When pickups were designed for acoustic guitars – be it the traditional magnet/coil type that mounts in the soundhole or the piezo under-saddle type that is typically used – it was hailed as the greatest thing since the string winder. Think about it – no more messing around with trying to use a microphone to amplify your acoustic. Just plug and play. Is it the best solution for how to mic an acoustic guitar?
Hold on there, cowboy (or cowgirl)…maybe not…
While it’s true that modern pickup and preamp systems offer a level of convenience that using a mic can’t match, there are still several reasons why using a mic on an acoustic guitar is actually the best thing to do.
One reason is the guitar itself – many models (both old and new) don’t have any sort of pickup installed, and in some cases, it may not be the best move to install one (for example, cutting into a vintage Martin…that may be a bad thing).
Another reason is the tone. Pickups – regardless of the technology used – may not give a true representation of how your acoustic actually sounds. This may be more important in a recording environment, but it can be equally as meaningful in a live situation where you want your audience to appreciate the full, rich tone that you have when playing ‘unplugged.’
There are a lot of factors to consider and questions to answer – especially if you’re new to this technique – so let’s take a few minutes to explore the possibilities. Those possibilities can seem to be endless, for sure, so some understanding of all that’s involved will only benefit you.
The type of mic that you should use is important, as it can make or break how accurate your sound is. Condenser mics are typically preferred for this scenario. For those that may not be mic savvy, a condenser mic is designed to work better with softer, more delicate sounds in addition to better reproduction of high frequencies.
On top of that, you also should consider what kind of condenser mic that you should use with an acoustic guitar. You’ll typically find small diaphragm and large diaphragm models. Smaller ones are best suited for getting the most accurate sound reproduction, while large diaphragms are best for dynamics and expression.
All of that being said, there’s nothing stopping you from experimenting with different types and kinds of microphones. You may come across a combination that hits your sonic ‘sweet spot.’
This may seem like a minor detail, but it is extremely important. The position of the mic relative to the guitar is a big factor in the overall quality of the sound you’ll get at the other end of the mic.
It may seem like common sense to put the mic right in front of the soundhole, but we’d recommend against that. The soundhole could be considered a cannon in this regard, with all of the sound waves and power coming straight out. It may be a bit overwhelming, not necessarily from a ‘power’ or ‘strength’ standpoint, but from the distinction of different EQ points (i.e., low frequencies may overpower the highs).
There isn’t one ‘best’ place as far as mic placement goes, as it all depends on what you’re looking to achieve. Typically you’ll get more emphasis on higher frequencies if your mic is placed towards the neck (a good point of reference is around the 12th fret).
Looking for more bottom end? Move the mic more towards the bridge, and it may not hurt to have it set higher, so it’s closer to the bass strings.
Absolutely! In fact, using two mics may be a great way to supplement the overall tone. You could experiment with one being closer to the neck while one is down by the bridge…or you could try out different distance techniques with one being closer (around 12”) and one being farther away (a few feet).
Yup. There sure is.
Many of the techniques we discussed are perfect for execution in the studio. If you’re playing live, then there are some things that are just common sense.
For example, one microphone will usually be more than adequate for a gig. Some of it boils down to simplicity as well – using fewer mics means there’s less to set up, soundcheck, worry about not working, etc.
The distance factor is a big one here, too. Studio environments are relatively controlled, and once your mic (or mics) are set, you typically won’t be doing too much moving around – you’ve got to concentrate on getting that perfect take, right?
Live performance is a whole different animal. It’s a fair statement to say that once you get ‘in the moment’ at a gig, you may tend to be a little more animated than you would in a studio. While using a mic in this instance is perfectly fine, you’d have to be careful to not move around TOO much.
You’ll either get out of range of the mic, or you’ll hit it. And that’s bad.
As with most things related to music and instruments, there isn’t really hard and fast rule as to the ultimate ‘best way’ to do anything. The best way to tell the ‘best way’ is to let your ears be your guide. That being said, having some basic guidelines to go off of helps to save you some time.
When it comes to using a microphone on an acoustic guitar, we’d recommend using a good quality condenser mic, along with determining the position that gives you the best sound reproduction. Additionally, there are some differences between playing a live gig and laying down some tracks in the studio too, so take care to use the proper techniques for the situation.
It’s all on you now…you’re set to unleash your acoustic goodness on the world!