why does my acoustic guitar recording sound bad

Why Does My Acoustic Guitar Recording Sound Bad?

One of the most challenging things that every acoustic musician will face is recording their complicated instrument. After an unsatisfactory session, some guitar players will be left wondering why their acoustic guitar recording sounds bad, and this dampening of a guitar player’s morale, could hinder the flow of creativity. Even in an era wherein digital technology makes it so much easier for guitarists to immortalize their licks on a computer, a host of problems could still arise from each session. 

Disappointment could hound an artist for days if he or she fails to meet the desired outcome after recording. But there are multiple ways to vastly improve your sound in your next session so there is absolutely no reason to panic or feel disheartened. In order to prevent such setbacks in the process of laying down your tracks on your favorite DAW or Digital Audio Station, proper preparation and awareness is of utmost importance. 

Reasons why your acoustic guitar recording sounds bad and how to solve these issues

The acoustic guitar is not in top condition

Check the intonation of your guitar

Your guitar is the main source of sound and whatever shape it is in will largely affect what you put into your recording software. Always make sure that your guitar is properly intonated, as minor differences in pitches will become more apparent once put on record. A tuner won’t be as effective when a stringed instrument is not in its proper intonation, so it’s better to pay your luthier a visit to ensure that your guitar is perfectly ready to lay down some tracks.

Repair any faulty electronics

If you are using an acoustic guitar pickup, the condition of the pre-amp, pickup and all of the wirings are crucial to the quality of sound that will come out of your instrument. Have an expert conduct a checkup on your guitar’s electronics before deciding to record your part.

Replace those old strings

The strings on your acoustic guitar also play a huge part in the quality of your sound. An old set of strings, with all the gunk stuck in those coils, will make your sound really muddy and with less sustain, making it more difficult to fix in post-recording.

Microphone/Pickup Issues

Microphones and pickups are among the most important pieces in your recording setup as they do most of the sound capturing. With diligent research, you can find better options out there without putting a dent in your wallet. The market is a competitive place for audio and recording gear, so the possibilities of getting better equipment at more inexpensive prices is fairly common. 

Even if you are on a tight budget, it’s important to be aware what kind of microphone or pickup you are working with, as this would help temper your expectations and adjust your strategy if you are working under extreme budgetary restrictions.

Ways to Record Your Acoustic Guitar

With a microphone

The three primary types of microphones are condenser microphones, dynamic microphones, and ribbon microphones. Ribbon mics, along with large or  small-diaphragm condensers, are the best fit for recording acoustic guitars.

Dynamic microphones may not be the top choice for some professionals but certain mic models such as the Shure SM57, have established themselves as industry standards. Loud, versatile and affordable, dynamic microphones are responsible for recording tons of noise through the decades.

It is also important to note that proper positioning of the microphone is crucial in recording any acoustic instrument. Microphone angle and distance largely changes the guitar’s sound characteristics. Don’t be afraid to experiment and search for the sweetest spot possible.

With a pickup

Piezo pickups are a standard for a vast majority of acoustic instruments including upright basses and violins. Piezo pickups create less feedback and produce brighter and more percussive tones, making it the most commonly-installed pickup in acoustic guitars. 

On the other hand, magnetic pickups are the cheapest and easiest to install on an acoustic guitar as they don’t require any modification on your instrument at all. However, these things are very prone to feedback and the sound quality is subpar to a piezo or a microphone-paired pickup.

Microphone-paired pickups, a more expensive choice for guitarists, are the most flexible in terms of the range of tones that can be achieved. The microphone’s levels can also be controlled to prevent feedback.

Unfavorable recording environment

Not all musicians will have the chance to work in a professional-level recording environment, as booking a date in a studio or setting up one would be too costly. However, even with limited resources, one must ensure that the recording environment is conducive and not replete with unwanted sounds in the background, including hums and vibrations that could subtly make your recording sound bad.

Soundproofing and sound treatment are very important factors that affect recording quality. But since materials such as acoustic foam and absorbing panels are quite expensive, indie musicians must be resourceful in finding cheaper substitutes. Sawdust, wood scraps, heavy-duty moving blankets, egg cartons and egg-crate mattresses are the go-to alternatives used by some of the most ingenious garage bands.

Faulty equipment

Mixers, equalizers, amplifiers, audio interfaces and monitor speakers are among the basic equipment that comprise an audio recording system. Electronics are quite sensitive and can be easily affected by weather conditions such as extreme heat and cold. A diminished performance by any of these gears could ruin your recording in either a blatant or a subtle manner. Keep your audio equipment in check and do a rundown a day or two before the scheduled recording session to ensure that they are in optimal condition.

Cables need attention too

Every cable in your home setup helps in transmitting sound from your guitar to the recording devices. These wires, which we sometimes knock as eyesores, are still the favorite option among most musicians and studio engineers, even after wireless technology has taken over the world. Minor problems in your cables manifest themselves on a recording in major ways.

Bad mixing

Mixing is a very important aspect of the entire recording process from start to finish. Careful detail should be given to this procedure, which involves proper utilization of equalizers, compressors, limiters and effects – tools that can also mess up your mix when used improperly. Editing recorded guitar parts is intended only to improve the quality of your input, since post-production tricks cannot easily make a bad recording shine. Make sure that the sound mix is already as good as it can be even before you hit the record button.

You need more practice

In the end, the music will still emanate from the artist and success has no barriers if the art is created with much love and dedication. Give yourself more time to achieve the highest playing standard possible for your style, age and level, with consistent proper practice. Most importantly, don’t forget that what matters is that you are enjoying the entire process, because a musician who is happy with what he is doing doesn’t need to worry if his acoustic guitar recording sounds bad.

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