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:
* 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.)
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. http://homerecording.about.com/od/microphones101/a/mic_types.htm
A popular dynamic mic is a Shure SM57. US $99. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/SM57
Examples of small diaphragm condenser mics are:
Behringer C-2: US$60 for a pair. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/C2m
Rode M5: US$199 for a pair. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/M5MP
Rode NT5: US $429 for a pair. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/NT5
Shure SM81: US$700 for a pair. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/SM81
and Neumann KM184. US $1600 for a pair. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/KM184Pair
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. http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/feb14/articles/rode-m5.htm
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.
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.
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.