Recording Classical Guitar: Part 3 – Audio Interfaces and Audio Software

Today’s post wraps up the three part series that the marvellous Rick Alexander has kindly written – thanks Rick.

The first post was on getting your set-up right for recording.

And the second was on microphone positioning.

In this final post of this series Rick talks about USB audio interfaces and audio software.

USB Audio Interfaces

You need an audio interface to convert the analog signal from the mic to digital. Sometimes this conversion job will be done in the mic itself (as in USB mics which have a USB output). But the most common solution is to use an audio interface box which has microphone inputs and a USB connection to a computer or tablet. For playback, audio interfaces also have audio outputs for connecting to an amplifier and speakers, plus a headphone output.

You can get audio interfaces with varying numbers of microphone inputs from one upwards. Two mic inputs are common and I’d recommend this combination so you can do stereo recording.

Also, make sure that the audio interface provides “phantom power” for powering condenser microphones. Almost all audio interfaces will have this.

Many companies make two input digital audio interfaces including PreSonus. E.g. the AudioBox USB US$99

M-Audio: E.g. the M-Track Plus US$79

Avid: E.g. the Fast Track Duo US$199

Recording to a tablet using a digital audio interface

Recently audio interfaces which work with a tablet have come out. Recording to a tablet rather than computer has the advantage that the tablet won’t generate fan or hard disk noise.

E.g. the PreSonus Audio Box i2 records to iPad as does the Avid Fast Track Duo listed above.

Bit depth and sampling rate

Most audio interfaces will record a variety of bit depths and sampling rates. For the audio examples in this series I recorded with 24 bits per sample, 44100 samples per second.

Level adjustment

It’s worth adjusting the input level control of the audio interface so that your recorded signal is close to full scale. I.e. you don’t want to be scaling up the signal too much after it’s been recorded.

Stand-alone digital recorders

An alternative to using an audio interface and computer is to use a stand-alone digital recorder to record (Figure 1) with the option of connecting external microphones for better sound quality (Figure 2). Also the computer can be turned off while recording so, as with recording to a tablet, you don’t need to worry about recording fan or hard disk noise.

guitar 6Figure 1 – Set up for recording with a digital recorder

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Figure 2 – Using external condenser mics with a digital recorder (advantage: good sound – low noise)

An example of a digital recorder is a Zoom H5: US$270

For my home recording I mostly use a computer based setup but I also used a Zoom H4 recorder with external KM184 microphones for two tracks on my latest CD.

A digital recorder is a useful part of your recording setup. For example, to test microphones you could take a digital recorder along to the store. I’ve taken my Zoom H4 along when testing guitars so I could compare the sound of various guitars later. Also, the Zoom H5 recorder can also be used directly as a USB audio interface. I.e. you can record via USB straight to a computer rather than the memory card in the recorder.

Audio Software

You’ll need audio software running on your computer or tablet. Audio interfaces often come with bundled software or alternatively you can get separate software which will work with any interface. A free example for stereo or multi-track recording is Audacity . A cheap but fully featured multi-track recording program is Reaper: ($US 60 for non-commercial use.) I use Sony Sound Forge for solo recording and Reaper for recording overdubbed duets.


Up to this point we have a raw recording. The next steps in producing a finished track are to do some editing, possibly perform equalisation (EQ) to alter the frequency content, maybe apply dynamic range compression and add reverb.

I think that for a classical guitar recording performing the least EQ and compression is generally best. This is because ideally we want the guitar to sound 100% natural. But, unless you live in a concert hall, you’ll want to add reverb to a home recording. This can be done using audio software such as Audacity, Reaper or Sound Forge.

My final example audio is the stereo example with angled mics from part 2 of this series with a little reverb added using Sony Sound Forge’s “Acoustic Mirror” reverb. The Acoustic Mirror reverb in Sound Forge adds the reverb recorded from a real acoustic space to your recording. They provide a number of acoustic spaces with the program and here I’ve used a Masonic Centre at Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

Here’s the raw track again.

And here’s the same track with reverb added.


You can gain a lot of enjoyment from home recording. It adds another dimension to your playing and is simply a lot of fun. And these days it doesn’t have to be too expensive.

I hope this series helps you, and if you have any questions feel free to post a comment.

Thank you for the opportunity to write this series Nicole!

Interview with Canberran Classical Guitarist Extraordinaire Minh Le Hoang – Part 2

Today I have for you Part 2 of my interview with the wonderful Minh Le Hoang (and here’s a link to Part 1 in case you missed it). Here we chat about Guitar Trek’s upcoming recording, his thoughts on the recording process and some top tips for students of the guitar.

If you’re in Melbourne don’t forget to catch Minh live in action on 9th May. Details and tickets here on the Melbourne Guitar Foundation website.

And don’t forget to head back this time next week for the third and final instalment of the interview!


Minh Le Hoang

You say you’re going to record a new CD?

Yes, with Guitar Trek. It’s going to be our sixth one. This one is recorded with a new line up, or newish. It’s the last three or four years the latest guy has been with us. We want to record the CD so that we have this line up on a disc.

Since 1987 there have been a lot of changes in the members.

So yes, recording the new disc in late June or early July. In Studio 301 in Sydney and it’s a mixed programme of mostly transcriptions. It’s got some Brahms, Tchaikovsky, some ragtime, and lots of little pieces, attractive pieces.

Do you enjoy the recording process?

It can be good when all the takes turn out how we want it. It’s pretty difficult in the recording trying to get things right – you stop, you listen back, you thought you had it, but you never did!

So often you have to rehearse in the studio and of course you’re playing for yourself, there’s no audience, you cannot generate that performing vibe. It’s harder.

But it’s good. I’ve done quite a few now, so I have some rough idea of how to prepare for it. Basically come into the studio prepared!

Does it feel different doing a solo recording versus a group recording?

I guess so, yes. With your solo you know how you want it to sound and you can fix it as many times as you want.

With a group of course you prepare the work, you know what you want from it, but let’s say there’s four people and there’s only one take – your part may be a bit messy here and there, but the whole take is good, the flow of the music. You have to judge “ah I don’t sound so good there, but the others do”! So you have to decide.

So there’s more room for error with four players for sure. In the studio you may have a perfect take, and then one of the players just drops out, and then that’s it!

But there’s also fantastic energy, and more fun than solo!

As a teacher what would be your advice for someone looking to pick up the guitar for the first time, or again after not having played for a while?

With someone looking to pick up the guitar again I would say find the repertoire that stimulates you the most or whatever gets you to the guitar. I find at times I fall back to the very early Barrios pieces or there’s little Tarrega pieces, some of those Preludes, some Villa-Lobos or something.

Just play those pieces that got you into the guitar. Or listen to some of the old Segovia recordings. I think some of it is fantastic. The players nowadays they just play everything like machines. No colour, not much imagination, just dots. That’s what I hear. Competition players these days don’t do anything for me. You can’t respond to it. What’s missing? The music, you know. They don’t give you the world of sound like Julian Bream or Segovia or an old school South American player. They’re so good.

So just pick up you guitar and play your favourite tunes and work from there. Of course doing it on your own is very difficult. You need to find a good teacher, or one that’s at least inspiring. You can’t really do it on your own, it’s much harder. There’s the feedback. And of course with a teacher you have that weekly arrangement, you must prepare something, you can’t just slack off!

What advice would you give to more advanced students of the guitar that perhaps want to follow a career with the classical guitar?

With advance students, the degree students I’m working with at the moment, we still do our usual lessons but we do talk about other things beside guitar, like where you want to take it, rather than just straight soft/loud, or whatever. You talk about the future, about what they’re hoping to do.

More technically advanced students you start to guide them. They finish here, you may want to pick up something else with another teacher overseas. The last couple of years we’ve been sending them overseas. Germany, Italy, wherever they’re comfortable really. Experiencing the world more. We tend to give them the bigger picture, we don’t just keep them in town that limits their chances.

And of course input from other teachers is very important too. You not just doing the same things.

Of course there are some players that are not going to be at that performance level, or players that will have solo careers only. There are plenty of other things they can do. They can do chamber music, they can teach, they can give their contribution to the community by teaching, by organizing festivals or whatever activities that involve music. It doesn’t have to be full on “here’s my show!” It doesn’t work like that.


Is there a point in time you can recall where you thought “yes, I want to do this” in terms of performing and teaching classical guitar?

The teaching is not something I’ve thought about much in the past, but recently it’s part of what I do, a main source of income of course. The last four or five years I’ve been working with higher level students, so I think it helps me develop as a musician. You learn from the students, some of these advanced players.

Back in high school, when I picked up the guitar, I fell in love with it. So pretty much through high school I thought “This is it. This is what I want to do. I want to be a guitar player.” Back then you never really know if you’re going to be performing or anything, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and so pursued it.

Recording Classical Guitar: Part 2 – Microphone Positioning

Hi folks, following on from the first in a three part guest post from Rick Alexander (here’s the LINK in case you missed it) on how to approach a recording set-up, I have a fabulous post for you from Rick on microphone positioning for optimum sound capture during the recording process.

Over to you Rick!

Recording Classical Guitar: Part 2 – Microphone Positioning

Microphone positioning is one area where recording becomes more of an art than a science.   You do need to experiment in order to get the best results. 

guitar 6

Figure 1 – A mic set up for stereo recording (used for example 1)

Figure 1 above shows a typical setup for stereo recording (see more on stereo vs mono below). Pointing one mic at the bridge, one mic at the 12th fret works well. As noted in part 1, you won’t want the mics too close to the guitar or you’ll get too much bass. I usually have around 25 to 35cm from the mic tip to the guitar. If you have the mics further away you’ll be picking up more and more of the sound reflections from your room’s walls and floor. Unless your room is acoustically optimised you probably don’t want this. Also, an advantage of having the microphones fairly close to the guitar is that this will help the guitar’s sound to outweigh any sound from traffic etc. from outside.

Here is a stereo recording I’ve made with the setup shown in Figure 1.

The microphones I used are Neumann KM184s and the audio interface a MOTU 828 mk3. The guitar is a 1995 Carson Crickmore with a traditionally braced spruce top. The strings are Hannabach high tension Silver Special basses and Carbon trebles (which are fairly bright). The music is the introduction of my piece “Bellbrae” from my CD “Fine Light”. I’ve put the right mic signal, from the listener’s point of view, on the right channel and the left mic on the left channel. (Putting each mic’s signal totally on one channel gives the widest stereo image.) Note that this is a raw recording – I’ve done no adjustment except to adjust the levels of the left and right signals to about the same level and to fade the ending.

Angled mics

I sometimes put the mics perpendicular to the sound board of the guitar as in Figure 1. Alternatively, I angle the mics as in Figure 2, with the mics about 25cm from the guitar. Audio Example 2 is a recording I’ve made with the mics setup as in Figure 2. I prefer the sound of example 2 but the difference isn’t large.

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Figure 2 – Angled mic  position for stereo recording (used for example 2)

It’s also worthwhile experimenting with which strings you point at. I usually aim the mic roughly at the 3rd and 4th strings. You don’t need to be too precise but, for example, I think you’d start noticing too much bass if you aimed as far off centre as the 6th string.

If you have a hard wooden floor I’d recommend putting a rug under yourself and the mic stands in order to reduce the guitar sound reflecting from the floor to the mics.

Finally, if you’re recording using a computer I’d suggest setting up so that you can point the back of the mics in the direction of the computer so as to reduce the level of computer noise recorded.

Here’s a good YouTube clip where the presenter demonstrates the effect of changing microphone positions for steel string guitar recording:

Mono vs Stereo Recording

You might well ask: why stereo? We only want to record one guitar after all. Also, you’ll often see concert performers only using one mic on their guitar.

But you’ll find that if you record a single guitar in stereo you’ll get a much more realistic sounding result. Especially when listening on headphones. Audio Example 3 here illustrates the difference. The example has a short section of audio in mono then a short section in stereo followed by longer mono and stereo sections. I’ve used the setup in Figure 2 for the stereo section and the mono section is just the right channel from the stereo recording.

I did also try using the bridge mic for this mono example but thought the neck mic sounded better.

