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Struggling with Acoustic Guitar Tracking
Old 7th January 2014
  #1
Struggling with Acoustic Guitar Tracking

Hi Folks,

I'm really struggling with recording acoustic guitar - have been for some time - and would appreciate any advice - I've attaching samples below. I keep getting terrible overtones and harmonics - ringing sounds. I'm getting washy sounds - almost like static or hiss. I'm also getting phasey "wah" sounds.

My guess is this is a combination of everything: guitar, room, mic, mic position, comb filtering, etc. After chasing this problem for some time, I'm also finding I'm very (overly?) sensitive to these sounds. Things generally sound OK when I'm picking but once I strum, it just sounds terrible. If I try to EQ these sounds out, I just end up with flat, dead guitars and compounded issues with ringing from the EQ.

The room is treated with broadband panels and corner bass traps. No diffusers but the room is rectangular - 27' x 19' x 8' - and has a couch and some other furniture in the room that hopefully breaks things up a bit. It sounds great when you're just in there talking, recorded vocals and fingerpicked guitar come out nicely too. It's just strummed acoustic that's kicking my ass.

I'm attaching several samples from two different guitars and three mics. Hoping someone will hear these and give me some pointers on what to chase down. I went to the guitar store and listened to several guitars and I hear ringing harmonics on all of them, perhaps it's just a matter a finding one that rings less?

For all four samples, the first 10 seconds has a quick EQ that I applied to knock down some of the ringing. The EQ is disabled at 10-20 seconds and enabled again at 20 seconds. Hopefully this gives a clear idea of what sounds are bothering me - like it wouldn't be immediately apparent.

If you listen to "Guit 2 Mic 3.mp3" - the first one listed - you'll hear the "wah" sound right at 3 seconds. But this also happens on the other guitar sample. Since it moves, there's not even a way to EQ this out. Not like EQ is the answer, these are completely unusable to me even with EQ and I need to clean up my act, appreciate any advice.

..ant
Attached Files

Guit 2 Mic 3.mp3 (1.42 MB, 707 views)

Guit 2 Mic 2.mp3 (1.42 MB, 534 views)

Guit 1 Mic 2.mp3 (1.42 MB, 478 views)

Guit 1 Mic 1.mp3 (1.42 MB, 513 views)

Old 7th January 2014
  #2
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I can clearly hear what is bothering you but at the same time if you had posted a track with no EQ I probably wouldn't have noticed, except for the weird "wah pedal" sound at the beginning of the first track.

What I think you are hearing are the sympathetic vibrations caused by ringing strings. What chords are you playing? The constant ringing pitch sounds like an F. Are you using a capo at the first fret by any chance?

I'm a much better guitarist than recording engineering so I'll other people handle the recording aspect. As for the guitar itself, its far from being a perfect instrument which is one of the reasons people love it (subconscious) and one of the reasons its hard to record (very conscious). If you are strumming open position chords, 9/10 times your role is to provide a big, rhythmic "wall of sound" which supports a melody line, usually for a singer. The sympathetic ringing of the strings helps contribute to this role. As your experiment at the guitar store showed, every guitar does this. A simple change in the way you voice the chords may fix every thing so I'd be curious to know exactly what you are playing.

Also, make sure the guitar you aren't playing is put away in its case when you are recording; sympathetic vibrations from the guitar you are recording extend to all nearby guitars too. Now, I'll let the recording engineers have a go...
Old 7th January 2014
  #3
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bogosort's Avatar
Whoa, something is very wrong there. Are you using open-back headphones while recording? Try recording without monitoring through headphones. You could also eliminate the room as the problem by recording in another room, or in a different area of the room. But that doesn't sound like a room problem to me.

BTW, is mic 1 a C451?
Old 7th January 2014
  #4
Quote:
Originally Posted by Given To Fly View Post
if you had posted a track with no EQ I probably wouldn't have noticed, except for the weird "wah pedal" sound at the beginning of the first track.
Good to hear, yes I'm wondering if I'm just being too over analytical. The weirdest part is I won't hear the ringing for some time, then once I do it pops out and I have a hard time ignoring (accepting?) it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Given To Fly View Post
What I think you are hearing are the sympathetic vibrations caused by ringing strings. What chords are you playing? The constant ringing pitch sounds like an F. Are you using a capo at the first fret by any chance?
Exactly right! Capo I, playing Am & E chords. Now it's my turn to be 'd

Quote:
Originally Posted by Given To Fly View Post
I'm a much better guitarist than recording engineering so I'll other people handle the recording aspect. As for the guitar itself, its far from being a perfect instrument which is one of the reasons people love it (subconscious) and one of the reasons its hard to record (very conscious). If you are strumming open position chords, 9/10 times your role is to provide a big, rhythmic "wall of sound" which supports a melody line, usually for a singer. The sympathetic ringing of the strings helps contribute to this role. As your experiment at the guitar store showed, every guitar does this. A simple change in the way you voice the chords may fix every thing so I'd be curious to know exactly what you are playing.

