One of the most stripped down ways to record a song is just acoustic guitar and vocals. There’s something very organically pleasing about the rawness of a vocal accompanied by a single instrument, and acoustic guitar and vocals is as classic as it gets. Let’s talk how to record acoustic guitar and vocals to save yourself headaches later in the mixing process.
How to Record Acoustic Guitar and Vocals
The most important aspect of how to record acoustic guitar and vocals is getting the guitar properly mic’d.
It’s so important, in fact, that I put together a complete guide on how to record acoustic guitar.
Even if you’re simultaneously adding vocals to the recording, these mic placements will work well for the guitar, so let’s go through them.
Record Sitting Down
First, let me emphasis that you’ll get a much better recording if you sit down to record acoustic guitar and vocals.
This keeps the guitar in place, typically resting on your knee, reducing movement and thus delivering a more consistent signal to the microphone.
This also keeps your body from moving which should help deliver a more consistent signal in the vocal to the microphone.
Also, and this should go without saying, but you want to mitigate as much ambient noise as possible when you record.
Regardless if you have 1 or 2 microphones to pick up the guitar, you should place them 6-12″ away from the guitar.
If you want more room sound and reflections you can move them farther away. If you want a drier tone, keep them close.
Aim the microphone(s) at the 12th fret of the guitar to get a nice balance of low end from the sound hole and high end from the neck.
If you want a warmer tone, shift it a couple frets closer to the sound hole. Conversely, if you want a brighter tone, shift it a couple frets closer to the neck.
Some acoustic guitars (cheaper ones) will typically be lacking in or favoring one sound over the other, so you may need to adjust the microphone placement slightly to account for that.
If you have a second microphone to dedicate to the guitar, there are a couple of additional miking techniques to mention.
XY Recording Technique
The XY recording technique works well for getting a fuller sound out of your acoustic guitar because you’re getting a bit more dedicated warmth on one and more high end on the other.
As you can see from the graphic below, we want our microphones about 6 inches away from the 12th fret.
Once again, we can get closer to the neck for more high end, or closer to the bridge for more bass, body and warmth.
The difference here is that the microphones are a bit off axis, pointing slightly toward one another. Again, this helps you get a nice blend of both tones.
Once you’ve got these two tracks recorded, pan one left and one right to get a nice stereo spread.
The fact that one track will be a bit warmer and the other brighter creates a nice contrast.
Definitely try this if you have two cardioid microphones (see my overview of microphone patterns) to use on the acoustic guitar.
Mid Side Mic Technique
If you’ve got a bidirectional (figure-8) microphone, meaning it picks up the front and back exclusively, you can try the mid side mic technique as another good method for how to record acoustic guitar and vocals.
As you can see from the image below, it’s a bit trickier to set up but still works when recording acoustic guitar and vocals.
We’re setting up the cardioid microphone as normal (12th fret, 6″ away). The difference is the bidirectional microphone which should be directly above the cardioid without touching. This microphone is turned at a 90 degree angle to the first microphone so you’re getting the sides.
When you’ve finished recording, duplicate the figure 8 microphone track, pan one hard left and one hard right, and invert the phase of the duplicated track.
This creates a very nice stereo spread which you can add or remove from the mix by blending the volume up or down against the cardioid microphone track which should be in the center.
One Microphone For Acoustic Guitar and Vocals
If you only have one microphone PERIOD, everything becomes much simpler.
I still recommend sitting down, but place the microphone about 2 feet from yourself. Just like when we were close miking the guitar, if you want more room sound, move the microphone farther away.
I don’t recommend bringing the microphone too much closer in a single microphone setup because then you start to lose either the vocal or the guitar, depending on how high you have the microphone.
In terms of height, situate the microphone midway between your mouth and the guitar to get a nice blend. If you want more vocal you can go a bit lower, and vice versa.
This is as stripped down as you can get, but it works well for a lot of songs and performers.
If your acoustic guitar can be plugged in, I recommend recording that DI sound so you at least have that option to mix in later. Sometimes the DI tone sounds so dissimilar from the natural tone of the mic’d version of the guitar that it doesn’t sound good alongside it, but you can blend it in low to fill out the guitar a bit.
You can also favor more of the vocal with the microphone placement, then use more of the DI tone to supplement the guitar.
There are a lot of factors to account for with different guitars, rooms, microphones, and vocals, so you’ll have to experiment.
These tips for how to record acoustic guitar and vocals should help get you started to getting an intimate and pleasantly raw performance!