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Old December 3rd, 2014, 10:53 AM   #1
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Recording Classical Guitar.

Hi all.

I need your opinion on this. How would you record non-live performance classical guitar?

My nephew is a professional guitarist and is recording his fourth or fifth cd. He sent some photos of the session which was recorded in a church some place. I've attached photos to show the set-up.

First a disclaimer: I am NOT a professional audio person, just someone who has enough knowledge to be dangerous. So if the person who is the audio engineer is on this list, I certainly mean no disrespect, I just want to learn.

SO with that, my thoughts:

1) Why are the mics so far away from the instrument? Apparently these are some REALLY nice custom built jobs, not sure of the make. I've always thought that the further the mics, the more you have to increase gain/volume, thus increasing picking up the room noise.

2) Though it seems cool, recording in a large room like this, especially with the marble floors, seems less than ideal. I would think recording dry in a "dead" studio and then add some reverb, echo, whatever after the fact would be preferred. If the only choice was to record here, would I be wrong to almost tent the area with sound blankets?

Again, I just want to learn what is going on and am not judging. There is absolutely a great possibility that I am missing something here. And since I am a guitar player as well (acoustic and electric jazz) I'd like to find out if I've got it all wrong.

Thanks for your help.

Jonathan
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Recording Classical Guitar.-one.jpg   Recording Classical Guitar.-two.jpg  

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Old December 3rd, 2014, 12:00 PM   #2
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

For me, natural reverb in a great sounding space is much better than effects processing, though processing has gotten pretty great nowadays and can give you a lot more options...
If you want to cover your bases, use a close mic (or two) to mix with the room mics. You could go crazy and throw up a bunch of room mics at different distances so you can dial in which one(s) sound best, and blend to taste. I think throwing up an isolation tent is not a great idea (why not just record in a closet?), but some gobos to control the sound may help isolate the close mics while still getting the benefit of the wonderful natural reverb. The real key is to listen to each mic through headphones and place them in 'magic' spots. Even moving the mic one inch can make a big difference. Also, watch out for phasing problems. There is some math involved with mic placement, but I am a little daft and just use my ears (or phase switches!).
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Old December 3rd, 2014, 12:18 PM   #3
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

Thanks Brian.

I think I've been ingrained to think that mic in close proximity to what you record is key, at least from a human voice POV. I guess from all the sources that say to never have a camera mounted mic if at all possible. (I would tend to agree with that.)

Maybe recording musical instruments is different. There was/is an interesting thread on recording piano here too.

It will be interesting to see what others feel too.

Jonathan
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Old December 3rd, 2014, 12:22 PM   #4
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

Agreeing with Brian, *in a room with acoustics that support it*, natural reverb is best.

But what does "best" mean?

I have some acquaintance with the values that producers/engineers who do this kind of setup are expressing. I agree with quite a few of those values, but constraints of space, time, and money affect much of my work. OK, enough philosophy, but there are several ways to get to a great sounding recording and this is one of them, though not often practiced.

1. work with a solo artist, or a group of acoustic instrumentalists who have good balance of volume, because you won't be (conventionally) mixing.

2. find a space that really, really sounds good. Typically, a church.

3. get some really, really good mics. Custom built or audiophile preamps. Record them to some super format. Maybe analog two-track, maybe some super-digital format with much higher-end analog-to-digital converters than we typically see in our gear.

4. do not process the sound in any way, during recording or post.

5. setup real reference monitors outside of the recording space, in a very good listening environment. LISTEN. Place the mics for the balance of room and direct sound that gives the lifelike recording you've obsessively dedicated a considerable portion of your professional life to. This mic placement is the only "mixing" you'll do.

6. Get one good performance. No editing.

7. do the most transparent conversions possible of your recording into your mastering media, duplicate and distribute.

This recording method, sometimes called "direct to stereo", or "single point stereo micing", is based on pre-1960s methods of micing and recording. In those times, recordists were very limited; no multitrack recording, limited or no efx. Their methods, when practiced with our modern technology, can give STUNNING results. I've heard some amazing recordings.

It goes further back into traditions of chamber music. If you wanted music, you hired musicians. If you could afford to and were interested, you might have a room (a chamber) for this.

As recording technology developed, micing methods were experimented with, and some are still with us, including x/y, ORTF, Decca tree, and this one, A-B. To modern conventions, people will tell ya' that a spaced pair of mics will lead to comb filtering where various frequencies will be attenuated, aka. phasing. But to anyone who's worked with these techniques, that's all in a day's work, because hearing is believing.

If it sounds good, it is good.
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Old December 3rd, 2014, 12:32 PM   #5
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

1) Why are the mics so far away from the instrument??
> That's not normal.. especially in live performance w/ a PA.. They could be to pick-up the room and the guitar has an internal pick-up.. though I don't see any cables. The mics could also be closer than they appear in the photos and they're looking for a direct/room blend.

