Learning how to record acoustic guitar at home can be a game-changer. With this skill, you’ll be able to record and release your own songs, collaborate on projects with other musicians, and gain insight into your skills by listening back to yourself. Here, we’ll walk through how to get the best sound from your acoustic guitar in a home studio recording.
When getting started with recording guitar at home, the options and techniques can feel overwhelming. Not to mention, sound engineering can often seem like a mysterious art. However, there’s a set of straightforward parameters that go into every great home studio recording, as well as some inexpensive equipment that’s accessible to most musicians. Let’s look at some of the best ways to get great sounding recordings out of your home studio.
What’s the Best Way to Start Recording Guitar at Home?
Home recording involves setting up your environment, mastering mic placement, perfecting input levels, and then capturing your guitar sound using software. Luckily, modern technology makes home recording for guitarists simple and affordable. Let’s take a closer look.
What Recording Equipment Do You Need?
When learning the basics of home recording, the most common question I hear from singer/songwriters is “What type of equipment do I need?” So let’s start with the basics. In order to record your music, you will need the following:
- Computer or tablet: Most DAWs are compatible with both PCs and Macs, and it’s always best to work on a machine that you’re familiar and comfortable with. Almost any PC or Mac should suffice for simple recordings. I use an older Microsoft Surface tablet and it works great for recording.
- Interface: This is a tool that converts the sound coming into your microphone into sound that your computer can understand. Your interface is essential, as it converts a microphone’s “Phantom Power” into a type of sound readable by a digital workstation. Some interfaces have lots of different “inputs” or places for mics to plug in. As a guitarist, you will only need an audio interface with the standard two inputs.
- Microphone: for recording a guitar at home you’ll want to choose a large diaphragm condenser microphone. Many musicians spend thousands on microphones. However, you can get a quality mic for under $100, and excellent mics for under $300.
- Mic cable: It may seem obvious, but you’ll need a mic cable to connect your microphone to your interface. Some home studio bundles come with a mic, but it’s best to make sure ahead of time.
- Mic stand: It’s essential to have a mic stand to optimize placement of your microphone. Some home studio bundles come with a stand, but most don’t, so best to check ahead of time.
- DAW (Digital Audio Workstation): Your DAW (or Digital Audio Workstation) gives you the power to record, mix, and master your music, so it’s an essential tool to have for home recording. Your DAW also allows you to convert your music into the sound file type you prefer (mp3, AIFF, WAV, etc.) Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Studio One, Qubase, and Reaper are all examples of quality DAWs.
Choosing a Home Recording Bundle
If you do not have any of this equipment, then I recommend looking at the Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB Audio Interface, or the Studio One PreSonus AudioBox. You can find these in a bundle with everything that you need to record, including an interface, mic, and mic cable. These bundles even include a selection of different DAWs that can be downloaded to your computer from the interface.
Another great example of affordable equipment is the iRig HD2. This interface also comes with a complete version of Amplitude. A valuable asset for those interested in recording.
Making Sure Your Instrument Sounds Great
If your guitar sounds great, and you sound great playing it, you’ll be more likely to get a great recording. Tune up. Tune up again. Practice. Make sure you can play the piece you’ll be recording flawlessly along with a click track. While this may seem like a no-brainer, you’d be amazed at how many guitarists hope an awesome mic will disguise – or transform – a less-than-awesome sounding instrument, or a not-quite-rehearsed piece of music. In most cases, if your instrument doesn’t sound good, your recording won’t sound good.
Creating an Ideal Acoustic Recording Environment
Once you have your gear, you will need to create an optimal recording environment. This should be a quiet space with no sound interference (cars driving by, dogs barking, etc.). Once you have chosen your space, you will need to explore the natural reverberation of the room. Is there an echo when you play? Or do the surroundings of the room absorb the sound to provide a tighter sounding recording?
Generally, you will want a carpeted room or a rug, and some furniture. All of these things help control the sound that will be picked up in the recording. I believe it is best to have a tighter room where sound is absorbed. If you want, you can add the reverb effect later when you are mastering the recording.
Best Mic Placement for Acoustic Guitar
Many young musicians believe that it is appropriate to place a mic directly facing the soundhole of the acoustic guitar. However, to get the most balanced sound, it is better to place the microphone approximately 6 – 12 inches in front of the 12th fret. The 12th fret is approximately where the neck of the guitar meets the body.
Experiment by moving your position in relationship to the mic, and discover how your position changes the quality of the sound. If you’re using a second microphone, it’s common to place that near the body of the guitar to get a bigger bass sound into the mix. Today’s advanced sound equipment means you have tons of power over your sound when recording guitar at home.
Here are some basics about how mic placement will change your guitar’s sound:
- As you get closer to the microphone, your guitar sound will have more bass. Too close, and the sound will get boomy.
- As you get further away from the microphone, the sound will get thinner. Too far, and your sound will get too thin.
Pro Tip: Adjust yourself instead of your microphone. This will give you the most power over your sound. Remember that you’ll want a different position or distance from the mic depending on your guitar’s unique sound. And also that you may want a different position based on the song you’re recording.
Setting Your Input Levels
Setting your levels means ensuring that you’re recording at an appropriate volume – at the source.
Here’s what not to do:
- Record too quiet and you won’t have enough “head room” to bring up your sound to an appropriate volume later. Hint: too quiet means the meter inside your DAW will show sound only in the green (very low) or yellow (mid range).
- Record too loud and you’ll experience “clipping” which means the sound is recorded at a level so high that it’s distorting. If your sound clips during the recording stage, there’s nothing you can do later on to fix it. Hint: you’ll know you’re clipping when the “clip light” lights up on the front of your interface, or when it appears on the meter inside your DAW.
Here’s what to do:
- Record so that your meter inside your mix is somewhere in the middle – about about the ⅔ mark. You should be able to play your guitar at its loudest without clipping.
Finding your sweet spot takes some practice, but it’s worth the effort. You can always (and should always) adjust your sound levels during mixing, but capturing a clean take at the source means you have something quality to work with later on.
Recording in Mono or Stereo Mode
We’re thrilled to feature this Point Blank video in this article. You can find more Point Blank videos at TakeLessons Live.
The next step is deciding which mode in which to record. In your DAW, you have the option of a mono and a stereo track. Mono means “one”, and stereo means “two”.
As a listener hearing sound coming out of one or two speakers:
- Mono = single speaker, with no left channel or right channel
- Stereo = two speakers, with sound coming out of both
A rule of thumb for recording guitar:
- If you are recording with one mic – record in mono
- If you are recording with two mics – record in stereo
Again, it’s ineffective to record a single microphone to a stereo track, since your input is only one mic. You must have two mics to record in stereo mode.
Home Recording Can Be Tricky to Learn – But it’s Worth the Effort!
Learning how to record acoustic guitar at home may be something that you have to spend a little time learning, but it can lead to creating some quality recordings that represent you as a musician. I highly encourage any singer/songwriter or acoustic player to explore the art of recording. Remember, a guitar teacher can help you polish your technique so your recordings sound excellent, and group guitar classes can give you the opportunity to learn in a friendly and affordable environment.
As always, all comments are welcome! Let me know what you think about this article. Do you have any suggestions about recording equipment or techniques?