I listen to a lot of recordings, and one mistake that I find very often in a beginner’s recording is that they don’t record acoustic guitars with microphones.

Now, this is certainly my opinion, but I feel that acoustic guitar was meant to be recorded with a microphone. The direct sound of an acoustic guitar just never sounds good to me.

I am an acoustic guitar player, so I’m certainly biased, and there are certainly situations where it makes sense to go direct for an effect. However, when I record acoustic guitars, I always, always, ALWAYS use a microphone.

What are a couple of reasons why I don’t record acoustic guitar direct? I’ll give you two and a tip:

1. It sounds fake.

There’s just no way around it. Even if you have a very good pickup system that costs you hundreds of dollars, it’s still going to sound like a direct acoustic guitar. There’s just no way around it. It will always and forever sound fake.

Now, that’s not necessarily wrong, but for me, when I hear that in a mix, I immediately can listen to nothing else but that direct acoustic guitar sound. It just bothers me and I don’t like it.

2. A real guitar with a microphone will always sound better.

You may think that you don’t have a good enough microphone or a good enough preamp or a good enough guitar to justify recording it with a microphone, but I can almost guarantee that if you just try and spend some time using a microphone on that guitar, you’ll find a certain combination of mic placement and microphone choice to make it sound amazing.

And if not amazing, you can at least make it sound better than the direct signal.

Try a dynamic microphone.

A lot of people tell me that the reason they don’t record their guitar with a microphone is because their studio is noisy or it’s not acoustically treated, or there’s a lot of extra noise in the house or outside that keeps them from recording with a nice, condenser microphone. Condenser microphones are great, but they are sensitive and they tend to hear everything.

Using a dynamic microphone might be your solution. Dynamic mics don’t have nearly the detail of a condenser and they can pick up just the sound that you want without picking up a lot of extra noise. They tend to be a bit darker, and they’re not as bright as a condenser, but I would still take a dynamic mic on an acoustic guitar over the direct sound.

What do you think? Do you record acoustic guitars direct?

[Photo Credit]

  • Johan

    Guys, Tv-Helicon Play Acoustic even improves the live sound of an acoustic guitar. Their body_Rez technique is fenomenal and I agree that normally recording direct to PA etc sounds unnatural. Just listen to the incredible sound. I bought one and its amazing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns7phutZpNU

  • JivariMusic Sydney

    Hi all,
    I am trying to record accoustic Guitar but not able to find a right way to do so. I tried using my Mic, it did not Sound well and when I tried direct then I heard a lot of noises which were not audible to me when I played.
    So should I connect the accoustic guitar to an amplifier and then put the mic in front of it? Or Should I put the mic in front of the accoustic guitar itself?
    Please help.
    Thanks, Bala

    • You gave up on the mic too quickly. Try different mic positions and even different mics.

  • Surprised Mac & Cheese

    I keep trying to record direct but I find that the damn microphone inside the guitar keeps picking up on every little misplaced noise I make that I don’t hear when I play by myself. So I’m very inclined to believe that it’s made mainly for plugging in for concerts when no one’s in a position to hear that kind of stuff anyway, not for home recording.

    Just like Mike said, the sound within the guitar and that without it are two very different sounds. I don’t know how many of these audial imperfections will go away if I record externally, but I figure I’ve got nothing to lose in trying.

    • Definitely worth trying. Microphone beats pickup every time.

      Joe

    • El Diablo Ramón

      Hi, all i’m new to this page. looks like i found the right place to ask my questions. i noticed that you had mentioned you had problems with the pickup, picking up every little sound. i have been running into this issue this last week while trying to record flamenco guitar with my Cordoba Koa CE. i think it has a fishman pickup, which from what i can tell after i record it into logic studio sounds like total crap! i cannot tell you how frustrated i am with the way it sounds. you can totally hear my finger making a popping sound as they rub against the strings. very frustrating. i have tried everything i can think of to try and EQ it out. from messing with the presets on the guitar pickup, to trying to find something in logic studio to EQ it out. i might have found a cheap solution which i am hoping will work. it is another Pezio pick up which you can put on teh outside of your guitar with a suction cup, AXL Acoustic Guitar Transducer Pickup. if that doesn’t work, i will have to try a microphone. i have been trying to stay away from it, as we have very loud air conditioning in the house, and i am recording in the living room.

