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Live Sound Month!

Barry’s Guide to Recording Guitars: Capturing the Sound of a Guitar Amp, Part II

In yesterday’s inSync, we discussed the art of capturing the sound of a guitar amp. Today we’ll throw in a few additional points of interest relative to this topic.

Using Two Mics:
There are also a few unusual techniques for miking guitar amps. One is to use both a dynamic and a condenser mic simultaneously, with the dynamic mic positioned towards the middle of the speaker cone, while the condenser mic, placed about 6 to 12 inches back, is pointing at the center of the speaker. This miking strategy is designed to take advantage of each mic’s “hearing” properties: the dynamic for the midrange punch, and the condenser for high frequency detail. At mixdown, the condenser mic is mixed in gradually until it fills out the sonic spectrum. Some engineers reverse this configuration, placing the dynamic up close at the center of the cone and the condenser facing the middle of the cone (near the outside of the speaker, also 6 to 12 inches back). The rationale here is; aside from creating a different timbral color, the previous configuration over-emphasizes the pronounced midrange of the dynamic and the highs of the condenser, thereby creating a better balance between each mic’s strengths. This is one of those areas where your own experimentation, tastes and the response of the mics you have determine the choice.

A favorite studio trick of Led Zeppelin’s guitarist, Jimmy Page, was to set up a combination of close miking and room miking. To achieve this, use a dynamic mic for close miking the speaker and a condenser mic placed a number of feet away. It’s advisable to point the room mic at the wall opposite the amp. In essence, we are recording reflections, which create the illusion of distance. The distance the mic is placed from the wall will depend on two factors: how big a space you wish to emulate and comb filtering. The reflections from the wall when combined with the direct sound of the amp will cancel certain frequencies. Move the mic closer or farther away until the comb filtering effect disappears.

Stereo Miking Lead Guitar
If we want tracks to stand out in a mix, and recreate the illusion that we are hearing the actual performance in a live space, recording them in stereo is an excellent means to achieve a stronger impact — which is the effect we’re going for. The easiest way to accomplish this is with a good stereo mic. This technique is particularly effective for lead guitar (also lead vocals) since impact is key. There are stereo miking techniques that will achieve the same end, such as mid-side stereo miking (see word for the day), but even with a pair of high-end mics of the same brand that aren’t matched, the response can be off as much as 6dB between the two, making stereo miking a tad difficult.

High-Level Recording Tip
When recording a solid-body electric guitar with heavy distortion direct from an effects processor, the sound of the guitar gets lost in the sound of distortion, and we can lose the attack and definition of the parts. A trick to add definition and the actual response of the guitar to the player’s fingers and the pick is to place a mic near the fingerboard and body of the guitar, so that it picks up the natural sound of the guitar, the attack of the pick, and the sound of the guitarist’s fingers as they move on the fingerboard. Mix this sound in with the distorted sound to bring out the natural characteristics of the guitar. Another way that definition is added to heavily distorted guitars is by doubling (See Tech Tip on Doubling Guitar; Live Doubling.) the part with a clean(er) guitar and mixing the two together. By miking the guitar as previously described, we can achieve the effect of adding definition and realism to the part in one take.

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