2) Though it seems cool, recording in a large room like this, especially with the marble floors, seems less than ideal.
> If one has an additional high quality stereo pair, the room 'may' have a very nice natural acoustics that can be mixed in (post) to the close mics.

Many, many ways to record an acoustic. Condensers are the usual go-to, large and/or small. A contact or internal pick-up can be mixed in with the mics as well for added presence/attack, but I wouldn't use the pick-up on it;s own, except for live performance where feedback is an issue.
In my studio 'daze', my usual MO was a stereo pair of (SDC) Neumann KM84s with a (LDC) AKG C414 (omni or fig-8 setting) a few feet off. I also had four channels of the John Hardy M1 mic preamps that I carried with me. If a Neve 80 series console was available, I'd use the on -board amps.
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Old December 3rd, 2014, 02:30 PM   #6
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

There is no correct or wrong way to record an accoustic instrument. It is down to the end result that you want to achieve and this is basically whether you want to hear the sound coming out of the instrument or the sound of the instrument in the room. Many people like to hear the sound of an acoustic guitar in a church or room with a fairly long natural reverb. That's because the natural reflections give an ethereal effect to the sound that can be very satisfying to listen to, however that is not the actual sound of the instrument.

One problem of recording an instrument in a natural reverb environment is that you are stuck with it. If you decide afterwards that you would like to reduce the reverb, then you have a problem. During my engineering days, I always preferred to close mic an acoustic instrument to record it's natural sound, rather than being stuck with one particular set of room reflections.

As Seth said though, 'If it sounds right it is right'

Roger
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Old December 3rd, 2014, 05:54 PM   #7
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

Thanks so much guys! FYI- no internal pick up on/in guitar.

There are a few other shots I didn't post that seems to show a seperate room where the audio dude monitors stuff.

All facinating stuff to me!

Jonathan
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Old December 3rd, 2014, 10:32 PM   #8
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

Distant micing is great for big percussion and powerful French horns. It can make them sound bigger than life. It's not so great for guitar, IMO. For classical guitar, we want to hear a crisp attack and the subtlety of the performance. It's not about power and size. (For power, get a Les Paul and Marshall Stack.) It's about intimacy.

That's my artistic take on it anyway.

One can also use distant mics for a dreamy feel. It can be a good approach for a flute ensemble. It's perfect for choirs as we can get size, power and dreaminess at the same time. It also smears the details, masking individual imperfections. Unless the piece is abstract and legato, I doubt that one would want a dreamy feel for classical guitar.

That said, one could close mic to get good definition of the attacks and mix it with very distant mics to add the room sound and fill the sustains.

Here's an example with Paco De Lucia, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin using pickups and close mics (likely mixing distant mics as well.) It's a nice combination of clean attacks and space. (I saw this trio live back in the '80s and I've got to admit that I was so wowed by the performances that I didn't give the mics a second thought at the time.)

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Old December 4th, 2014, 05:01 AM   #9
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

That's a stunning performance - but an editing nightmare, quite apart from the audio aesthetics. Whilst continuity has to be maintained in the sound track, the job of cutting the video with perfect synch through six minutes of racing virtuosity from, effectively, three soloists looks to be near impossible.

There might well be some YouTube latitude in the download synchronisation but for anyone watching the guitarists' technique (as I was, in a *very* humble way) there are points where video action is noticeably adrift from the music. Some of the intended audience will be very picky about this! So apart from the sound quality of the recording might it be an idea to have the performer's opinion on the edit, if at all possible, before things get too set?
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Old December 4th, 2014, 05:56 AM   #10
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

All this discussion is fascinating, but I for one would really like to hear what the actual recording sounds like. When is the CD coming out, or will there be tracks or album to download from a website?

I haven't done much serious guitar recording, but having heard a few of the best solo classical guitar players playing live without any amplification I have been surprised at how strong the tone produced by a really good player on a first class instrument can be - in a totally different league from the usual competent but run of the mill acoustic guitar sound.
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Old December 4th, 2014, 06:59 AM   #11
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

Interesting mic plcement in the photos. It is a bit unsuual compared to the more common idea of having a condensor mic placed within a few inches of the strings/fingers. Its all about the artistic intent (or lack there of) of the production team.

On comb filter cancellation - a real issue if mixing down to mono as with the good old VHS VCRs linear track.

If recorded sound was really that great there would be no demand for live performances. After all, why pay $70 or more for a concert ticket (complete with people sneezing and coughing) that can be heard precisely once when one can buy a studio recording on CD for under $20 and listen to it many times at a venue that allows food and beverage while sitting in your underwear?

At some point the recording team (engineer, mixer, etc.) become more important than the performers - consider the CG and FX seen in many current movies.

And maybe as a culture and society our collective tastes are changing. Consider all the assorted devices invented to add distortion to electric guitars.

