Recording Rhythm Guitar

A Review by: Alphonso Soosay

Listen to the acoustic guitar that you are about to record. You will find that the most low-end build-up is near the sound hole and the bridge. The higher-end frequency buildup will be somewhere around the 12th fret. Rhythm guitar identifies the key of a song just like the acoustic piano on chords. It provides virtually all the cues for vocals and other melodious instruments and determines the feel and tempo of a song. Techniques implicated are going to depend on whether the rhythm guitar is electric or acoustic. Let’s deal with the acoustic guitar first, since getting a good acoustic guitar sound can sometimes be very difficult because it depends on the quality of the acoustic guitar, the strings used, the guitar player himself and the room acoustics.  The first issue you should look at is a very quiet recording space with good acoustic position. A number of unrelated noises will be very noticeable. The following device you will need is a large diaphragm condenser Mic.   Low cut equalisation are an absolute must in this situation. If you have an acoustic/electric, you can take the output from the guitar and record it on another track using a condenser or dynamic microphone, the option is really yours as you will know what sound you are aiming for. The outcome will be an absolutely huge acoustic guitar sound. In addition to this, you can “Capo” the guitar to say the 3rd or 4th fret and rewrite the chord progression so that the chords are the same but the voicing’s are different and record a third guitar track. This track should be panned to the opposite side as the first track and delayed by about 3ms or so, this depends on you tempo. This will take it up another notch entirely. To record electric rhythm guitar, you have two choices. You can Mic the guitar amp or use a “DI” Box. The preferred Mic choice is a Shure SM-57 pointed directly at the off centre of the speaker cone and actually touching the grill cloth of the speaker cabinet. If you have a cabinet with more than one speaker, experiment to see which one sounds best. As with the acoustic guitar, a small amount of compression (2:1) will help immensely.

When using a direct box, you can split the signal and send a completely clean signal to one channel while the other channel receives the output from the miked guitar amplifier. Do not attempt to put any additional effects on the track until you see how it sits with the rest in the mix. Remember, if you add effects you will not be able to take them out. The amplified track should be at the highest level as possible without distorting the input channel. If you want to pick up some room ambience, you can place another Mic about 6 feet away from the amp and point it away from the front of the amp. That will pick up the reflections from the opposing wall. Once you do this a couple of times, it will be like second nature and you as you will know what kind of nature sound you are aiming for.

If you are mixing acoustic guitar into a big band song with other guitars, especially if those guitars are in stereo, you might be better off with a single-Mic technique, because a stereo acoustic guitar might introduce too much sonic information into the mix and cause it to become cluttered. In a situation where its just you playing the guitar and singing then a stereo or doubled mono recording technique will sound the most excellent.

Audio Recording Engineers have got to be exceptional listeners. They must be able to analyse the ins and outs of great source recordings.

Alphonso Soosay / Audio Recording Engineer / Musician


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