Acoustic Guitar Recording Techniques – The 4 Best Methods

I’ve talked in the past about how to record acoustic guitar. Let’s focus on some specific acoustic guitar recording techniques for setting up microphones whether it’s a single or multiple microphone setup for capturing the best tone from your guitar.

Acoustic Guitar Recording Techniques

acoustic guitar recording techniques

Before we talk about any of these acoustic guitar recording techniques, make sure you’ve got the right type of microphone.

Best Microphone for Acoustic Guitar

As I covered in my overview of how to mic an acoustic guitar, the best microphone(s) to capture acoustic guitar is a cardioid patterned condenser microphone.

I use both an AT2035 and SM81 which admittedly have slightly different polar pattern ranges but both fall into the cardioid condenser category.

The cardioid pattern means that it captures what’s directly in front of it/what it’s facing:

cardioid pattern

This is also handy for achieving cleaner recordings as it ignores everything in the dead spot which makes up its other 270 degrees around it. Most microphones are cardioid patterned or at least have that setting, but keep that in mind.

As I covered in my condenser vs dynamic microphone comparison, condenser microphones are better suited for capturing quieter instruments with a lot of detailed nuance in their dynamics and frequency range.

condenser microphones

Now that we’ve had a brief word on the best microphone for recording acoustic guitar, let’s get into acoustic guitar recording techniques in earnest.

Each recording technique will involve a different microphone setup. While most of these techniques involve two microphones, let’s begin with the most basic of acoustic guitar recording techniques – the single microphone technique.

Single Microphone Technique

You can orient a single microphone in all sorts of ways around your acoustic guitar, but you’ll find that 99% of the time you’ll get the best results by focusing on the 12th fret as this graphic illustrates:

how to mic an acoustic guitar

A few things to keep in mind when using a single microphone to recording acoustic guitar:

  • Aim the microphone at the 12th fret for the best balance of bass, body warmth, and the transient brightness of the strings themselves.
  • If you want a brighter sound, move a few frets closer to the neck. If you want a warmer, thicker sound, move a few frets closer to the sound hole.
  • Don’t mic the sound hole itself as this will sound boomy, muddy, and messy.
  • Place the microphone 6-12 inches away from the fretboard for a drier, up close, cleaner tone which focuses on the guitar itself.
  • Move the microphone farther away if you want to work in more of the room and reflections at the expense of clarity.

As with all of these acoustic guitar recording techniques, it works best if you have a second person to move the microphone(s) around while you play so that you can hear the tone changing. This will help you find what you believe to be your ideal spot.

Also try to mitigate as much room or outside noise as possible before you begin recording. This could mean:

  • Turning off the air conditioner or other non-essential noise emitting appliances.
  • Aiming the microphone 180 degrees away from your computer fan to minimize bleed.
  • Recording at night when outside noise is at a minimum.

Lastly, set the gain level for that microphone on your recording hardware to average -18dB and peak at -12dB to ensure there’s no clipping and you have the ideal level for gain staging as you feed the audio into any and all processing (see how to mix acoustic guitar).

Keep those tips in mind as we move on to bringing a second microphone into the equation.

By the way, even if you only have or choose to use a single microphone, think about double tracking acoustic guitar to supplement the first recording to get a fuller, wider sound.

Neck Bridge Technique

We’ll begin with the neck and bridge technique for recording acoustic guitar with two microphones.

You could also call this the 12th fret and bridge technique, but the idea is that one microphone is favoring the neck and the other is favoring the bridge:

neck and bridge

The more treble leaning microphone is still facing the 12th fret like in the single microphone technique. We then supplement that tone with a microphone which is facing the bridge below the sound hole.

I mentioned using an AT2035 and SM81 in my own recordings earlier. Every microphone represents what it’s recording with a slightly different sound. For instance my AT2035 is a bit brighter, whereas the SM81 is a bit flatter if not darker on the acoustic.

As such, I keep this in mind and set the brighter AT2035 at the darker source, in this case the bridge, and the flatter/comparatively darker SM81 at the brighter source, in this case the 12th fret.

This makes the two recordings sound closer together in tone than if I had oriented them in the opposite way which makes it sound more natural when summing the two tracks in the mix.

Make sure to place the two microphones the same distance away from the guitar to minimize the possibility of phase issues.

In other words, if you aim the first microphone 8″ away from the 12th fret, make sure the second microphone is 8″ from the bridge.

