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Best way to record acoustic guitar songs?
May 1, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to record acoustic guitar songs?

I have played acoustic guitar by myself for years, but never been in a band or recorded anything, so I have very limited knowledge of how to do that.

My guitar is not wired for sound, so I understand I need a microphone, some way of connecting to my computer (a MacBook Pro; I was thinking of getting this for the purpose) and some software for editing.

My aim is to record a backing track of chords and then some riffs/solos over that, with possibly some vocals. I may add an electric guitar at some future point.

How do people usually set this up - do they record the solos and the chords on separate tracks? And if so, do you listen to the chords through headphones and play the solo parts to the microphone? That means then you can't hear the guitar parts you are playing properly though, as you're wearing headphones, so I guess there is some key factor here I'm missing.

Oddly I haven't been able to find a good guide to how to do this online. So if you have general advice on how to set it up and specific recommendations for hardware and software, that would be splendid.

Thanks!
posted by StephenF to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
How do people usually set this up - do they record the solos and the chords on separate tracks?

Yes. That is the only possible way to do it.

How do people usually set this up - do they record the solos and the chords on separate tracks? And if so, do you listen to the chords through headphones and play the solo parts to the microphone? That means then you can't hear the guitar parts you are playing properly though, as you're wearing headphones, so I guess there is some key factor here I'm missing.

The part you're recording also goes through the headphones.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:28 AM on May 1, 2012


That means then you can't hear the guitar parts you are playing properly though, as you're wearing headphones, so I guess there is some key factor here I'm missing.

You will hear the parts you’re playing through the recorder, in the headphones, mixed with everything else. It will be called input mode, or monitoring, or something like that depending on your setup.

I would suggest some sort of beginning recording book or videos. I don’t have any to recommend, but there are hundreds of them out there. You have way more questions than can addressed here easily, even if you don’t know it yet.

Garageband is the obvious choice for the Mac. I think it’s usually going to be easier to use a dedicated hardware recorder, simply because anything with the computer involves more screwing around with computers and less recording music. A hardware recorder will be more expensive though.
posted by bongo_x at 10:30 AM on May 1, 2012


My guitar is not wired for sound

Good. Acoustic guitar sounds better with a mic than with a direct cable.

I was thinking of getting this for the purpose

Why? Why would you pay for all those effects and amp models just to record an acoustic guitar? Acoustic guitar is almost always recorded clean. At most, you might want a few basic effects like reverb, which you could add in GarageBand. Buy a microphone that plugs directly into a USB port. I use this Audio-Technica mic on a separate stand (for acoustic guitar and vocals).

You can adjust the volume of the track you're recording in GarageBand to compensate for whatever volume loss is caused by the headphones.

I recommend looking for a comprehensive guide on how to use GarageBand -- either a website or a book. As bono_x said, you seem to want more guidance than one AskMe thread can provide.
posted by John Cohen at 10:41 AM on May 1, 2012


Sorry, bongo_x.
posted by John Cohen at 10:42 AM on May 1, 2012


If you have a Guitar Center local, they have been running series of recording seminars that focus on GarageBand using a Mac. It's a 4 week course (free!), and I think this week is the first lesson on signal flow and mic techniques - just what you're looking for.
posted by InfidelZombie at 10:57 AM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


You have a lot of basic questions that could be pretty easily handled with an hour or two of recording instruction. Ask around and find a mid-range recording studio in your area (maybe a community college?) and book 2 hours of time, saying that you'd like to record 1 song and learn the basics so you can follow up by yourself. It will cost maybe $100 at most and will save you untold hours of hemming and hawing trying to figure all this stuff out blind.

There is lots of good advice here, but I'm guessing that every answer only raises two more questions for you. A helpful studio engineer will get you started on the right path in no time.
posted by Aquaman at 12:11 PM on May 1, 2012


General recommendations for software: Reaper

General recommendations for hardware: You will need headphones for what you are trying to do. I have a pair of Sennheiser HD280s.

You have an analog input on the Macbook Pro. I sometimes use a 1/4" to 1/8" adapter and plug my mic preamp directly into that.

Reaper is fairly straightforward to use. If you end up going that route, I'd be happy to answer any questions, general or specific, either in this thread or via mail.

You can even record using the built-in mic in your MacBook - this is not going to sound as good as a dedicated mic, but will give you an idea while you figure out the software.
posted by dubold at 12:15 PM on May 1, 2012


It's pretty simple really. Get some multitrack software (Garageband would seem the obvious choice). Set up a track for recording. Plug in your microphone (a simple USB mic will do, you can splurge on a fancier rig once you feel comfortable with all this) and your headphones, play your riff. Create a second track and set it up for recording: you will now hear your first track and you can simply play along to it. Repeat until you have all the tracks you want, and mix it down until it sounds the way you like it.
posted by monospace at 12:57 PM on May 1, 2012


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