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Recording Two Acoustic Guitars In Stereo

Discussion in 'Studio Techniques' started by willB, Oct 3, 2010.

  1. willB

    willB New Member

    Here's my situation: a friend and I both play acoustic guitar and sing. We've written a few original songs and are about to start recording them ourselves. I'm looking for any advice on getting a good separation between the two guitars in the mix without doing anything too drastic with EQ or plugins. As I see it my options are:

    A: Record each guitar in mono and pan them hard left and right

    B: Record each guitar in stereo and pan the L and R channel of each hard left and right

    C: Record each guitar in stereo and do some creative panning, i.e. panning the L channel of guitar one hard left and the R channel to the middle, and the R channel of guitar two hard right and the L channel to the middle, or some other combination.

    It helps that both guitars are playing different parts in each song (open/capo, picking/strumming etc) and that our guitars both sound completely different.

    Basically what I want to achieve is a nice, full, stereo sound and am wondering if there's any good tips from others who have done the same thing?

  3. Markdvc

    Markdvc Administrator Staff Member

    I would like to propose another approach to this. First a little background information:

    The sound of a recorded acoustic guitar is determined by the interaction of quite a number of factors including:

    The sound of the guitar itself - the single most important factor here is how well it is played.
    The acoustics of the room it is played in
    The capabilities of the engineer, including how he positions the instrument in the room, how he positions the microphone or microphones, which microphone(s) preamp(s)he chooses etc.

    Concerning panning two quitars, (I would rather say, positioning them in the stereo field) first of all, are they played live together? If yes, then attention needs to be paid to how they are positioned, and to authentically capturing their sound in the room. This to a great extent will determine the imaging of the recording.

    If they are overdubbed, you could try the following:

    Move the guitar and guitarist around until you find two places in the room where it sounds well. Then, place a stereo pair of microphones in the room to capture the sound in both positions. Then record guitar A in one position, Guitar B in the other. Don't move the main mics, move the guitar in your stereo field!

    If this turns out to sound too ambient, you may need to spot mic the guitar to give you a more direct signal, but try to use the main mics to build your stereo image.

    Just one idea that may be worth trying out. There are many different approaches to this, if possible, take the time and try them all :)

    kind regards

  4. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    As Mark said, microphones do not only capture the guitars. Guitars are weak instruments, most of what you hear comes from the room. Try to play a guitar outdoors, lets say on a meadow with nothing around, not even trees. There is little sound coming from the instrument itself.

    You have basically two approaches to record two guitars at once:

    1. Close miking
    You place a mic very close to each guitar, of course you have to find the best mic position for each instrument. The position will be a compromise because a guitar in a good room sounds most natural when the microphone is about one meter away. This depends on the guitar, the room and the microphone. In your case you want a closer sound to avoid too much spill between the two mics. For better separation dampen the walls around the playes and/or put a kind of gobo between the players or at least between the instruments/mics if the players need eye contact. With this technique you have to construct the stereo image yourself, most likely you must add some reverb in the mix because guitars sound too dry with close miking.

    2. Real stereo recording
    This sounds most natural. You find good places or one good place for the players and record them with two mics in stereo. For this kind of recording the placement of instruments and mics is very important because you don't have much chance to change the sound afterwards. The raw recording must sound good and depending on the room it may take a long while and many test recordings to find the best configuration. But for the real natural sound of two good players this is the best technique. It may be impossible in a less good room.

    Of course there are many other recording techniques and you can mix close miking with distant stereo miking or do a close stereo recording with one or two additional room mics. You can place the players close together to get "one" sound or place them far apart, probably with a stereo pair for each guitar. For the typical ensemble sound a pair of ribbon mics about 45 degrees in front and above the players works very good if the room is high enough. Any microphone technique works on guitars. XY, ORTF, MS, small and big AB, all give different stereo images with more or less channel separation and localization. Feel free to experiment.
  5. JuanTahnahmahrah

    JuanTahnahmahrah Senior member

    Panning hard right and hard left sounds like not so great an idea. With headphones on, or sitting between near-field monitors, you may hear what you want. But anyone else, listening to a CD in a typical situation, will get a different mix depending on where they are sitting.

    You didn't say how many or what type of mics or mic-pres you will be using, but those items together with the room where you record and your mic placement are going to make all the difference. I'm onboard with MarkDVC in that regard. Two well-recorded guitars in mono are going to sound better than a perfect stereo mix with ineffective equipment.

    That said, it seems you should place each guitar and voice just slightly off-center, and maybe add slight reverb or delay farther out wide if you need to create some artificial ambience. If you have a great sounding room, mic the guitars and voice up-close and hang a pair of omni mics farther away to capture the natural room ambience.

    Mixing is personal, try out several different set-ups. Stereo condensor or ribbon mics, a single tube mic close with a pair of omnis three to six feet away, or a mid-side setup with a cardioid straight at the guitar and a figure-eight mic at 90 degrees, both mics between the sound hole and frets about 12 inches away.

    A great mix starts with a great take.
  6. willB

    willB New Member

    I post my question at dinner time, then find 3 excellent posts to read over breakfast the next morning... what a great forum. Thanks!

    I had assumed that we would be recording the guitars individually then mixing them together, the reason being that I'd have greater control over EQ and any effects for each one. I suppose I need to decide if we are going for a looser, live feel, or if we want a tighter studio sound (big generalisations, I know).

    I like the reasoning behind the suggestions to go for a natural stereo field as outlined by Mark and Peter, it is exactly the sort of generic advice I was after, which is why I initially withheld the details of our equipment and style of music. I think I will start with this method and see how we go. And Juan is spot on, it all starts with a great take (which in turn starts with a great musician playing a great song...)

    As a very rough indication, our music is influenced by artists such as Jack Johnson, Shawn McDonald, Ryan Adams, Joe Gilder, Dave Mathews - but of course this is a bit vague and probably not much help...

    Some specifics: I will be using two AKG C3000B condensers through an M-Audio
    FireWire 1814 interface. This equipment is all I have access to, so although information about other gear is interesting, it is not helpful to me at this stage.

    My guitar is a Walden G1070CEQ with a cedar top, warm, woody and dark.
    The other guitar is a much lighter, brighter Ibanez, the details of which I can't remember.

    We have the option of recording in a large auditorium with some serious reverberation and echoes, or in a smaller room filled with armchairs, couches, bookshelves etc. I'm leaning towards the latter as I feel it will be much more controlled, but that's the second time I've used that word in this post, maybe I am too much a control freak? Or is it sensible to try for clean, separate recordings of each guitar so I can mix more easily?
  7. ttimm

    ttimm New Member

    2 mics same time to separate mono channels?

    Hi. Beginners problem: I got Logic Pro 9 and Apogee Duet, like to record acoustic guitar with piezo (line) and condenser SE Electronics (XLR mic) on 2 different audio tracks. Can smb explain step by step how to activate (record) both 2 channels.
    Thnx in advance!
  8. Peter Ostry

    Peter Ostry Administrator Staff Member

    1. Set each channel to the input source where the individual signal comes in.
    2. Activate the red recording button of track 1
    3. Activate the red recording button of track 2
    4. Hit "Record"

    Alternatively you can assign both channelstrips to a group, name this group "Record" and select "Record" as the only group attribute in the group settings. This method is better for multitracking because you don't have to think about arming the tracks. You just hit the record button.

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