If you’re a home studio owner, then you will inevitably be recording a lot of acoustic guitar. Whether you play yourself, or you’re working with a local singer-songwriter, it pays off to spend some time learning how to mic an acoustic guitar.

There are as many ways to mic an acoustic guitar as there are engineers in the world. For the purposes of this article, I want to show you why you should consider stereo-miking acoustic guitars (that is, using two microphones on the guitar instead of just one.)

Most home studio owners will throw a single mic on an acoustic guitar, point it at the 12th fret, and hit record. While there’s nothing wrong with this, I think a lot of people are missing out on some very cool guitar tones.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with 3 Reasons to Stereo-Mic Acoustic Guitar.

1. It adds width to your guitar-vocal demos (or solo acoustic guitar).

If you’ve recorded a basic guitar-vocal demo using one mic on guitar and one on vocal, you’ll notice that while the recording may sound great, it can be very narrow, very mono. You can play around with reverb plugins to add some space and width, but acoustic guitar rarely sounds all that good (or natural) through a reverb.

One technique a lot of engineers will use is to slightly pan the mono guitar track to the left or right, creating some separation between the guitarist and the vocalist. This may help a bit, but it still comes off sounding very mono. 

There’s nothing wrong with mono. But having that extra width may make your demos stand out from the rest of the mono crowd.

2. It captures the entire instrument.

If you were to mic up a big Steinway grand piano, would you use one microphone? Of course not. It’s a big instrument, and it would take at least two if not four or six microphones to adequately capture the sound.

The same holds true with acoustic guitar. The tone of the guitar is spread out over the entire instrument. If you stick a microphone three inches from the 12th fret, you may get a nice sound, but you’ll only be taking a snapshot of a small portion of the guitar’s overall sound. You won’t be capturing the sound of the guitar as it was meant to be heard – as a whole.

As you may know, if you place a microphone along the neck, you’ll get a lot of high-end. If you place the mic down below the bridge, you’ll get a lot of bottom end. Each one by itself gives a bit of a misrepresentation of the guitar as a whole, but when combined you get a very full-sounding acoustic guitar track.

3. It allows you to place the mics closer to the instrument, picking up less noise.

This is particularly applicable to home studio owners. As you well know, noise is one of the biggest issues we face. While it would be nice to place the microphone four feet away from the guitar, that’s simply not possible in most situations. AC noise, computer noise, neighbor noise, traffic noise — they all come into play.

The beauty of stereo-miking the acoustic guitar is that you can place the microphones right up on the instrument.

For example, this past weekend I spent a lot of time recording acoustic guitar. I had one microphone above the bridge, angled inward. The second microphone I placed at around the 6th fret, angled inward. Both mics were roughly 4 inches from the guitar.

Because the mics were so close to the guitar, they picked up more of the guitar’s sound and less of the room noise. Also, because I had two microphones, I didn’t sacrifice tone, since I was picking up both the lows (with the first mic) and the highs (with the second mic).

The end result was a huge acoustic guitar sound with minimal noise.

Give it a shot

Stereo-miking acoustic guitars isn’t for everyone, nor is it for every guitar or song or recording. However, if you’ve not given it much thought, try it next time you record acoustic. Once you do, come back here and post a comment and let us know what you think!

Audio Samples

I’ve got four samples for your listening enjoyment. They’re mono and stereo recordings of the same performance. Listen to the mono version first, then listen to the stereo.

With the mono tracks, you’re listening to the single microphone along the neck. It doesn’t sound bad at all, but then when you add the second microphone, a fullness enters the mix.

These are dry tracks with a bit of EQ, but no other effects or compression. (And they’re all 16-bit WAV files.)

“Another Day” – mono

“Another Day” – stereo

“Home” – mono

“Home” – stereo

Thoughts? Suggestions? Leave a comment.

UPDATE: I’ve written a follow-up article to this. Check it out: 3 Reasons NOT to Stereo Mic Acoustic Guitar

  • mm10uk

    nice tutorial! Con I ask you how did u upload wave files for streaming on your website? I’m struggling to find a way to stream my music in wav format instead of mp3 but sound cloud and other website stream only mp3 and stereo guitars sounds horrible in mp3 format. Thanks

    • I’ll challenge you on the “stereo guitars sound horrible in mp3” statement.
      As long as you go with a higher-quality mp3, like 192kbps or 320, you can get a good sound. Streaming WAV isn’t really happening yet. A WAV file is still a big file to stream.

  • Alex Priore

    How are the stereo mic panned on those tracks? I guess what I’m wondering is if stereo miking and then keeping the guitar pretty mono will have the same effect…

    • Gosh, it’s been 4-5 years since I recorded these, but they were probably panned hard left and right?

  • Stephen

    Hi Joe,

    What’s the disadvantage of just plugging my guitar into the interface and record it that way?

    I have really nice pickups in it.

    Thanks,
    Stephen

    • I just don’t think it sounds very good. Even good pickups generally still sound like pickups.

  • I was just about to purchase a stereo condenser to record acoustic guitar when I had the thought, “How do I get the stereo signal into my DAW?” Would I be able to plug in a single x/y stereo mic into a single channel on my old Peavey board and get stereo throughput? Or would I have to split it into two channels between the mic and the board?

    • Stereo means two. You would need two mics, two cables, two preamps, two inputs. No way around it. All stereo mics have TWO cables coming off of them.
      Hope that helps.

      • Well, I feel like an idiot now. But yeah, question answered.

        • You’re certainly not an idiot, Tim. 🙂 I’ve asked an unbelievable amount of questions about things I should have known. You don’t know if you don’t ask.

