To start this new series on production tips, I wanted to begin with an instrument that new artists and producers often have trouble recording: guitars. Most people, including myself, started out thinking: "guitars are easy - stick a mic in front of an acoustic guitar, or an amp and press record". I found out very quickly that technique yielded very poor results. Boomy acoustics, shrill, thin sounding electrics, soft, fuzzy sounding distorted rock guitars...not at all what I expected to hear. Over the course of some time and a lot of trial and error, I found there is a certain finesse required in order to get the crisp, clean, nice round sounding guitar tracks I was after.
First things first, mic placement is EVERYTHING. It can take some time, but where you put the mic will literally mean the difference between professional recording and amateur hour - keep in mind there is much more to be done, but if you don't start with proper mic placement, there is not much that can be done to save your sound. For acoustic guitars, this is a good rule of thumb: use a condensor mic in cardioid mode, place it about 12 - 18 inches from the guitar at the 12th fret then be prepared to experiment a bit to get the sound just right. When I track vintage acoustics, I usually like to put the mic around the 10th fret, then tilt the mic slightly towards the sound hole. This way I accentuate the boominess a little bit and boost the lows at the same time. This gives me the clean shimmer for the highs and the nice round lows you generally look for in acoustic recordings. When using more modern acoustics, I use a different technique all together, you'll just need to experiment to make sure you have the right sound on the way in.
For electric guitars it is much of the same thing: experiment, experiment, experiment. I've seen engineers mic the back of the cab, I've seen cabs with 5 different mics, etc. You can get as extreme as you like, but the general rule of thumb here is as simple as this: stick a 57 on the thing till you get the sound you want then press record. Keep in mind, a quarter of an inch can completely change the tone so be very patient and very specific when tracking electric guitars. The habit I have fallen into is to mic electric guitars much like I would mic a live guitarist. I basically take an E609 and lay it right on the grill cloth. Whatever speaker I'm mic-ing, I like the bottom right corner area of the speaker. I always avoid the middle - nothing but boom there.
This should get you started with tracking guitars, next month I'll go over mixing guitars so you can fine tune the sounds you spent so much time recording. Over the next few months I'll continue to divulge some of my secrets for getting professional sounds in the studio. If you have any specific areas where you could use some help, feel free to send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
and I'll try to go over it in a future article.