story… I read all your articles about stereo miking, and you’ve really set things in place! However, I use only one microphone to capture the acoustic guitar sound, for I really eq it harsh, cut everything bellow 250-400 mhz, and so I do with bass and vocals (but of course at much more lower rates, as my mix not sound mushy, drowned in bass). I have no other choice. But I think stereo miking would give a more natural feeling to my songs, and absolutely I will use the stereo techniques if I’ll come about once to not record by overdubbing. Though still I achieve wide stereo field, by playing the guitar once more on separate track. To be frank, sometimes I get too much of it :/…

  • Ryan

    Hi.
    I really dig your article and it makes good sense. But I still love stereo acoustic recordings. In fact I use 3 mics. One on the neck, one near the hole and then I use an Omni directional mic further away. Get a really nice deep sound from the guitar. I know this gives you a good chance of phasing. But hey, it’s not that hard to hear if it’s in phase or not. But yes you are correct. I have had a few guitars that just don’t sound that great, and with the extra mics it doesn’t help. But what is cool though is I can go to mixing and remove the rubbish ones, and keep the best out of three.

  • Hyphen Lu

    Hi, Joe,

    Thanks for your article, I really learned a lot from them.
    and thanks for those audio files, hearing is believing.

    I have one question that really frustrates me,
    what is your suggestion if I want to record vocal (me) and acoustic guitar (played by me) at the same time?
    What should I do to get the best results?

    I tried figure 8 mic position, but the result wasn’t quite good.

    Please give me some advices. thank you.

    • Bujerkk7

      Yeah anybody? Im having this problem too..any suggestion?

      • You need to be realistic. Your voice and your guitar are going to be really close together. There’s nothing you can do to prevent bleed. That said, I tend to use a dynamic on the voice, angled up towards the mouth. This will pick up less guitar because it’s less sensitive. Then I angle a condenser mic at the 12th fret, towards the guitar, but away from my mouth. That gives me pretty good separation.

  • I think it all depends on the song, I like to have solid, clear, thick acoustic sound, I find it easier to mix without much EQ-ing and leaving as natural as possible sound.

    • Absolutely. The most ideal scenario is everything gets recorded and blends perfectly together in the mix without any additional processing. That doesn't happen too often, though. 🙂

  • WILLIAM JONES

    Perhaps the Stereo Mic Bar will make it easier. I have actually fell in love with using two mics to record an acoustic guitar. But sometimes I wonder if the idea makes sense when your playing with a drum loop that is already stereo. Then you have to also deal with getting the vocals to sound fuller because your competing with big sounding acoustic guitars that can sometimes bury the vocals in the mix. I guess this is where e.q. and compression can really come in handy.

  • WILLIAM JONES

    I would love to mic my acoustic in Stereo. My problem is lack of space to set up to different mics. So I usually point a condenser a few feet away from the 12th fret of my Larrivee. Does it sound as good as a stereo spread? Probably not. But it pretty much works anyway. The Beatles used to record acoustic guitar in mono and it sounded pretty good. But of course, they did have the help of George Martin, Geoff Emerick, etc. I have several condenser mics in my arsenal. In the past I used to use a Octava MC-012 I believe. Anyway, it’s a pencil style condenser mic. And I used to think it sounded amazing. My opinion has been altered in the last year. Because I now prefer to record an acoustic guitar track with a large condenser. I guess it could really depend upon the song your recording, though.

    • Yep, two mics isn’t always better than one, but it’s definitely worth playing around with different combinations. I’ve never miked an acoustic guitar the exact same way twice. It always takes work.

      • WILLIAM JONES

        You got that right.