Choosing the Right Acoustic Guitar for Recording

For many home studio owners, acoustic guitar is often a crucial part of recordings. And while we’ve written about the best ways to record and to mix acoustic guitars, we wanted to explore more about how much the guitar itself has to do with the final sound.

The Sound of Different Acoustic GuitarsSound of Different Acoustic Guitars

Generally speaking — for steel string acoustics — the bigger the size of the guitar, the louder it will be and the more low-end it will carry, giving it a big and boomy sound. In the early days of the 20th century, acoustic guitars tended to be the smaller size of classical guitars — the Grand Concert style, also known as 00, is an example.

But early in that century Martin introduced the Dreadnought style, which features a larger body and square shoulders. The steel string model has remained one of the most popular acoustic body styles to this day because of its bright, relatively loud sound that offers a nice low end that is not too muddy.

But in the intervening years, other models have come out such as the grand auditorium and the jumbo. While there are no set rules, a good standard when choosing the acoustic guitar to use for a specific recording is how you want it to fit into your mix. If the track is in a relatively sparse mix, or a song with just guitar and vocal, it is often a good idea to go with a larger body guitar to produce a “bigger” sound that will help fill out your mix.

On the other hand, if you are adding an acoustic to an already full and busy mix, you may want to go with a smaller body that will produce a thinner sound that will add character and layers to a mix. A larger guitar can often add too much low-end to these types of mixes that can make the overall sound muddy and indistinct.

Recording With Built-in Pickups

Typically when recording acoustics, you’ll want to use microphones rather than the built-in pickups on your guitar to produce a more accurate and natural sound. However, the built-in pickups can be a great way to add a new element to your track.

Whether you are using a bridge pickup that came with the guitar or one you installed later, there are a few options you can choose for these sounds.

One is to record the guitar only using the pickup. Depending on the type and quality of your particular pickup — as well as your guitar — you may achieve a wide variety of sounds. Many times, these sounds can be useful to add depth and character to a busy mix, much like the smaller body acoustics mentioned above.

Another method is to record the acoustic with mics and with a built-in pickup. This will provide two distinct tracks of the same performance, which is great for a full mix or for adding fullness to a sparse mix. When mixing the two together, you can pan them to the same location and slowly raise the volume of the track recorded with the pickup until it sounds great mixed with the miked acoustic to give the illusion of one track with a unique character. Another option is to pan the two tracks separately and treat them as two different tracks to fill different spaces in your mix.

Again, it should be noted that there are no definite rules to choosing the right guitar for a track or the right method of recording, but these guidelines are a great place to start experimenting.