Close mic-ing is essential for voice intelligibility, espcially in noisy or reverberant venues. What is not good for a single speaking voice might be desired for instruments or a chorus of voices.
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Old December 4th, 2014, 07:30 AM   #12
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Don Palomaki View Post

If recorded sound was really that great there would be no demand for live performances. After all, why pay $70 or more for a concert ticket (complete with people sneezing and coughing) that can be heard precisely once when one can buy a studio recording on CD for under $20 and listen to it many times at a venue that allows food and beverage while sitting in your underwear?
I prefer a close miked sound on an acoustic instrument, but some some people want to hear the sound of people eating crisps and sneezing in the background, as it is the capturing of a much more realistic sound of a live performance at a venue.

Another reason that some people would prefer to go to a live performance rather than sit at home with a recording, is for the atmosphere of being with a group of people who have come to see and hear a performer that they admire. Most musicians will also perform differently to a live audience as there is a mutual response and interaction between audience and performer. As a live performer, I always perform with much more involvement and emotion to an enthusiastic audience than I do in the studio.

Lets face it, the rise of 'celebrity' now means that some people will go to see someone they have seen on the tv, just because they are celebrities and they can tell all their friends about it and show pics on social media.

Roger
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Old December 4th, 2014, 11:45 AM   #13
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Levin View Post
My nephew is a professional guitarist and is recording his fourth or fifth cd.
You nephew is looking for a particular sound. He's a pro, he's staking his reputation on it. He and his producer probably put in a fair amount of effort finding this space. You seem to think his choice was a mistake. Why?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Levin View Post
1) Why are the mics so far away from the instrument? Apparently these are some REALLY nice custom built jobs, not sure of the make. I've always thought that the further the mics, the more you have to increase gain/volume, thus increasing picking up the room noise.
They are so far away to allow the sound to develop. They aren't trying to capture the sound from the guitarist's perspective (that would take close micing). They are instead trying to capture what an audience member might hear if they got to sit in the "sweet spot." What you're looking at is probably a couple of mics in AB (aka a spaced pair), probably omnis, certainly large diaphragm, my guess would be Neumann TLM170s or U89s, but it's impossible to know from that picture. Ask your nephew; he'll almost certainly know what mics were used.

The point of AB is to record a stereo image that captures the acoustic as well as the instrument. The engineer controls this ratio of instrument to acoustic by positioning the mics closer for more instrument sound, and farther away for more of the room's acoustic. Getting the correct position takes a lot of work; they weren't just dropped there at random.

The more interesting question (to me anyway) is why are the mics so low? Many recording engineers would have raised them up higher and pointed them down, to control reflections from the back wall. But probably with the geometry of this situation it doesn't matter as much as it would in a more conventional setting.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Levin View Post
2) Though it seems cool, recording in a large room like this, especially with the marble floors, seems less than ideal.
You are almost certainly wrong about that -- it is probably exactly ideal for the sound your nephew was trying to achieve. Ask him.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Levin View Post
I would think recording dry in a "dead" studio and then add some reverb, echo, whatever after the fact would be preferred. If the only choice was to record here, would I be wrong to almost tent the area with sound blankets?
You would be completely wrong to do that. This location was not the only choice, it was the top choice on the list. Again, ask your nephew. They didn't want a dead studio close mic sound -- if that's what they had wanted, it's easy enough to rent studio space. Good acoustic spaces are much harder to find, and much harder to book. A lot of nice sounding churches won't let you book a recording session there, even for a single instrument like this.

One last time, talk to your nephew. You might learn something. A good audio recording is more difficult to achieve than a good video. He'll probably explain it to you if you ask.
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Old December 4th, 2014, 12:25 PM   #14
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

Bruce,

If you re-read my original post, no where do I imply that the way this is done is a mistake. And that I am not a full time audio engineer. Just someone who is inquiring about set up standards.

From what I've gather here there is some lee way as to what people prefer. What I have learned is for voice recording in mostly an interview type setting, which places mic close and block out as much ambiance as possible, is a different animal than recording an instrument in a live setting.

So with that my question about this particular place. Not that I think ANYTHING is wrong. Just an old dog learning new tricks. Thanks for your input though.

Colin- I know in the past he has chosen to record in large venues, mostly churches. His website is Adam Levin Guitar :: Home And please buy a few hundred copies of his cd's! ;-}

Jonathan

Last edited by Jonathan Levin; December 4th, 2014 at 03:27 PM.
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Old December 7th, 2014, 01:05 PM   #15
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Re: Recording Classical Guitar.

First I read the thread, then I looked at the pics. To my surprise it doesn't look like the mics are so terribly far away. I think most acoustic instruments need some space to "blend" unless you really want to hear what the performer hears. Which can be really distracting. I doubt many listeners would want to be closer to the guitar than the mics in the photos.

Every instrument is different, but there's one thing is common - what the performer hears is not what the listener hears. The performer is so closely coupled to the instrument that it's pretty common to hear different notes originating in different parts of the instrument.

Unless I wanted to be able to hear which individual string was sounding when, I'd definitely get a few feet away in any acoustically decent space.
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