Do you have noise in your recordings?

Do you hate noise?

Wish you knew some ways to deal with it?

This past Friday I spent part of the afternoon tracking acoustic guitar for a client. (He’s actually an HSC subscriber, too.)

It was a fairly quiet tune with a more finger-style guitar part. And since the instrumentation for the song was going to be primarily acoustic guitar, I decided to break out two mics and stereo-mic the guitar.

The problem?

Because I wasn’t strumming with a pick and playing nice and loud, I ended up having a fairly big amount of noise initially.

As I was dealing with it, I thought you’d probably like some tips for dealing with it as well.

Get Closer to the Mic

This is usually the first option I run to when I’m encountering noise on my recordings.

Be warned, however. It doesn’t always work.

The idea is that if the source is closer to the microphone, then the mic will “hear” more of the source and less of the noise in the room.

You’ll have to deal with the proximity effect, however. The closer the mic is to the source, the more low end it will pick up.

Perhaps that’s a sacrifice you’ll have to make to cut back on noise.

But here’s the funny thing — oftentimes this doesn’t help. The noise isn’t really in the room…it’s in the gear.

Preamp Noise — A Sneaky Culprit

If you’re using the stock preamps on your audio interface to record (which I was), and you’re recording a quiet source (which I was), and you need to crank the preamps up to get a decent level (which I did), you run the risk of introducing noise.

Cheaper preamps tend to sound just fine on normal loud sources, like vocals, guitar amps, etc. But when you go after something quiet and intimate (like a soft acoustic guitar part), you’ll need to turn the preamp up quite a bit.

The upper range of these cheaper pre’s is generally very noisy. That’s one thing that differentiates cheap pre’s from really nice ones — less noise with higher amounts of gain.

The solution? Buy a nicer preamp?


Maybe you can upgrade one day, but you’ve got to record that guitar part TODAY.

The best way to deal with this is to find that “happy place” on the preamp, the place just before all the noise starts kicking in. If the preamp is a lot more noisy at 80% over 75%, then set it to 75% and cut back on the noise.

Also, if you can make the source a bit louder, that always helps.

You’ll still have preamp noise, but playing around with gain-staging for a minute or two can have a big payoff.

Cover it up in the mix.

Does all this noise really matter? Will you notice it in the mix? Sometimes — yes. Most of the time — NO.

Once you add a few instruments, it becomes easy to “cover up” the noise with something else.

If that final strum of the guitar is noisy, try putting a pad sound over the top of it, or a nice reverb-y electric guitar sound.

If it’s a really stripped-down song with just acoustic guitar and vocals, then you’re out of luck.

Don’t worry too much, though. I’ve heard some amazing recordings that have a LOT of noise on them. The noise didn’t hurt things at all. If anything, it made me a little happy.

If you record a lot of acoustic instruments, you might want to check this out:

It’s a tutorial series on recording acoustic guitar, but get this — it applies to ANY acoustic instrument. Mandolin? Upright bass? Piano? Banjo? Accordion?

I take the same approach with ALL of these, and it works out rather nicely.