      • Surprised Mac & Cheese

        Is it a microphone or a pickup? I was talking about a microphone actually placed in my guitar before it was fully assembled. It has an on-board mixer and everything – a pre-amp, essentially. A pickup, as I understand it, has poles for each string, but the microphone is just one receptor strategically placed inside the guitar for optimal sound output. My problem is that the microphone of my guitar, and from the sound of things every acoustic guitar out there, is so sensitive it hears things like my pressing down on strings to hold them in anticipation of playing notes in a chord. These are things I can’t hear otherwise, and really can’t hope to fix, but the point is that if I can’t hear it from my vantage point as the palyer, chances are neither can anyone else from theirs as the audience, so I’m just recording the wrong way, that’s all.

        • El Diablo Ramón

          the one i have on my Cordoba is an under the bridge pezio pickup. it’s a metal strip that sits under the bone bridge. in flamenco music, espically rhumbas, you do things like tapping on the wood of the face of teh guitar, to patting teh strings to give a rest sound. or redoblies, = using the thumb nail, and finger nails to swipe back and forth across all the strings, to get a signature Spanish sound. well, when i do that with the bridge pickup that came with my guitar, you can litterly hear the nback of the fingernail slide across the string in a popping / scratchy sound. not very appealing to the ear.

        • I would recommend getting an actual microphone and putting it in front of your guitar. The mic inside the guitar can be nice for live, but I’ve found a microphone is ALWAYS better for recording.

      • Hi Ramon,

        I think you’re wasting time with a guitar pickup. Turn the air conditioning off and record with a mic!
        jg

        • El Diablo Ramón

          ya, i think your right… i am actually going to go a bit different rought and buy an electrical guitar, just for recording purposes. i’m though with fighting it.

          • But that still won’t give you a good acoustic guitar sound…but I’m sure you know that.

  • Lloyd

    Joe, have you tried stereo recording an acoustic guitar with two sm57’s?.:) I’m planning to try it but i have to buy the mics first to try.. so i would like to know from you if it would be a good idea.. So as to not waste money if it does not work..:)

    • Hmm…I’m always surprised by how good an acoustic guitar can sound on a 57. That said, I have access to pairs of both small-diaphragm and large-diaphragm condenser mics, and I haven’t recorded acoustic guitars in stereo in YEARS. I find a killer mono recording is all I need.

      • Lea Beiley

        hey there! i’m interested in finding recording techniques that suit very minimal vocal/acoustic tracks. my inclination is to record with two mics and pan for a fuller sound. when you say you find a killer mono recording is all you need it is because you’re often mixing the acoustic into busier tracks where it’s not the main instrument or do you just have truly killer mono recording skills?

  • John A. Ardelli

    In mixing 160+ tracks from Mixing Secrets Multitracks, I’ve found that direct inputs are useful IF the acoustic guitar is part of a busy mix; the direct input gives me more control over the guitar’s sound and allows me to pinpoint it in the stereo image.

    However, BY ITSELF, or as the primary instrument in a light mix, you’re absolutely right: direct input just doesn’t sound natural. Personally, with the exceptions noted above, I think direct input is best reserved for LIVE applications where feedback and bleed would be issues.

    John A. Ardelli
    Pedaling Prince Pictures
    http://www.youtube.com/user/PedalingPrince

  • Andre

    It’s true. As much as I would like to record direct, it has never worked. I still dream of being able though. Are there any modelling plugins that can restore decent sound though?

  • Nathan

    Hi. Old threat i know, but does anyone have any ideas (specific) what to do if you are stuck with a (crappy sounding) DI sound and absolutely no chance of re-recording? How to make the best of it? Thanks:)

    • Lots and lots of playing around with EQ, compression, and maybe reverb. That’s my guess.

      • Hey I know you asked this question a long time ago but I recorded the guitar from “Zombie Love Song” direct with a compressor pedal into a Bass D.I. then into an emulation of an acoustic amp… the idea was to get the “coffee house vibe”. Lots of people go see live acoustic players playing through fishman amps so the “trick” if there is one is to make it sound like that as opposed to trying for a mic’d up sound. Millions of views on YouTube, million plus sales on iTunes, many many covers, tutorials. I think it sounds ok, I think the flatwound strings help with the “quack” personally, it’s a very different sound but if you like live acoustic amped (which I do) it can work.

