Use the First Fret Trick for a Brilliant Acoustic Guitar Recording

acoustic guitar recording

When you’re doing an acoustic guitar recording you’re going to want the most out of your full-bodied instrument.

The nature of it being an acoustic instrument means that you will need some fairly capable mics if you want to capture the whole sound of the acoustic guitar – Everything from the deep lows to the bright highs.

A great way to record an acoustic is with either an X/Y stereo pair, or with the M/S microphone technique.

You can read more about either the X/Y microphone technique here or read my article on using the M/S technique for recording acoustic guitar.

Even though both those techniques are perfectly valid and are often enough to capture your acoustic, sometimes there is a little lacking in the sparkling brilliance section.

Sparkling brilliance is the intricate sound from the nuances of the strings. It’s the crystal clear highs of the top strings and the relationship between the frets, strings and finger work.

Sparkling Highs

If a guitarist is playing very gracefully, with all of his finger movements perfect you might want to capture those subtleties. Try the first fret trick the next time you are dealing with such an acoustic guitar recording.

This technique is also great if you want to capture some of the brilliance of the strings, for an added high-end sheen.

The First Fret Trick

1. Get a small condenser with a great frequency response in the higher frequencies and place it near the 1st fret. If your guitarist is using a capo then place it on the first fret after the capo.

2. By using a bright condenser mic on the first fret you capture all the highs and details that the strings generate. Move the microphone closer or farther depending on how close you want the sound.

3. Try angling the mic to pick up more of the higher strings if you want a brighter sound. A few inches here and there might make it sparkle a bit more. You might get that extra brightness you need.

4. Left alone, it has a pretty bodiless sound since this microphone only captures the string noise. But added together with either an X/Y technique or an M/S,  it can give added depth and brilliance to an otherwise normal sounding guitar.

5. Also, try it alongside a normal condenser that’s pointed at a sweet spot somewhere else on the body. Having a large condenser pointing towards the sound hole, or just at the 12th fret will fill out the frequencies that the first fret condenser is lacking.

See if this trick will get you a little closer to that magical acoustic guitar sound you hear in your head. Recording acoustic guitar isn’t easy, so I hope you are willing to experiment with different techniques until you find the sound you are looking for.

Ps.

As always, if you want more in-depth information on recording acoustic guitar, check out Joe Gilder’s training series here.

  • Nico Guevara

    I like this technique very much. I usually use a Peluso CEMC-6 (similar to the Schoeps CEMC-5) for nylon strings, or a Mojave MA-100 (tube) for steel strings, pointed at the first fret. 

    For the large condenser mic to pick up the body, almost any good $500+ mic will do just fine. But below that budget, I find that MXL has a pretty good range of all-around condenser mics that can also do the trick. 

    Another big issue that comes into play when recording acoustic guitars is room acoustics. If the room is untreated and the walls are very reflective, no mic combination or placement will make up adequately. Flutter echo is a very real problem, and I find that it becomes even more noticeable than the average when recording acoustic guitars, for some reason. 

    • http://audio-issues.com Björgvin Benediktsson

      Great thoughts Nico. That Mojave mic is a great one. I am a big fan of the Audix and AKG condensers when it comes to budget series. Rode NT1 is also a nice all around budget mic, as is the AT2020 which I love using on acoustic guitar.

      But when it comes to room acoustics, if you have the option of completely deadening your room as much as possible, especially in a home studio, then do so. I’d rather have a boring dead acoustic guitar recording that I can jazz up with some nice reverb than an acoustic that’s forever doomed to sound like it was recorded in a shitty room :)

      Thanks for the comments