A reader is puzzled by stereo (2-mic) acoustic guitar recording:

I recently got into mixing acoustic guitar with 2 mics. The problem is that I do not know how to create as much ‘space’ as some tracks I know of. I’ve tried XY, ORTF, and spaced pair.

XY and ORTF are too narrow. Spaced pair seems reasonable (following the 3:1 Rule), but the mic pointed closest to the body becomes overly ‘bassy.’

How can I balance the stereo image? EQ can control the problem but not by much. How would you go about on fixing this problem?

I know mic position has to do with it but I don’t know where to start. Just wondering if you had to overcome this type of problem before.

As much acoustic guitar recording and mixing as I do, I’ve dealt with problems like this a LOT.

(And this applies to ANY instrument, not just acoustic guitar.)

First things first…

Mic Placement is Everything.

I’ve played the “Hey, I’m Just Going to Throw a Couple of Mics in Front of the Guitar and Hope it Works” game.

It’s not a very fun game, trust me. You always end up losing.

Whenever you’re recording an acoustic instrument, always plan to give yourself at least a few minutes to try a few different mic techniques. Is one mic (mono) appropriate? Does it need the wider sound of a stereo (2-mic) technique? If so, which technique is best?

There are a lot of options, and it would behoove you to try at least a couple of them before committing the recording to tape. (Tape…who says tape anymore?)

I feel like I’ve come full circle when it comes to stereo recording. I used to love a nice, wide acoustic guitar sound. But the last year or so I’ve simplified a lot.

Nowadays I’ll either go with a single mic or use two mics in an XY configuration. Why? Because having a really “wide” recording isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Even though XY doesn’t give the widest stereo image, it doesn’t lend itself to phase issues and lop-sided recordings.

Speaking of lop-sided, let’s talk about that stereo recording that has too much bass in one mic versus the other.

Even if you do your job on the front end with mic placement, sometimes one mic (the one pointed at the sound hole) picks up more bass than the other.

Here’s how I deal with it:

  1. Place an EQ plug-in on the bass-heavy track ONLY.
  2. Use the EQ to remove some of the excess low end, until the two tracks are more balanced.
  3. Bus the two tracks to a stereo aux track.
  4. Put any additional EQ and compression plugins on the stereo aux track.

The first EQ is simply corrective. It lets you balance out the sound. (No more lop-sided guitar.)

The second EQ (on the stereo aux) is what you’ll use to carve the entire sound of the entire stereo recording to fit it in the mix.

As you may have guessed, mic placement and technique play a HUGE roll in how awesome your acoustic guitar recordings (and mixes) are going to sound.

Make that a priority on your next session.

If you’re interested in diving in deeper, I created a 4-week class on getting consistently awesome acoustic guitar recordings. You can join any time here:

www.UnderstandingRecording.com/acoustic

  • Yohanan

    i tried out what joe suggested and i got some very nice acoustic guitar sound now…
    but some more tips i found out about, for others:
    first, i ALWAYS had a HPF on my mixer (which is at a drastic slope starting at 80hz) set to “ON”. i took that off and my sound was fuller and a bit less lopsided after i used a HPF or shelf on my DAW and not on the mixer (custom settings for both sided of the mix).
    ALWAYS check the mixer! lots of possibly good takes are ruined with it say, the volume was set low (or loud) or there was some soft panning or lack thereof.
    Secondly, it is a good idea to have a LDC on as the second mic that points at the neck. the proximity effect is your friend for this. and also the different frequency pickup leads to a wider stereo image). as for position i found 15 inches apart works best for my guitars and angling them at each other balances the image.

    my mics and guitar are low range, but i was able to get good results either way 🙂 just gotta get some money to invest in new gear now

    and yes as jay pointed out, technique comes first. i used to strum really loudly, dynamic, and uneven…it would kill my recordings now i play more controlled, but that was when i barely started off.
    this site has been a HUGE help. gotta thank Joe and others for this

  • Philip

    I have used the WAVES S1 Stereo Imager to help balance out stereo tracks. It does a great job at this.

    Joe have you done any Mid-side miking?

    Just got a Miktek C7, figure of eight is one of its patterns.

    This with one of my other mics will allow me to do the MS technique.

    Have not tried it, but look forward to it.

    Do you have any thoughts on it?

    Thanks

  • Not that I’ve tried this – admittedly, I haven’t, but I’d like to – what if you used the XY technique, but instead of facing the stereo pair right and left, you faced one tilted 45 degrees towards the floor, and the other 45 degrees towards the ceiling? Since the strings are arranged vertically, couldn’t this give a somewhat piano-like spread?

    Another possibility: what if you do the XY left-to-right, but position them to optimize for the sound of the one facing the body, even if it means the one facing the neck picks up less, and accepting up front that the pan image is going to be off center, and that you’re going to position other instruments the opposite way to balance it out?

  • Jonathan

    If you (not Joe obviously, but anyone struggling…) haven’t tried out mid-side technique, I’d DEFINITELY give that a go. It’s pretty amazing, and I am always satisfied with the stereo image I can get.

  • The first thing in recording acoustic guitar is to with a quality instrument you cannot make a $400 seagull sound like a $5000 martin with any plugin or eq. I agree with everything jay had to say. Get it right at the source then it should fall into place in the mix. just my 2 cents

  • Xan

    I hate acoustic guitars. But every now & again I do want an acoustic guitar PART on a track. Clean Electric will just not do it.

    I have tried various “acoustic simulations” from boosting freqs on an EQ, to using a BBE unit, trying a Boss Acoustic simulator pedal plus even doing this thing where I put a clip on lapel mic (a very cheap one!) on the bridge ov a very short scale length electric. That actually worked quite well.

    But last week I obtained a Rockman ‘Acoustic’ pedal. These are the Rolls Royce ov acoustic simulation pedals as far as I am concerned. It works damn well, very acoustic sounding from an electric guitar.

    Don’t have to worry about miking, and if I ever decided to do this song live. Just take the pedal along in the live rig! 🙂

  • Molecola

    usually i try to do my best with just one mic, of course multi-miking is ok, being careful with placement and phase. the point is an acoustic guitar -like most instruments- is a mono source, and i mostly always find a stereo recording quite unnatural and somehow cheating. with a good mono recording (either single mic or multi), one can still double-track -either playing another take or artificially- and pan to taste. just my two cents.

    PS
    too many “either/or”, i’m sorry. you know, it’s the title of a great album by elliott smith: a guy who happened to double-track his vocals and acoustic guitars all the time. check “roman candle” for some really astonishing examples.

  • Sad Panda

    Mic placement is definitely everything. And more than just having them in the right place, but having them point in the right direction is a big deal. I’m very happy with XY on acoustic and the size of the stereo image (generally speaking) and that has to do with the fact that it’s not two mics right together on a stereo bar looking in the same direction. It’s not a 3D movie (which that technique is great for filming in 3D), so you have to cross your eyes a bit. The one on the left faces more to the right and vice versa. That really helped my acoustic recordings. 😀

  • Jay

    I’ll have to chime in on this from my own experiences through out the years. I used to have alot of problems trying to get a balanced tonal recording of classical spanish guitar. No matter where I put that mic or mics, it wasn’t till I cleaned up the way I actually play the guitar that my recordings got much better. Over excessive bass and mid range mudd mostly dissapeared. It could possibly be the way you balance your hands or nails on the strings, how hard you strum or pluck etc. If you haven’t already, try striking your strings in a level fashion, so your high strings and lows strings are balanced in attack and volume, that way your mic positioning gets the best results. Natural EQ for me really starts in my hands first, then mic position 2nd. Hope this helps some.