  • Davidl1435

    Is it a good idea to use 2 mic, one condenser and one dynamic?

    • It’s a good idea only if it sounds good. 🙂

  • Mike

    Well, you’re right. And the simple reason is that when you listen to an unplugged acoustic, you here what it sounds like on the outside. The electric acoustic, even if it’s a really good one, gives you the sound from the inside of the guitar, which is not the same thing at all.

  • Nick

    Hi Joe,
    Great site. This article was particularly helpful in explaining why I can’t correctly mix my direct acoustics. My room wasn’t very acoustically friendly and I just moved everything to another room with better sound so will try again.

    Was wondering what you thought about using a stereo pair to record the clean acoustic and the direct input to route through effects/reverb only? Haven’t tried it yet… Will that cause too many phase issues?

    I was thinking maybe it would clean up the signal running to effects while maintaining the full room sound and tone on the main track. Of course, it’s probably not a good idea to track effects.

    • Blending in the direct signal WITH mics can be a cool thing. As far as specifically running it to effects, it’s worth a try.

      • Michael

        I find that using this technique can be great to manipulate EQ more subtly, especially in combination with hi- and lo-pass filters.

  • Jay

    Personally I agree with Joe 100% especially classical and flamenco guitar. You want flabby plastic sounding crap, DI your flamenco guitar. However I cannot speak for steel string guitar solo’d or in a mix. I also tried laying down flamenco lead guitar in a full band mix, CRAPPPPPPP. Thought I would give it a try, now back to my Tube mic

  • gregoryhyde

    Yeah… that Alice in Chains “Jar of Flies” disk was doomed to failure because of only using DI’d acoustics, right? Hmmm.

    • Never heard it, but I bet I wouldn’t like the DI acoustic sound. 🙂

      Nothing wrong with it. I just don’t care for it personally. 🙂

      • gregoryhyde

        Really?! Dude, it was one of the hugest rock albums of all time, definitely one of the biggest from the 90’s. The DI’d acoustics were used almost as an effect and achieved an other-worldly vibe to the songs.

        But it’s a great album, I’d highly recommend you listen to it regardless of how the acoustics were recorded.

        • I love the sound of the guitars on alice in chains nutshell, it might not sound “pure” and “real” but that’s probably not the intention!
          There’s definitely a beautiful characteristic to it!

  • Oscar

    I use both. I’ve found panning left and right I can create a very nice stereo sound.

    • Hey, if it sounds good, go for it. I’ve just never found a direct signal I liked. I’d rather just use two mics to get a stereo sound.

  • I record with mics and a DI. The DI comes in especially handy when doing acoustic/vocals at the same time or full band recording, either live or in the studio. Bumping the DI a little in the mix will bring up only the guitar and balance a song out. The option’s not available if you don’t record it.

    • Absolutely. A DI signal can be a great “safety,” as long as it’s not the ONLY thing. 🙂

  • Pingback: Episode #5 – Recording a Full Band With 8 Inputs | Simply Recording Podcast()

  • Marco Antonio

    But what about Amp Simulators on the signal, would that work some way?
    Actually I’m asking because I’ve just tried recording direct signal in a good A/E, but sounds weird. I used a pedalboard with Amp Simulator (RP350), made it sound a bit nicer, but not much.
    I wonder if there are effect plugins for my software (I use Mixcraft) that would simulate a Acoustic Guitar Amp and if that could solve the case.

    • There’s really no reason to simulate an acoustic guitar amp. Acoustic guitar amps simply try to amplify the sound and make it sound as natural as possible. Why? Because it’s difficult to mic an acoustic live. In the studio, however, you can and should mic acoustic guitar. Pickups are a necessity for live use only. Why would you record the direct signal when there’s such a better sound coming out of the guitar itself?

  • Steve

    Have you ever had issues with click track bleed thru the headphones and into the mics? I have had a couple of projects (acoustic and vocals only) now where during a break in the song, or the last strum at the end of the song, the click becomes obvious thru the acoustic mics. Maybe I just need to turn down the headphone mix? Anyone else ever have this issue?

    • Yeah, I’ve dealt with this a lot. One way to fix it is to simply get headphones with better isolation. The Sennheiser HD280pro are my favorite, and they prevent a lot of bleed.

