Thin-sounding acoustics

Thin-sounding acoustics
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I have some recorded tracks of acoustic guitar. For illustration’s sake I’ve just taken the first bar and repeated it in to four bars worth. number 0 is a Dean guitar, number 1 is a round-backed Ovation.

Bear in mind that the track gets much louder later on, hence the lack of volume, what I don’t like is that the recordings sound thin.

Much of this will be the less-than-ideal recording environment, but do you have any ideas on ho we can beef up the sound (other than actually using the double-tracking, which was meant to be later on, not right from the start)?


That first one isn’t bad at all IMO.

I’m don’t like the second one - is that the Ovation? I’ve never been a fan of those.

Mic placement. It’s everything with an acoustic.

I’ve found with my little Taylor GS Mini Mahogany I get a better sound getting the mic at around head height as I sit with the guitar (I slouch a bit, so it’s not that high) and getting it relatively close to my head, looking down at the shoulder of the guitar while still being able to see the front of the soundboard.

That gets more bottom end, a good portion of string attack/clarity, and avoids the worst of the midrange resonances that make it not the best guitar to record with.

In my usual starter position, 30+cm in front of the neck/body join, the guitar tends to be quite ringy, and have way too much at 400-800hz.

The point of the story is, if you haven’t already done so really play with mic positioning. I bet you could get that Dean sounding thicker if that’s what you want. To be honest I don’t think that recording would have me tearing my hair out if I was sent it with a mix. I’d start by getting rid of that prominent ringing overtone around 700hz and trying something like an LA2A plugin just doing a couple of DB gr, then take it from there.

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Yes, recording 0 is the Dean.

I’m also not keen on the Ovation, tbh, but the original intention was to use it as a very-low-in-the-mix bit of extra colour.

Audix instrument condenser mics are pretty good for recording low end acoustics. I prefer them most times over the shuresm57s when more fullness is needed. Be careful with mini condensers though, over micing can lead to boomier sounds.

I also much prefer the Dean over the Ovation, and have also never really been a fan of how those guitars sound. But that is purely subjective.

It’s a little hard to advise when it’s just the one instrument out of context. In a mix it might sound exactly right just as is depending on what else is going on. But in general, you can EQ in a low to midrange shelf somewhere that avoids any boxy-ness that this particular guitar may have to thicken it up some. But I’d really need to hear it in context to go any further than that. Good luck!

It would be interesting to know what mic/positioning setup you used for these. To me, the first one doesn’t sound thin. It sounds a bit dull and boxy to me, but that is nothing that a little eq couldn’t improve. The second one - not so great…

Josh @Cirrus had a lot of good suggestions above.

Here’s what I have learned: Not trying to deliberately contradict Michelle @FluteCafe , but I’ve found the opposite regarding mics. Condenser mics tend to pick up the spiky transients of the pick attack really well, which in turn means that they are hard to tame later on when mixing. Unless you can tame them successfully (I have a few favourite recipes for that too), the sustain portion of the sound ends up sounding thin by comparison. I’ve found an SM57 is great for both strumming and finger picking duties - much easier to mix without having to jump through a tonne of hoops. Because of the lack of spiky transients, I can get up much closer to the mic and get a fatter sound in general.

Your mileage might vary, of course. The best thing is to do what you’re doing. Do test recordings, but especially experiment with mic placement, as the difference a few cm makes can be night and day.

Compression and saturation are your friends in the mix stage with acoustics too. You can get away with using tonnes of compression on acoustics - which incidentally works better (in my experience) with dynamic mics, because they are less sensitive to picking up every little environmental noise, which of course compression will magnify like nothing else.

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That is spot on. Condensers do give a spiky attack with a pick. Specially sensitive to electric. In finger picking though, the sound is well rounded and satisfying. Though the results can drastically differ from patterns and distance. If i have time to properly gain stage a condenser, i tend to like the end results if there arent too many tracks. In a rush sm57 is my go to.

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Agreed, and thanks for clarifying. I think if you have a super-quiet (and great sounding) recording space and you can get a great sounding condenser a decent distance from the guitar, you’ll get a beautifully rounded tone without all the spiky transients that come from closer miking. Unfortunately, it’s pretty uncommon to have those conditions in home studio land.

One other thing about a 57. You need a mic pre with a decent amount of gain to use one. I have to crank my preamp up about 3/4 volume to use one for vocals and guitar. I’d love to try a Cloud Lifter with the 57 one day…

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I wouldn’t say that these sound thin. Un-processed and dry of course they don’t sound great but “thin” is definitely not the word that comes to mind. The first recording is usable for me, the second needs improving.