Mic Stands

K & M make good quality mic stands. They have a small stand, K&M 25950, which is particularly useful for classical guitar recording. Using this stand lets you avoid having the large boom of a typical mic stand cluttering up your room.

Audio Interfaces

In the next post I’ll discuss options for the audio interface used to interface the microphones to your computer.

Interview with Canberran Classical Guitarist Extraordinare Minh Le Hoang – Part 1

I was very fortunate this weekend just gone, folks, to interview the supremely talented classical guitarist Minh Le Hoang ahead of his solo concert with the Melbourne Guitar Foundation on 9th May.

Minh Le Hoang

We had a great chat (he’s such a lovely, funny laid back chap), with Minh talking about the work he does in Vietnam, keeping familiar pieces fresh and his feeling on solo versus group performance.

As usual, I’m splitting the interview across a couple of posts for you.

Here you go……

Tell us a bit about yourself – who is Minh Le Hoang?

A bit about myself? What a question! You always feel funny talking about yourself. I’m based in Canberra, forever. We came from Vietnam in the early 1990s, as a teenager, and we settled here ever since., 24 years ago.

And I started classical then. When I was in Vietnam we played pop guitar, with steel strings, chords and whatever was around at the time. So I got into classical music here, and got into music through high school and went on and studied with Tim (Kain) for, you know, forever still! To this day!

So at the moment I’m just teaching at the Canberra School of Music (at Australian National University) and round a couple of private schools. That’s my main teaching job.

I perform solo, in duo with a flute player (a friend) and trekking with the boys (Minh is a member of guitar quartet, Guitar Trek). We’re preparing for a new CD in June.

I guess my solo activity has been going back to Vietnam quite often, to where I come from, once a year for the last 10 or 12 years. So I go back and do a few solo gigs and teach a bit there at the Conservatorium, share a few ideas, show them stuff we learn here. The kids over there don’t get the same sort of input so I try to contribute whatever I can.

Is there much interest in the classical guitar in Vietnam?

Yeah! It’s huge! Basically everybody plays guitar you know, whatever style. The classical guitarists there being years, and friends of mine organizing international festivals. This year they’re doing the second one. For Vietnam it’s quite a big step up.

Quite a lot of young, talented players but they don’t get the same sort of teaching you know. It’s all mostly self-taught. Even the teachers there, you know, are self-taught!

We’re very excited here in Melbourne that you’re playing a gig with the Melbourne Guitar Foundation on 9th May (check out further info here folks: – what are you going to play for us?

It’s a varied programme, a mixed bag of old and new repertoire I’ve been ticking over the last 6 months or so.

So there’s some Bach, the first lute suite in E minor BWV 996. A lot of Spanish music, there’s Asencio’s Colletici Intim. You’ve probably heard that one a lot, probably sick of it, everybody plays it you know!

There’s Rodrigo’s Invocation y Danza, some Torroba and a set of South American pieces – three Brazillian pieces and a waltz. So there’s a mixed programme of Latin, Spanish and Bach. The Bach is the odd one!

There’s no hardcore difficult listening in there. It’s all accessible I think.

Is there any rhyme or reason as to why you chose those particular pieces?

No, not really. There’s just some of my favourite pieces I like to play, some of those Spanish ones and it’s there under the fingers.

At the moment I’m doing a lot of teaching and not performing, on the road all the time, so you need to fall back on some of your more familiar pieces. But the Bach and the South American pieces are relatively new, yeah

How do you keep those very familiar pieces fresh?

That’s tricky. It all depends on how much time you have you know!

I guess the older you get, the more you teach, the more you form your own idea of how you interpret the music. I try to, you know, make the most out of what I know when I come back to pieces.

Some of it is still fresh because you’ve gone through different phrasings and articulations and you have better fingerings. In that way it’s still fresh even though you still have your memory of how the piece sounds.

Or you may change totally, looking in the score and saying “why did I do that?!” you know?

It’s only dangerous if you play the Chaconne when you’re 12 or 15 then you come back to it. It’s pretty dangerous, you have this notion of the piece formed as a 12 year old. Some people never tend to play it better. They took on this massive work when they were really young and they can’t change it.

