Empire Sound Studio, located near Dallas, Texas, has recorded some of the biggest acts in music in nearly every musical genre — and one of their favorite mic brands to use in the studio is MXL. MXL Microphones got a chance to talk to Alex Gerst, engineer and founder of Empire Sound Studio, about how the studio got its start and why MXL Mics have remained mainstays in the mic locker throughout the years.
There are many ways to record an acoustic guitar to get a wide range of different sounds, but no matter which techniques you use — and how many mics are involved — here are some things to keep in mind:
Guitar Cabinet, Brass Instruments –
As you may know already, MXL manufactures lots of microphones. Why? Because each one has its own character, a little something that sounds just right to your ears. “Best” is a subjective term after all. Your favorite guitar microphone might be rich and vintage-sounding whereas someone else wants complete transparency. We’ve compiled our recommendations of the best mics for certain instruments based on customer feedback. Not just what we say is the best, but what we’ve heard from countless users over the years. It’s not definitive but certainly a good place to start if you’re in the market for a new instrument microphone.
A question our technical support gets all the time is, “What microphone is best for broadcasting and podcasting?” The answer is, any microphone can amplify a voice. That’s easy. But does it sound natural? Is your deep voice too muddy? Is the sound too bright? There are some subtle differences with broadcast mics that make speech sound clear and smooth, the way it should over the radio. You want to select a true broadcast microphone for your radio show or podcast, especially if you have one of those deep radio voices.
Recording a piano isn’t easy. The sound quality depends not just on the microphones, but on the condition of the piano and oftentimes the room where the piano is located. For the best results, keep your piano tuned and in good working order. Proper maintenance will eliminate one big hurdle of recording a piano. The rest is just a matter of good mic placement.
The piano is generally recorded using close mic’ing technique. Ideally, you’ll want a minimum of two microphones. Usually, the microphone capturing the higher strings is assigned to the left channel and the microphone capturing the lower strings is assigned to the right channel in the final stereo mix, though the stereo spread generally is not hard left and right. While a single microphone can be used, the lower and upper extremities of the instrument will likely be compromised. To capture the full range of sound, pick up a pair of instrument microphones, such as the MXL CR21 Pair or the MXL 603 Pair.
When you hear a memorable guitar riff, you’re probably not thinking of how it was recorded…where the amp sat, was it on a carpeted floor, was the microphone two inches or ten inches away. But it’s these details that contribute to the sound you hear on the recording. So how do you capture the sound of an electric guitar?
First of all, you want to record the amp. While the electric guitar can certainly be recorded directly, there are times when there is simply no substitute for the sound of a real amplifier. Guitar amps have particular gain stages that facilitate the popular “crunch” guitar sound. While digital modeling and processing systems certainly have their place, they may not have the same level of realism as the sound from an amplifier. A small guitar amp can be just as effective for this application as a stack, because you don’t necessarily need to “crank” the volume. Instead, you want to increase the amp’s initial gain to achieve the desired amount of overdrive.
Typically, a guitar amp is close mic’ed to achieve the highest direct sound. Placing the microphone roughly 4 inches from the grill, aimed directly at the center of the loudspeaker will produce the most “edge” to your sound. If you move the mic further away, it takes the edge off the sound. It’ll be a bit mellower.
Now, if you’re going to put a microphone super close to an amp, it better be able to handle some high SPLs (sound pressure levels). It doesn’t necessarily have to be a dynamic mic – a condenser or two can do the job. A good instrument mic can perform well on a variety of instruments, including a guitar cabinet.
Distance from the source isn’t the only thing affecting the sound. By angling the microphone slightly off axis and towards the wall, you can add more “room sound.” Experimentation is a key factor in achieving the sound you are looking for. You might put one mic close to the cabinet and one several inches way. You’ll target the cabinet but you’ll also pick up the cabinet sound as it’s reflected in the room.
A ribbon mic might also give you the mix of guitar and room sound you’re looking for. The figure eight pattern picks up sound to the front and back of the mic without any creative placement. It’s what ribbon mics are made for.
Placement of the amp is another important factor. If the amplifier sits on a carpeted floor, you are more likely to reduce the amount of brightness in the sound. Similarly, elevating the amplifier off the floor may result in a loss of low-end. If you’re looking for a big reverberant tone, placing the amp and microphone in the bathroom is another popular technique. The hard tiles and other reflective surfaces can do wonders for a dull sound. In this case, move the microphone back a few feet from the loudspeaker and crank it up!
Recording audio is all about getting the sound you want. Garage band or singer/songwriter? Rock anthem or wedding ballad? “Enter the Sandman” or “Faithfully”? Determine your desired sound and then adjust your mic and amp placement until you get it. There’s no wrong answer!