Also, make sure the guitar you aren't playing is put away in its case when you are recording; sympathetic vibrations from the guitar you are recording extend to all nearby guitars too. Now, I'll let the recording engineers have a go...
Great advice and yes I love the "imperfect" sound of a well played/recorded acoustic guitar. I picked up new strings and a whole bunch of different picks to try. I may also just strum with my fingernail instead of a pick which seems to help reduce these overtones. I will be trying a whole bunch of things.

..ant
Old 7th January 2014
  #5
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old ghost's Avatar
 

Guitar 1, Mic 1 sounds the best and is definitely usable with the EQ engaged in my opinion. The raw track ringing is pretty nasty, but it sounds like you notched it correctly. All I could think of to suggest is to move/tilt around while playing and try to get a better positioning with less ring even if you end up in a direction that seems unconventional.

Seems like there's something weird going on in the room, but acoustic recording is tough. I wonder how a nylon stringed would sound in there...? Maybe someone else can chime in with a more pinpointed answer.
Old 7th January 2014
  #6
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Move the microphone. Also, the guitar playing is not very good, that combined with a poor guitar might be the thing that is bothering you.

Also, what is the context? It is impossible to tell how it will sound without the context. That is the #1 problem of most gearslutz posts...

It is clearly not a solo guitar song, so having the full context will help you EQ the guitar and position the microphone.

What you are hearing is from the guitar and the microphone position mostly. Some harmonics are coming out stronger, that is why you must use good headphones while tracking to actually play with the right intention in the microphone.

Guit2 mic 3 and guit1 mic 2 sound "acceptable". Context is needed here.

The high end on guit1 mic1 is painful. Move the microphone.


Context, context, context.
Old 7th January 2014
  #7
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tenkas View Post
Also, what is the context? It is impossible to tell how it will sound without the context. That is the #1 problem of most gearslutz posts...

Context, context, context.
Old 7th January 2014
  #8
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old ghost's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tenkas View Post
Move the microphone. Also, the guitar playing is not very good, that combined with a poor guitar might be the thing that is bothering you.

Also, what is the context? It is impossible to tell how it will sound without the context. That is the #1 problem of most gearslutz posts...

It is clearly not a solo guitar song, so having the full context will help you EQ the guitar and position the microphone.

What you are hearing is from the guitar and the microphone position mostly. Some harmonics are coming out stronger, that is why you must use good headphones while tracking to actually play with the right intention in the microphone.

Guit2 mic 3 and guit1 mic 2 sound "acceptable". Context is needed here.

The high end on guit1 mic1 is painful. Move the microphone.


Context, context, context.
The guitar playing sounds like pretty standard folky "house of the rising sun"ish fare just to show what he's running into with simple strumming. Agree with the context statement as it's all subjective and I imagine a different song/mix around that than the next guy..

OP, does that short, phasey swirl thing happen because you are moving the guitar slightly while playing? Don't see any other reason for that.
Old 7th January 2014
  #9
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A few suggestions:

First, if you are getting a phasy sound (I heard it on that first clip) from the use of only one microphone, then I think that might be due to the mic being too close and the player moving a little bit right at that moment. Getting in close with a cardioid mic means that you are mainly recording a little spot on a large soundboard. When the player moves his/her body, the guitar body moves, and all of a sudden, you are recording a different little spot on that large soundboard, and it is going to sound different. Move the mic back and increase the gain to get the same signal. Or, if you want to be in close like that, use an omni mic. Both solutions should avoid the phase sound caused by player movement.

Second, I would not be too quick to blame problems on the mic and the room. Those things might accentuate a problem that is already there, but that means there is a problem already there. Have you tried stuffing a piece of cloth under the strings behind the nut (right there between the nut and the tuners for the two E strings)? That can stop any ringing that comes from those stretches of string. I have to do this sometimes.

Third, have you tried playing a little softer? If you hit the strings too hard while strumming, all sorts of extra noises start popping up.

Getting it right at the instrument and the player is the best way to solve these sorts of problems.
Old 7th January 2014
  #10
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Unclenny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by doncaparker View Post
A few suggestions:
Yeah...a few excellent ones.

Definitely going to experiment with that cloth behind the nut trick for my old Kalamazoo.

Each acoustic guitar will present a slightly different set of issues when it's time to track it. I spend time practicing in front of the microphone with good headphones to get a feel for what I need to do in the session relative to how I want that particular guitar to sound and how I'm going to effectively catch that sound.