We know you as a member of the enormously influential and world-renowned Guitar Trek, and you also play with a duo partner. Playing in a group or ensemble environment versus playing solo are quite different experiences – do you have any preference as to solo versus group playing?

Oh that’s a difficult question to answer. I actually enjoy doing both you know, solo and chamber music. But approaching the concerts for solo or chamber is so different.

When you’re playing solo you’re basically more exposed, you’re naked on stage really! It’s a lot more stressful doing solo, you know. Generally the repertoire’s harder, physically harder.

But there are also challenges in playing chamber as well. It’s playing with others. You’ve got to have a rhythm, you’ve got to prepare the parts as well as you can because you can play your part as well as anybody in your room on your own with a metronome. With the four or the two of you guys you tend to go off somewhere! It’s really hard.

But I do enjoy performing and touring with the guys, doing solo on a tour you can get a bit lonely. You get to hang out by yourself and do your own thing. With four guys it’s always much more fun! I enjoy both though I don’t have any preference.


Head back this time next week folks for the second part of the interview!

Happy playing!

Recording Classical Guitar: Part 1 – A Recording Setup

Morning folks!

Those of you who read the blog frequently may recall the fabulous Rick Alexander – if not, or you’re relatively new around these parts check out these posts:

Q&A with Rick Alexander

* Album Review: Fine Light by Rick Alexander

* From Nylon to Steel and Back (a fantastic guest post that Rick wrote for the blog early last year)

Well, Rick has been kind enough to share his knowledge and experience of recording the classical guitar – how to get set up, gear and so on. And so much knowledge does he have that we have a little mini-series for you on the subject, and so for today and the next couple of Monday morning (AEST) posts I hand you over to Rick!!


Here you go folks. Thanks Rick!

Recording Classical Guitar: Part 1 – A Recording Setup – Plus Microphones

It’s now easier and cheaper than ever to make good quality recordings of your playing. In this series I’ve put together some tips from my own experience of home recording over the past 18 years.

Why record yourself?

It’s a lot of fun: You get to hear back the results of the practice you’ve put in. Our guitars and our playing vary over time. It’s great fun and very satisfying to capture your guitar sounding its best with your best playing.

Recording yourself can help you hear more clearly how you’re playing. Sometimes when you’re working hard on a piece you don’t hear it as others do. Listening back to a recording after a gap of a few days can help you hear problems in your playing. And help you hear what’s working well.

If you write your own music you can record as a piece of music develops over time.

It’s a way to share your playing. This is one of the most satisfying aspects for me.

A recording setup for classical guitar

Figure 1 shows a typical setup for recording solo classical guitar. The main components are:

  • Two condenser microphones for stereo recording (plus mic stands).
  • A USB digital audio interface to digitize the analog signal from the microphones.
  • A computer or tablet to record to.
  • Recording software on the computer or tablet.
  • Plus you’ll need powered speakers or headphones to play back on. (Connected either to the computer or to the audio interface.)

Recording Classical Guitar - Part 1 - Fig 1 - 19-4-15

Figure 1 – Microphone Setup

Which factors affect the sound quality of your recording the most?

There’s a simple answer: the microphones and the microphone positioning have the largest effect. Next would be the room you’re recording in followed by the audio interface.


Unfortunately it turns out that, like guitars, all microphones are not created equal!   Generally, the more you pay the better the sound quality.

Dynamic vs Condenser Microphones

There are two main types of microphone: Dynamic and Condenser. While the dynamic type is more rugged the condenser type reproduces high frequencies better. This better frequency response results in a more realistic sounding recording. The small diaphragm condenser type is generally considered the best for instrumental recording.

A popular dynamic mic is a Shure SM57. US $99.

Examples of small diaphragm condenser mics are:

Behringer C-2: US$60 for a pair.

Rode M5: US$199 for a pair.

Rode NT5: US $429 for a pair.

Shure SM81: US$700 for a pair.

and Neumann KM184. US $1600 for a pair.

When buying a microphone ideally try to find a store which will let you try their microphones. In fact I’d recommend asking if you can take your guitar along to the store and make some test recordings.