      The other thing that I’ll do if bleeding is still a problem, is to automate the click track volume, so that it turns off at the last chord of the song. There’s no reason to hear it once you’ve reached the final chord of the songs.

      • Steve

        Thanks for the recommendations! I will try automating the click before I buy new headphones. 🙂

  • Cozywon

    This just helped me a ton.  I just started a vocal/acoustic project with a guy last night.  I have never recorded acoustic guitar before, and am having problems getting the sound I want.  Mostly because he wants to sing and play at the same time.  We plugged the guitar into the mic pre and while it sounded good to me, it was missing a lot of the low end and the sound of the pick.  I’m now doing research this week for our upcoming session and you just answered some questions that I had.  Thanks a ton!!

    Chris

  • Gabe Gibitz

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Joe. 🙂

    I wouldn’t call myself and acoustic snob, but I cant stand a plugged in acoustic even in a live setting. I bought a fishman aura DI for live settings so I didn’t have to hear my piezo sound.

    Do you have any resources for getting different sounds while recordng an acoustic? What the pros do…what different genres do…etc.

    Thanks man!

    • Hey Gabe. I’ve written about it some here on HSC. I plan to release a training product soon on recording and mixing acoustic guitar.

  • oh mann! great post! 
    i have been tampering with mike placements on my acoustics for sooo long, everything else i can pretty much get the sound in my head out of now, but acoustics.. there is always room for improvement.  i have found that a double mic placement for me works well (right now… ha) a pencil on the 12 and a large right in front of your face.  love it.   but really it all depends on the style too! like do you want a huge sounding body, or just a background noise, also, PICK CHOICE IS HUGE for acoustic tone! 

  • Anonymous

    One of the main reasons I think recording acoustic guitars direct sounds so unnatural is because there is absolutely zero room tone in a DI’d track. Our ears are just not used to hearing sounds without any natural reverb. The result is generally a very dry, lifeless, dull recording. 

    But when recorded with a mic, suddenly there’s a “natural-ness” that can never be captured via a piezo etc. simply because the microphone is hearing a real instrument pushing around air in a physical space. 

    And then of course there’s many other reasons why I rarely DI an acoustic (phase issues with mic’d tracks, ground hum etc.)

  • Jedi Bret

    Record acoustic direct? Only for intentionally twisting it into something else, and then I would not want the room in the effect…unless it was  a corn silo or something just crazy….

  • Mike

    I did it recently and immediately regretted it, but it really wasn’t the best sounding acoustic-electric in the world either. With some reverb, light chorus, and EQ to boost the top end, I got a decent sparkle out of it, but I hope to be able to re-record the track with mics.

    I think for certain effects it can work if that’s what you’re looking for, but it’s rarely going to be a truly natural sound. 

  • Huub

    ah man.
    I just listened to john mclaughlin. And Al DiMeola.
    And what about sheyl crowe: strong enough ?

  • Direct i have only liked one option http://www.fishman.com/products/view/aura-spectrum-di its pretty awesome …….

  • Frank Adrian

    About the only way I’d use DI for an acoustic is if I was recording a live show where the acoustic sound came from the DI anyway. Maybe as an odd sounding electric – a friend of mine got some really interesting tones by using a DI’ed acoustic and putting it through distortion effects after recording. But then I’m not really using it as an acoustic anymore.

  • Steve Dockendorf

    I agree on the direct sound of an acoustic guitar. It is very identifiable and nowhere near as pleasant as the actual acoustic sound.

  • Astewart

    I admit.. I bought an acoustic/electric guitar to be able to go direct.. but even  with all the fiddling, and eq’ing, it sounds terrible to me. Sort of midi’ish in a way. Which was a big disappointment to me. They sound so good thru an amp, but direct… yuck

  • Lukas

    If the acoustic guitar is meant to be the main instrument, I will always mic it. Wouldn’t bother to use the DI it at the same time, because it rarely comes in handy during mixing. However, for small add-ons like solos and stuff, DI can actually sound quite nice. It’s totally different than the mic’ed sound, so your melodies/solos can benefit from a different sonic texture..

  • I actually prefer the pluged in sound.

