Writing and Recording Acoustic Guitar

Writing and Recording Acoustic Guitar

Recording acoustic guitar is something that I've attempted many times and I'm not sure if I'll ever feel like I've perfected it. It's just such a versatile instrument. It can thrive on its own, as part of an ensemble or even within electronic productions (this particular session was part of a collaborative production with Darcy Wilson on an ambient style electronic song). There are so many factors to consider with acoustic guitar: the guitar; the player and their style; the song; the techniques used in the song; the room; and the microphone choice.

I've been a guitar player for around 15 years now and although electric guitar is the popular choice of so many, I have always felt much more drawn to acoustic. It's comforting knowing that you don't need an electrical outlet to play your instrument. As mentioned above, I've always loved its versatility, which is why when required to work on an electronic music production I was stoked to add some acoustic guitar to the mix. In fact, acoustic guitar is where the song started.

I had written a chord progression with a little melody on guitar a while back and thought it might suit an ambient style electronic track. We (myself and Darcy) booked a studio session and I took the few days beforehand to write as many guitar parts as could to lay the foundation for the song. It's unusual for me to have a time frame in which to write a song so I was pleased that I was able lay down the chord structure for the whole song along with a few melodies and a bass line. I recorded a scratch track of the structure at home to use as a guide for the session. 

A lot of the song is composed of simple strumming and fingerpicking patterns. There are also a couple of sections where I decided to try out a technique that I wasn't entirely competent with, which involves creating harmonic tones from the strings. These are created by touching the string lightly rather than pressing it against the fretboard. Harmonics are common in acoustic music, however most guitarists use two hands to play them: one hand lightly touches strings while the other plucks them. These are also only a handful of tones that can be achieved using this technique. The technique I was using actually involves fretting the strings as normal with the left hand while, on my right hand, the index finger touches the string for the harmonic and the thumb plucks. This allows for creating harmonic tones across the entire range of the guitar's fretboard. This is a very challenging style of playing and I felt like I was risking things by trying to perfect this technique in such a short timeframe. Although I was pleased with the end results and be heard below (Guitar Riff 1).

In choosing microphones I knew I would want to capture the warmth of the guitar. I had recorded previously with the SE Electronics SE4 pair and really liked the tone over the low mids. The SE4 is small diaphragm condenser microphone with a supercardioid pattern. My research lead me to believe it would well suit the sound I was trying to attain. "The mic's gentle presence lift helped to pull up details like the transient of a picked guitar, but I found that the extended low-end response also balanced this with warmth and solidity" (White, 2009). The reason for using a stereo mic technique was for the guitar to have a wide space in the mix of the track. If this turned out unnecessary then we could easily just discard one the mic tracks. The technique used was across between the A-B and X-Y methods, which can be seen below. 

Stereo mic technique

Stereo mic technique

This is to maximise the warmth coming from the sound hole while rejecting its plosive nature. By using hypercardioid mics in this formation there is also rejection of percussion of fingers hitting the fretboard and string squeaks. An issue in using this technique is that you must be diligent in ensuring that there no phase issues between the mics. This can be avoided by making them as symmetrical to the sound hole as possible.

I ended up recording the guitar over two sessions. I did manage to record all guitar parts in the first session, however once partnered with some electronic elements I wasn't satisfied with the performance. I then recorded the parts I wasn't satisfied with mimicking the techniques I had used in the first session.

Overall I'm excited about the way the track turned out. I'm also very glad to have had the opportunity to bring my acoustic influences to an electronic production and have it conform so easily. The finished track can be heard below.

References

White, P. (2009). SE Electronics SE4. Retrieved June 30th, from http://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/se-electronics-se4