I think you’ll find that the more expensive mics do generally sound better but very acceptable results can be had from mics in the few hundred dollar range per mic.

For my recent CD “Fine Light” I used Shure SM81 mics for ten tracks recorded at a recording studio and Neumann KM 184 mics for six tracks recorded at home. I haven’t tried the Rode or Behringer mics I’ve listed here but you’ll find positive reviews on the web. E.g.

Microphone Polar Pattern

Microphones vary in their sensitivity versus the angle of the sound source from the direction the microphone is pointing. This is called the microphone’s “polar pattern”. The most common polar pattern for microphones used for instrumental recording is the “cardioid” pattern for which the microphone is most sensitive straight ahead and sensitivity falls off to zero directly behind. The microphones I’ve listed above all have a cardioid polar pattern.

Proximity effect

It’s an intrinsic feature of microphones with a cardioid polar pattern that their bass response is increased when the microphone is closer to the sound source. This is called the “proximity effect”. I’ve found that I need to position the mics maybe 25 to 35 cm from the guitar to get a natural sounding bass response.

Mic positioning

Now that you have some microphones the question is how to position them in order to get the best sound quality. In the next post I’ll talk about mic positioning.

The Grigoryan Brothers ‘This Time’ National Tour and CD Launch

The Grigoryan Brothers, Slava and Leonard, are launching their new CD (This Time) at the Melbourne Recital Centre at 7pm on Thursday 23rd April with a performance of works from the album.

The performance will feature works by Nigel Westlake, William Lovelady, Luke Howard, Ralph Towner and the fantastic Melbourne-based composer (and all round good bloke) Shaun Rigney. The album and the performance will also feature orginal compositions by Slava and Leonard.

In honour of the 100th Anniversary of the landing at ANZAC Cove, this concert is in tribute to the Horwood Brothers of Preston, some of our ANZAC Local Heroes. Melbourne Recital Centre’s Local Heroes series this year shares the stories of local World War I heroes.

Head along and check out the fantastic playing of the Grigoryan Brothers and some of the greatest contemporary music for the classical guitar:

Five of My Key Learnings On My Journey With The Classical Guitar

I was thinking the other day what my top tips would be, or rather key pieces of wisdom, I’ve come to learn over the past twenty-odd years of playing classical guitar. And (as I always say) I thought I’d share! So here is quick on with five of my key learnings on my journey with the classical guitar……. (I’m sure more will follow in the ensuing weeks as more gems pop into my brain!)


(1) Trust yourself

Trust your own interpretation of the music you’re playing. You’re the musician bringing the music to life, trust what you bring to the music, your thoughts and ideas on how it should sound. Avoid the temptation to try and make it sound like someone else’s interpretation. And don’t be beholden to stylistic boundaries – sure be reverent to the style, time period etc, but don’t get too hung up on it in my opinion, particularly if you feel moved in a certain direction otherwise we’ll all sound the same! Go for it.

(2) Cultivate your sound

Aways listen to what you’re producing. The music is in the sound – sound quality rules over note accuracy (well, kind of, to a point!) Note accuracy, technique and so on is just the mechanics of the music. Your sound is where it comes alive. Listen to it. Be inspired by others, but don’t wish to have the sound of others. Your sound is you.

(3) Turn up and practice regularly

Regularity and being truly present in the process is the key to making progress. Practicing more often than not practicing in terms of days of the week. Keeping things moving. It’s a never ending process.

(4) But don’t stress out if you can’t practice

The guitar is not going anywhere. And you may find the break has done you good. Not stressing is also vitally important in making progress!

(5) Things don’t necessarily get easier the pieces just get more challenging!

Well, that’s only partly true really, a number of things really do get easier over time with consistent practice – sight reading, left and right hand techniques, tonal control and so on. What doesn’t necessarily feel easier is the learning and getting to grips with a new piece, that is to say if you’re pushing yourself with more challenging repertoire.

And you don’t notice this change at the time. It kind of feels like things are still hard. But go back to something you were playing or learning a year or two (or more) back, or better yet something you might have looked at at that time but found perhaps a little too challenging at the time and you may just surprise yourself. I know I have and continue to!