    My music/style I keep the guitars in the back of the mix. They are more like a pad then a lead. I like them to fill the gaps and just play rhythm. the problem I have when I mic an acoustic is then I get all the sparkle of the pick hitting the strings and “natural noises” that tend to pop out in the mix. When I try to get rid of it I end up just ruining the sound even more. The option Ive found best is to use something like the Taylor Expression System that uses pickups and some kind of vibration sensor. That way i get more of the nuances and musicality with out some of the “natural noises” that I don’t want.

    • I wonder you would get an even better guitar sound if you worked on
      your mic technique some more? Sounds like you probably just didn’t use
      the best mic placement.

      • where would I need to place it to keep it real balanced. I just want it to sit under everything else in the mix. I don’t want it to poke through.

        • That, my friend, is up to you and your ears. 🙂

  • Daniel Martinez Jr.

    I stereo mic my acoustic guitar using one dynamic and one condenser and the sound is great. I’ll use the condenser to pick up more high clean tones and the dynamic to pick up more low tones it balances out pretty well. Thank u Joe for this great article.

  • My band were coming up with new idea’s for songs and one of my friends played this great (well I’m not going to say my band is bad am I?) little riff on his semi-acoustic so we all decided “this was our next song” and as he has a little home studio setup of his own, minus the mics, we recorded it down via the line out and thought it sounded really nice…

    Now that I’m back home I listen to the project and realise it dosen’t have the cool “twangy-ness” and the realism we all heard in his studio, it just sounds dry and rather plain. shame as we could have used the takes (as they were played spot on) for the final song.

    When in a proper studio environment I use both DI and mics but find that I keep muting the DI when mixing.

    • I get the benefit of recording the DI…but it seems like everyone I talk to
      always mutes it in the mix…that’s why I stopped bothering with a DI at
      all. One less decision to have to make later.

    • I get the benefit of recording the DI…but it seems like everyone I talk to
      always mutes it in the mix…that’s why I stopped bothering with a DI at
      all. One less decision to have to make later.

    • I get the benefit of recording the DI…but it seems like everyone I talk to
      always mutes it in the mix…that’s why I stopped bothering with a DI at
      all. One less decision to have to make later.

  • Raphael Cassis

    I usually use my only 2 in’s with one condenser big membran 30cm away from the central hole of the guitar (I don’t know it’s name in english) and a dynamic, like a 57 model very close of the bridge, it’ll bring a little of wood on the mid range frequencies, but I use to cut the low frequencies of this one, it adds a muddy on the sound, my biggest problem is that my room isn’t that good, lots of bad reverb, so I search for the dryest point in the room to do it and REC…

  • But do they use the DI in the mix? I never have.

  • I always mic my acoustic–because it doesn’t have electronics! but seriously i totally agree with you anyway. any acoustic direct signal i’ve ever heard sounds like poo. especially ovations. yuck.

    thanks for reminding me about using dynamics on a. guitar, too–i’m struggling with an overly bright, picky sounding guitar part i recorded in a song i’m working on and i think using a dynamic mic will be just the thing to fix it…RETAKE! 

  • Ankur

    That’s one reason I haven’t picked up a semi-electric yet. I don’t play at gigs; just for self, friends, and some occasional recording. And i KNOW if i get one, i’ll go in direct. I quite like how it sounds LIVE — has a distinct synthetic sound to it. But in a recording, I can totally understand what you mean by not liking it. I would, however, love to play around with maybe mixing a miked sound with a direct signal and seeing where that would take me. I’m sure many already do that, but have never tried it myself.

  • Admin

    Once again I agree with you completely.

  • mam

    I’ve always used a mic (usually a KSM44 or a C3000) AND a DI. Usually end up not using the DI track, but sometimes the DI helps the acoustic stand out a bit more in a mix when you have LOTS of tracks competing during a dynamically loud part of a tune.

  • mam

    I’ve always used a mic (usually a KSM44 or a C3000) AND a DI. Usually end up not using the DI track, but sometimes the DI helps the acoustic stand out a bit more in a mix when you have LOTS of tracks competing during a dynamically loud part of a tune.

    • I’m fine with combining a DI WITH a mic, but not by itself. 🙂

    • I’m fine with combining a DI WITH a mic, but not by itself. 🙂

    • Same thing here. I mic AND di.  I usually mute the di, but I do like it there for editing and reamp possibilities.  Sometimes I love running my acoustic di through my pedal board/amp.