Old 7th January 2014
  #11
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GYMusic's Avatar
How does it sound in the mix? If it's just one of those posted guitar tracks with a vocal, the question from me is, is the song a hit? If the answer is yes, the guitar doesn't matter.
Old 7th January 2014
  #12
Folks,

Lots of great suggestions, thanks!

Whenever I record guitars, I squash a couple of foam earplugs and tuck them under the stings between the nut and tuners. Yes, I have heard those ringing before

I've suspected movement is what causes the phasey "wah" sound so I will be much more careful about movement next time.

I put on new strings and the sound improved. Of course, now it has that "new string sound" which will take a bit of time two work out but some of the harmonics are now a bit more tolerable.

Biggest difference was trying different picks and playing techniques. Switching from a Tortex to a celluloid pick help and holding the pick just a bit tighter (allowing less clickiness) toned things down quite a bit. Also, playing more quietly really helps.

This is all just with the guitar. Next step is to focus on mic position and trying lots of things there.

Oh, and yes, not my best playing , just kind of strumming very openly to show the problem clearly. Any kind of picking or more muted strumming does not really show this problem but there are times when i want to capture a more open, folky strumming track.
Old 7th January 2014
  #13
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doncaparker's Avatar
 

Can I pry a little bit and ask which mics you used, and where you put them, when you made the clips?

Having said that I think you should focus first on the instrument and the player, I don't want to ignore the contribution that mic choice and placement might be making to the things you don't like. Some mics are going to emphasize the harsh nature of those overtones; others will soften that aspect of the sound. The same is true for where you put the mics. Just judging from that first clip, and the phasy sound you got when you moved (probably), my guess is that you have the mic pretty close.

Recording acoustic guitar is so situation specific. Everything has an impact.
Old 7th January 2014
  #14
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IMO, this thread is waaaayyyy too much microscoping.

I'm baking a cake, I have all the ingredients spread out, and dang if I haven't tasted five different brands of sugar and none of them taste right. Here, you guys taste it. I don't know what I'm doing wrong. Is there a sixth brand of sugar I should be considering?

No, it's the cake you consider. Mix all the stuff together and see how it turns out. Screw the sugar.... you may find out that the sugar that fell out of one of the bags and onto the floor is the sugar that'll make the cake taste best once you scoop it off the floor and throw it into the mixing bowl to then bake the cake.

Where are the rest of the tracks that this guitar sits with? Is it something like "Girlfriend" by Justin Bieber? Or maybe one of a bazillion guitars mixed into "Long Train Runnin" by the Doobie Brothers?.... by the way, solo an individual guitar or two in the Long Train Runnin multitracks sometime and you'll be shocked at how horrrrribblllle they sound when solo'd. Really.... almost the world's worst example of how to mic an acoustic guitar. But in the mix.....yeah, well.....okay, I see why Templeman left it that way.

You really have to post a few of the tracks that this guitar sits within. Otherwise..... you ARE microscoping way way way way too far. And asking others to microscope it too far as well.

imo
Old 7th January 2014
  #15
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bogosort's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by thenoodle View Post
You really have to post a few of the tracks that this guitar sits within. Otherwise..... you ARE microscoping way way way way too far. And asking others to microscope it too far as well.
I disagree. Something very wrong is happening in those tracks -- the wah/phase thing is completely unacceptable beyond a demo production, and the more subtle resonance should be fixed, too. The OP is right for wanting to get to the bottom of it.
Old 7th January 2014
  #16
Indeed, that wah is strange... I can't imagine it coming from subtle position change, but maybe your mic is right up on the sound-hole.

A couple thoughts:
- As previously mentioned, perhaps it's some kind of headphone bleed.
- Try recording without monitoring and post the results.
- Double check your signal chain to make sure there isn't something weird in there.
Old 8th January 2014
  #17
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guitarmax_99's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by bogosort View Post
... Something very wrong is happening in those tracks -- the wah/phase thing is completely unacceptable beyond a demo production, and the more subtle resonance should be fixed, too. The OP is right for wanting to get to the bottom of it.
I agree. That is a weird artifact - something strange is going on. I will say that I don't think it has anything to do with his playing. The room may not be perfect, but no way does it cause such a dramatic/intermittent artifact like that. It could be movement, I would suggest sitting down (if he already isn't sitting) so as to be as stationary as possible. I'm suspicious of the signal path. I'm also suspicious of the interface and the daw.
Old 8th January 2014
  #18
Thanks again everyone, this is all helpful.

thenoodle, I appreciate your perspective, but building on your analogy, this is less like salt and more like the chocolate in a chocolate cake. I see no issue testing out several chocolate bars for taste before making the cakes. An no, I'm not happy with how these tracks sit in a mix either right now.