I had one of these rounded back Ovations as my first guitar and I really never was a fan of its sound, but I can’t say for sure it was the guitar because at that time I was a complete beginner so the lousy sound certainly had more to do with my lousy skills than anything else.

I have nothing to suggest that hasn’t already been mentioned. I’ll just say that to me, the less-than-perfect timing of the performance was more problematic than the sound itself, and the Ovation needs a better tuning.

@ColdRoomStudio Interesting suggestion Andrew, I have always recorded my acoustic guitars with my best condenser and although I’m happy with the result, it is true that I have quite a lot of control-oriented moves to make in order to get the sound I like. I will try that SM57. Funny how you’re easily drawn to the most expensive mic when it’s not necessarily the best choice.

The second one just isn’t good. The first one sounds flat: some of it of course might be the guitar or the recording environment or the mic, but another thing that no one commented on is the strings. How old are the strings on the first guitar? You really hear it on the low E string. It’s just dead. Dull.

Not to take away from any of the other comments, but I find strings are a big deal when I’m recording acoustic.

Just a thought.

The other thing, Jeff, is that you didn’t say anything about how they were recorded. These sound DI, yes? There’s no ambient noise at all. Especially the second one. I used to have an Ovation Balladeer Legend. IDK that I was crazy about its sound in my home studio, but I actually liked the sound live. It wasn’t a Martin, wasn’t a Taylor or even a Takamine, but I liked it.

That second one just isn’t the way an Ovation sounds. I’m thinkin’ it was DI, am I right?

I’m reminded of the story John Leckie told of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”.

Thom cut the track live in the studio, u47 on his voice, sm57&U67 on his acoustic. Except during the best take, the U67 packed in. So that acoustic guitar is just SM57. Albeit a nice guitar in a nice room.

My mic choice is fairly limited these days, but I like mixing an AT4050 with an SM7b. I might actually try an SM57 instead of the SM7…

@ColdRoomStudio is quite right about comp and saturation on acoustics. Especially in full band mixes, it’s amazing how far you can squash them and still have it sound like an acoustic. Recently I’ve been really enjoying IK Tapes (24 is my all-round fave) as a way of controlling transients early on, and later on in the mix I quite like using a de-esser on the high end (say, 8k+) to hold the pick attack in place.

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I love using Tape Emulations on acoustics - Slate’s VTM is my go to, but I’ve been liking Softube’s Tape as well.

A great compressor for acoustics is Waves MV2. That thing is great a squashing the peaks down and bringing up the detail all at once.

This is some good info in this thread! :+1:

Just as a little experiment, I played around with the first file… I used Equivocate’s match eq function to copy the frequency response of a nice sounding recorded acoustic and apply it to your recording. I added a little MV to squash it a bit, and some Softube Tape. It came up sounding pretty close to the recording I had.

The big issue I hear in not getting fatness in a solo setting from the original file is that there seems to have been a high pass filter with a steep roll off at around 100 hz. That is fine to get it to fit in a mix and not muddy up the bottom end, but in a solo setting, there needs to be some fullness happening below 100hz. Not too much - just more of a gradual roll off.

Well, Andrew’s SM57 talk made me plug one in and give it a go. Yeah, I actually think this works better in my little studio room at home than the AT4050. I quite like the way it presents that more kind of earthy midrange and the kind of 4k jangle rather than the 10K clicky spikey stuff.

Picking;

And Stumming;

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Some fab responses here.

Yes, you’re right, @Lophophora, my timing is off. Only on that first bar though, after that it was fine…but that first bar hesitancy was true on every single take! Damn annoying.

Re-recording the guitar part is, unfortunately not likely to happen as I have nowhere in my house that’s suitably quiet, and my new DAW PC is noticeably noisier than the old one, though I could swap back just to get the new take I suppose…that just leaves the damn cars driving past the front of our house…


…and the catastrophising toddler next door, and my cats, and my wife and two daughters moving around the place as they get on with their day…

At the drummer’s flat. Two mics (I think, maybe just one). No DI at all.

If I do attempt to re-record the guitar, the only mic I have available to me here is my RØDE M3.

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Yeah, that is a great way to describe the differences, and my favourite things about it. I just noticed that when I started using it, it took a lot less fighting to get them to sit in the mix nicely. If you have a nice quiet room, I think a close dynamic, distant condenser might work well too.

The recordings were with two condenser microphones. One pointing at the sound hole, one at the neck (around 12th fret).

Is there a particular reason why you would use 2 mics? I’ve always had more success using a single mic on my acoustic guitars. 2 mics will often create phase incoherence issues while bringing little benefit to the overall sound (unless you need to record in stereo).

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It wasn’t my decision. :slight_smile: