Guitar Miking 101 + Electronic Musician Magazine Offer

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Guitar Miking 101

 

 

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By Bobby Owsinski & Rich Tozzoli

Bobby Owsinski is a producer, engineer, and musician who has authored 13 books on recording, music and music business. Check out all his books at bobbyowsinski.com and his production blog at bobbyowsinski.blogspot.com. Rich Tozzoli’s music can be heard on various cable television shows and major sporting events. Discover more about Rich at richtozzoli.com.

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The most common recording process has an engineer EQing, compressing, and adding multiple mics in trying to capture a sound, yet never taking into account what the sound in the room at the source is like. In this excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook by Bobby Owsinski and Rich Tozzoli, we’ll see why it’s important that every engineer use the following steps during any serious microphone placement:

 


1. Go out into the room, stand in front of the amp or acoustic guitar player, and listen to them play the part from the song you’re about to record. Playing the song is important because you might be deceived if it’s another song or just random playing. Listen for the tonal balance from the amp or instrument as well as the way the room responds. Listening to the amp or acoustic guitar in the room will give you a reference point to the way it really sounds so you have a better idea of what you’re trying to capture.

Here are some steps for placing either an acoustic guitar or a guitar amp in the room.

  • It’s usually best to stay out of a corner. The corner normally causes “bass loading”, meaning that the low frequencies will be increased causing low notes to boom. When you’re tracking, this can also lead to sympathetic tom ringing and snare buzzing on the drum kit.
  • Test the room by walking around and clapping your hands. That’s a good way to find a place in the room that has a nice even reverb decay. If the clap has a “boing” to it (a funny overtone), then so will the sound of your amp or acoustic instrument, so it’s best to try another place in the room where it will hopefully sound smoother. If you can’t find a place without a boing, place the amp where it sounds the smoothest and try putting some padding or something soft on one side wall to break up any standing waves.
  • Ideally, you don’t want to be too close to a wall. The reflections (or absorption if the wall is soft) can change the sound of the amp or acoustic instrument, especially if you’re using an open-back combo amp. The middle of the room usually works best.
  • Ideally, you want to be at the place in the room where the ceiling height is the highest. If the ceiling is vaulted, try placing your amp or acoustic instrument in the middle of the vault first, then move it as needed.
  • Whatever you do, stay away from glass if you can. Glass will give you the most unwanted reflections of just about any material. If you have no choice because of the way the room or the band is situated, try setting up the amp at a 45° angle to the glass.
  • Try putting a rug under the amp or acoustic instrument. A rug stops any reflections off the floor, which can sometimes have a negative impact on the overall sound. On the other hand, sometimes the reflections from a hard floor can enhance the sound. Try it both ways and choose.
  • Try placing your amp on a chair or road case. Because the amp isn’t coupling with the floor, there are fewer phase cancellations on the low end so the sound will be more direct and distinct. Acoustic foam like Auralex works as well.

2. Find the sweet spot. There are several ways to find the sweet spot.

  • To place an omnidirectional mic, cover one ear and listen with the other. Move around the mic or player until you find the spot that sounds best. That’s where to place the mic to begin.
  • To place a cardioid mic, cup your hand behind your ear (instead of covering it) and move around the player or amp until you find the place that sounds best.
  • To place a stereo mic or stereo pair, cup both ears and move around the player or amp until you find the place that sounds best.
  • As an alternate method, crank the amp until it’s noisy, then put on headphones and listen to the mic as you move it around until the noise has the best combination of highs and lows.

3. You can’t place the mic by sight. The best mic position must always be found, not predicted. It’s okay to have a starting place, but it’s usually never what ends up being the best spot.

4. Change the mic position instead of reaching for the EQ. Chances are that you can adjust the quality of the sound enough by simply moving the mic in order to avoid using any equalization. The EQ will add a least a small amount of phase shift at some frequency and can’t be undone later. Moving the mic (which amounts to an acoustic EQ) will usually sound smoother and more pleasing to the ear.

5. Give the mic some distance. Remember, distance creates depth. The guitar and amp will sound a lot more natural than using artificial ambience. If possible, leave just enough distance between the mic and the source to get a bit of room reflection to it.

6. Be careful miking multi-speaker cabinets. 4×12 cabinets like the typical Marshall 1960 pose a special challenge in that at a certain distance you have phase anomalies from the multiple speakers that you really don’t want to capture. The cabinet will sound fine when close miked from right against the grill cloth to approximately three inches away from the best sounding speaker in the cabinet, but until you get to a distance of 18 inches where the sound of all the speakers converge, you may be capturing some speaker interaction that’s not all that pleasant sounding. That distance varies with the make and model of speaker cabinet.

More excerpts from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook can be found at bobbyowsinski.com.

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Interested in checking out more useful articles like this? Electronic Musician Magazine is offering TuneCore users a special subscription discount starting today (April 14th, 2011).

There are 2 offers available (Click the offer to view details and purchase)

Short term offer: 3 issues of EM Magazine for $3

Continuation offer: 9 issues of EM Magazine for $9

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