I will be testing again (probably not till the weekend) with the new strings, new picks, a couple other guitars, sitting VERY still, playing more gently, and a few mic positions. Thanks for all the ideas on what to explore. I'll even try recording without the headphones as well - great suggestion, I thought I sat pretty still but I do recall putting my head down towards the guitar body a couple of times while playing, which would put my head close to the mic line-of-sight and perhaps there was some bleed pickup from the HPs.
Old 18th January 2014
  #19
Thanks all. Not perfect but much better now. I followed a lot of advice and in this article I got from a GS search: Studio Legends: Bil VornDick

Point the mics in at an angle and not directly towards the guitar seemed to help a lot. I think the "wah" did come from headphone bleed when I put my head down near the guitar while playing. Picks made a big difference, here I'm using a glow-in-the-dark pick which I think is celluloid. Much improved over the Tortex. How I hold the pick and play makes a huge difference as well.
Attached Files

Guit 2 2mic.mp3 (1.24 MB, 416 views)

Old 19th January 2014
  #20
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Jazzcrisis's Avatar
 

It does sound better now! However, there's a lot of low-mid nastiness going on. Sounds like proximity effect---back the mic off some and see how that sounds.
Old 19th January 2014
  #21
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The first batch of recordings you posted were too stuck in the midrange; they sounded like you were using the sort of EQ that is meant to mimic a telephone line.

This latest recording is much better, but it perhaps goes a little too far. What I mean is that there are better high and low frequencies represented in this latest recording, but you are missing some of that midrange. The recording is "scooped." There are lots of scooped recordings of acoustic guitar that we consider good, so this latest attempt is a lot closer to sounding right, but I would still tame the bass frequencies a little and bring the mids up just a smidgen. That's just my taste.

Are you using two mics at the same time, and trying to follow that 3-1 rule cited in the article you referenced? I know that some really successful folks use that technique, but I've gotta say, I don't have a lot of luck with mono compatability using spaced pairs on acoustic guitar. They tend to collapse into something that is just a little too mushy for my taste. I have a lot more luck with near coincident mic positions, like two SDCs in XY, or two figure 8s in Blumlein. I'm probably just not patient enough to find the sweet spot for spaced pairs. I can throw up an XY or Blumlein and get a great sound without a lot of work, so that's what I do.
Old 27th January 2014
  #22
This weekend I tried the XY technique at a few difference distances. Again, thanks to everyone for all the advice, it's helped a lot. Room for improvement but this is a lot closer to what I've been trying to get.

Attached are two samples. The first is the raw track, the second is in the mix still in progress (vocal to be added later). Note I dropped the key one step from previous samples.

..ant
Attached Files

guit3 raw.mp3 (1.52 MB, 362 views)

guit3 mix.mp3 (1.52 MB, 341 views)

Old 27th January 2014
  #23
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Nick Tantillo's Avatar
 

Do any of your acoustics have an option for DI? I generally get a clear mix by recording with a microphone as well as going direct into the acoustic. I don't bring out the DI too much as I feel the sound can get too unnatural, but I bring the DI in a bit and mix to taste. This might add some clarity and definition to your sound.
Old 28th January 2014
  #24
Registered User
 

The raw guitar track is nice man!

I like both...

Guit 2 2mic.mp3 (1.24 MB, 40 views) seems a bit brighter but I didn't download the mp3 just streamed.

guit3 raw.mp3 (1.52 MB, 30 views) bit warmer than Guit 2 2mic.mp3 ....but id try the beat on each track



Different picks change the mood too!


The drums and pick sound seem to blend a bit (unless that's what youre going for) - you can pan your guitar tracks left or right see what sounds good!


Keep on jamming dude!
Old 12th February 2014
  #25
Thanks everyone, you've all been very helpful in cleaning up my act on acoustic guitar tracking.

For the curious, here is what the full mix is sounding like, with vocal - home studio stuff, not pro FWIW, but I'm reasonably happy with it. Appreciate any feedback.

https://soundcloud.com/antstudio/california_mix/s-6XCxt
Old 12th February 2014
  #26
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Something is out of phase.
Old 12th February 2014
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lance Lawson View Post
Something is out of phase.
Phase has been my ongoing nightmare. Would appreciate any guidance here. Is it the whole mix or are you hearing it on just drums, vocals, guitars?
Old 13th February 2014
  #28
So I figured out that 1/2 of my tracks were out of phase with the other half - I'm summing out through two linked Apogee Ensembles. I fixed that up with a latency compensation plugin (Voxengo). I reprinted the mix and have a link below. It's challenging for me to hear the difference so I hope this fixed it up.

https://soundcloud.com/antstudio/cal...setest/s-mlIai
Old 13th February 2014
  #29
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FFTT's Avatar
 

Sounds like a tuning issue between bass & guitar to me.
Old 13th February 2014
  #30
KFW
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KFW's Avatar
Pretty cool to see the improvement you had from the original post to the most recent clips, all with some mic placement! A testament to how big of a difference that can make.
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