  • Will this work if you have one mic and then record a second track witha different mic placement?

  • Will this work if you have one mic and then record a second track witha different mic placement?

  • Will this work if you have one mic and then record a second track with a different mic placement?

    • That’s called doubling, not stereo-mic-ing. But it’s still an effective and cool technique, depending on the song.

      • Ko

        What do you think about bouncing a stereo mix pan left or right

      • I did that once. It is a good technique. It sounds like you have two people playing the guitar. I think what I did was take two different takes and panned them all the way left and right.

        • Yep. I do that alllllll the time…probably too much. 🙂

  • Patrick

    I tried this with Neumann km184’s and it sounds pretty good. Is it ok to have to use a big eq notch in the bass around 164 Hz to get rid of mud? Also the mic on the bridge is way louder than the one near the 12 fret so I should turn it down to make them more even, right? I pointed the bridge mic just below the bridge because if I pointed it right at the strings, right above the bridge it was pointed more towards the sound hole which I figured would be more boomy. Does that sound about right?

  • Patrick

    So if you’re mono recording acoustic guitar, one mic pointing at the 12th fret BUT if you’re stereo micing the guitar the 12th fret mic should be moved more towards the headstock for a brighter sound and the other mic should be below the bridge but angled slightly towards the sound hole?
    So if I have a boomy dreadnaught should I place one mic close to the 6th fret angled towards the guitar body and one below the bridge and angled towards the sound hole? So the idea is neither of the tracks will sound good alone but together, panned R & L should sound like a big picture of my guitar??

    • Hey Patrick! You probably already know my answer — try it. I can’t tell you exactly what position will work on YOUR guitar. But in general, the answer is yes. If you place the mics properly, and take care of any phase issues, you’ll have a great-sounding mono signal and a nice wide-sounding stereo signal.

  • Anthony campagna

    Hey Joe,

    I hear a big difference between the mono and stereo recordings, the one thing I’m curious to know is the exact panning positions, because the stereo image tends to flirt with the idea I’m hearing 2 guitar parts?….at least on my hr824s. By the way, i dig your site:)

    thanx
    T

    • I don’t remember exactly, but I think I just panned them fairly hard left and right. It’s NOT two guitar parts though. That’s a good question. You’re hearing the same exact guitar performance, captured by two microphones simultaneously.

  • Joe,

    I understand the benefits of stereo miking but I'm a little confused about the technical process. Do you record on one stereo track with one mic taking the left and the other taking the right? Or do you use 2 separate mono tracks and then pan them together?

    Thanks,
    Chris

    • It really doesn't matter. It can be a stereo track, with one mic
      feeding the left input and the second feeding the right. Or you could
      record one mic to one mono track and one mic to a second mono track,
      then just pan one left and one right.

      In Pro Tools, for example, you can record to 2 mono tracks and
      collapse them into one stereo track if you want. Or you can record to
      a stereo track, then split them out to 2 mono tracks. Hmm…that's a
      good idea for a video. Thanks!!

  • One technique I’ve recently tried was stereo-miking with a pencil condenser at the 12th fret and a pencil condenser at the bridge angled toward the butt of the guitar both about 3 inches from the guitar, then throwing a large diaphragm condenser in its omni setting about 2 or 3 feet above my head to capture the room. The mic was about 6 inches from an untreated wall too, so it caught a lot of reflection too. Oh, and the capsules were parallel with the wall/my shoulders.

    Obviously I had to worry about other noises in my house but I got a good take with it and with very little disruption too. I just blended it in the background to give it a little more… UMPH! It thickened it up quite nicely. Much more than I expected.

    – Josh Law

  • Greg Christo

    For the stereo examples above, did you pan the two mono recordings slightly off center?

    • They may not be panned evenly. One mic (on the right) had a bit more low end than the other. It felt more balanced if I panned them a little off-center.

  • WILLIAM JONES

    I’ll have to give it a try. It sounds like it make an incredible difference in over-all tone.

  • Bill

    Joe,

    Do the mics need to be a matched pair? If not, what are some combination (types) that you would recommend?

    Thanks,

    Bill

    • A matched pair would be nice, but it’s certainly not required. With acoustic guitar, once you start spacing out the mics, each mic is picking up such a different sound that it really won’t matter all that much if they’re matched. You’ll blend the levels to your liking anyway.

      A matched pair is more beneficial when you truly want an exact stereo representation of something as a whole. (When miking a choir or when overhead-miking a drum kit.) In these scenarios, you want two identical signal paths, so you can hear the differences between the left and right. I don’t think this applies to most styles of stereo-miking acoustic guitar.

      For example, I tried Jon’s over-the-shoulder technique this weekend. It worked quite well. I didn’t use a matched pair. I had two VERY different-sounding microphones, but the blend ended up sounding very musical.

  • My preference for stereo miking acoustic guitar is: spaced pair over the shoulders about head level. With a pair of small diaphragm condensers.

    I find this gives a great representation of what the guitarist is hearing as he is playing it. They always say it sounds just like their guitar.

    I find that fits in the mix quite well too.

    Alternately I also like an ORTF setup a few feet away. It really depends on the role of the guitar from a production standpoint how you mic it and with what. (chordal/rhythmic/thickening/percussive/brightness etc)

    • I’ve not tried the over-the-shoulder technique, but it makes sense that you’d get a good tone, and you wouldn’t have to deal with all the boomy-ness coming directly out of the sound hole.

      I agree about ORTF. That and XY work great if you have a nice, quiet room.