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More Guitar Miking Technique

Q: “I’m recording an acoustic guitar track in my studio. I have two small diaphragm condensers on it. When I play everything sounds fine, but when I listen back to the recording I can hear some extra string noise happening when my fretting hand moves around. Mostly I am bothered by the sound of open strings sometimes ringing. Aside from improving my technique, which I am working on, is there anything I can do to minimize how the mics pick it up?”

A: Put a sock in it! Seriously, one trick I’ve used before is to very lightly wrap a sock around the end of the neck up where the nut is. It makes it a little harder for strings to ring out unless you really intend for them to. It will also generally dampen a lot of rattling and other string noise. If your part requires a lot of delicate open notes this probably won’t help much because it will kill the sustain too much, but in many situations you’d be surprised how much it helps.

Too much compression on the recording will tend to accentuate these kinds of flaws. Back it off a bit and see if it gets better. Sometimes an expander can help even more, but it’s tricky to get the settings just right. Record without any processing and try these things after the fact.

Mic placement will obviously have a lot to do with things. If you generally back the mics off the guitar a bit it will make it less noticeable – more distance = less intimacy, which makes it harder to hear this kind of detail.

Very new strings will also tend to exaggerate this type of problem. Let the strings live on the guitar for a few days and try it again while also employing some of these other techniques. Also, the type of strings used can make a big difference. The more lively and bright they sound the more likely they are to make things worse in this regard. On the other hand, strings that are too dead, or too quiet, will force you to turn up the gain more, which can also make things worse. Ultimately you’ll have to experiment to find the magic combination.

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