This article is more of an opinion piece than anything.
I want to preface this by saying that I absolutely love acoustic guitar. It was my first instrument, and, while I’ve branched out and started playing other instruments over the years, the acoustic guitar is by far my favorite.
Almost every song I write and record is centered around the acoustic guitar. I’ve spent countless hours learning how to record and mix it. While I’m not perfect at it, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
I may not know too much about programming electronic music or putting together phat beats, but I know acoustic guitar.
As beautiful as the acoustic guitar sounds, there tends to be a trend among home studio owners, particularly those starting out, to use all sorts of effects on the acoustic guitar. Things like chorus and flangers.
I just don’t get it.
You have this beautiful, rich, full instrument. You spend hours trying to figure out how to properly record it. You work hard to get a clean, pure recording. Then you want to throw a chorus plug-in on there and make it sound all phasey and weird?
This does not compute.
When I stereo-mic my acoustic guitar, I’m always listening to make sure the microphones aren’t out of phase with each other. I would imagine most of you do the same thing. That’s why it’s so fascinating to me that after achieving a perfectly phase-coherent recording, the first thing people reach for is an effect that introduces phase shift into the track. ‘Tis bizarre.
Another effect that’s easy to overdo is reverb. Now I won’t go so far as to say you shouldn’t use reverb at all on acoustic guitar. Oftentimes just a touch of reverb can really bring the track to life.
However, please go easy on the reverb. This goes for any reverb on any track in your song. A lot of people when they first learn how to record go way overboard with reverb. (I know because I was the king. If it wasn’t swimming in reverb, it wasn’t finished.)
Perhaps a reason people are so prone to adding all sorts of effects to their acoustic guitar tracks is because they’re recording the guitar direct rather than using microphones. I understand that some of you may not have microphones available to you, or you may think that the DI sounds just as good as miking the guitar.
Let me challenge you to perhaps A/B the two. I would personally prefer the actual sound of the acoustic guitar over the world’s best guitar pickup any day of the week. If you find yourself adding chorus and reverbs and flangers to try to make your DI guitar tracks sound full, perhaps you would be best served by recording it with a mic instead.
These are simply my opinions. Your acoustic guitar tone is a subjective thing. I personally don’t care for a heavily effected acoustic guitar track, but if you absolutely love, then go for it.
However, I’ve noticed that I really only tend to hear these affects on mixes from beginner home studios. I almost never hear them on professional tracks. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong, but it’s something to think about.
Thoughts? Leave a comment.
[Photo by Jim Sneddon]