Incidentally there’s also a rule which states that you get the best balanced tone with this approach by multiplying the mic distance from the guitar by 3.

So 8″ from the guitar for each mic means that the two microphones should be 24″ from each other.

When we pan the two tracks hard left and right, we get a realistic stereo image of more brightness on one end and more body on the other. Beyond that it helps to give the guitar a little more width in the stereo field.

XY Technique

The XY recording technique puts two microphones much closer to one another to get an even more consistent recording between the two:

xy recording technique

Here both microphones are pointed at the same spot, typically the same 12th fret, albeit each at a different axis.

Specifically, one microphone which is closer to the neck is placed at roughly a 45 degree angle favoring the sound hole for a slightly warmer tone.

The other microphone which is closer to the sound hole is placed at roughly a 45 degree angle favoring the neck for a slightly brighter tone.

This blends the two tones like the neck bridge technique I just covered, but again the two recordings sound so much alike by virtue of their positions that you get a more consistent sound between the two.

This still sounds great and very natural, not to mention wide when panned hard left and right and spread across the stereo field.

Mid Side Mic Technique

The mid side mic technique requires a special type of microphone with a different polar pattern, in this case bidirectional, also known as “figure 8”.

It’s called such because it picks up what it’s facing and what’s behind it. You probably have seen these in the context of podcast style interviews where a single microphone picks up both people sitting across from one another.

The mid side mic technique can create the widest acoustic guitar sound from a single take, though it takes a bit of work setting up.

Specifically you need to set one microphone pointing at the 12th fret like the single microphone setup, then place the bidirectional/figure 8 microphone directly above or below the initial microphone without touching it, turned 90 degrees so that it’s facing perpendicular to the first microphone and parallel with the guitar like so:

mid side mic technique

Once you’ve finished recording the guitar, in your DAW keep the cardioid track in the center then duplicate the bidirectional/figure 8 recorded track, sending the original hard left and the duplicate hard right, then invert the phase on the duplicate.

The effect this creates is that you’re essentially soloing one side which the bidirectional mic picked up in one channel and the other on the opposite side.

Turn the faders down all the way on the bidirectional tracks then turn them uniformly up to begin hearing a very natural and realistic sounding width from your guitar in the sides courtesy of that bidirectional recording.

You can automate the level up or down to bring more or less width to your acoustic guitar on demand this way.

It sounds better than using a stereo imaging plugin, and you can use this to make your acoustic guitar more prominent in the mix on key sections such as the chorus.

Once you have your acoustic guitar recording sounding just right, consider my acoustic guitar EQ and acoustic guitar compression guides for enhancing what you’ve already recorded.

From there you can add in some reverb on acoustic guitar or just check out my overall acoustic guitar mixing guide for getting the best sound from top to bottom.

Acoustic Guitar Recording Techniques Reviewed

  • There are a number of acoustic guitar recording techniques for capturing the best sound from your mix with one microphone or two.
  • The best microphones to use to capture acoustic guitar are cardioid patterned condenser microphones which are more capable of picking up the details of your performance.
  • The sweet spot for miking an acoustic guitar is the 12th fret which provides a nice blend of body, warmth, and top end string brightness. Go closer to the neck for a brighter sound and closer to the sound hole (without miking the sound hole itself) for a warmer sound.
  • Place the microphone 6-12 inches away from the guitar for a relatively dry, guitar focused sound. If you want more room at the expense of clarity, move it slightly farther away.
  • The neck and bridge technique is a two microphone setup where one microphone is pointed at the 12th fret and the other at the bridge. Panning them hard left and right provides a nice, wide, and realistic full sound of the acoustic guitar from body warmth to brightness of the strings.
  • When using two or more microphones in this technique, place them the same distance from the guitar and multiply that distance by three for the best distance BETWEEN the microphones.
  • The XY technique works well for getting to very similar sounding recordings, both aiming at the 12th fret but slightly off axis so that one favors the bridge and the other the neck. Like the neck and bridge, pan these hard left and right.
  • The mid side mic technique requires a bidirectional/figure 8 microphone alongside your cardioid, placing them each at the sound hole one on top of the other without touching. The bidirectional mic’s hot spot should be parallel with the guitar. Duplicate that track after recording, invert the polarity on the duplicate, then pan them hard left and right while leaving the cardioid in the center. Bring up the side panned bidirectional tracks for some natural sounding width on demand for the acoustic guitar.

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