I have a question about recording fingerstyle acoustic guitar with a condenser microphone. Specifically, it regards how to set the gain on the audio interface. I understand generally that the gain should be set to use the full dynamic range, without going into distorted territory. In other words, when you play, the LED on the interface should be in the green zone, going up to, but not quite reaching, the yellow zone in the loudest parts of the song.
However, with fingerstyle acoustic, which is pretty quiet, this results in a quite high gain setting on the audio interface (even if the mic is placed quite close to the guitar). The result is, the mic picks up all kinds of other noise: toe tapping (I’ve resorted to removing my shoe), chair creaking, even my own breathing can be heard at times.
Is the solution to this simply to lower the gain and accept that you won’t be using the full dynamic range available? Any help would be appreciated.
BTW, I’m recording just as an aid to learning and to document my progress (if any), I’m not worried at all about having a polished production.
Hi, I don’t think the gain setting on the AI will do you any good. The condenser is prone to pick up a lot of sound from the surroundings, unless you reduce the distance between the guitar and the microphone. 10-15 cm (4-6 in). The input gain knob will always be set in the green, avoiding red peaks, to get a quality recording. If you are playing fingerstyle and singing, you are bound to need two mics, and separating the inputs so you can balance things out during the mixing. The other thing you can do is soundproofing your recording room, but that is a lot more work.
Gain sets the level of everything the mic picks up, so it will still pick up all that background noise at the same (relative) level as the guitar.
Aside from soundproofing the environment as much as possible, you’d need either a different microphone (directional) or a pickup. Or blend microphone + pickup.
BTW, from what I’m aware of, yellow on the Focusrite is fine, there is no clipping happening. It just clips on red. When I record I usually aim to get yellow at the loudest parts but no red, otherwise I find my recordings are too quiet in the quiet parts.
Thanks @jkahn and @TRJ, that makes sense. I have a particularly unfriendly recording area (my living room): no rugs, hard tile floors, not even any curtains on the windows. All sounds seem magnified.
Since, I am the cause of the unwanted noise, I don’t think microphone placement will have a huge effect either. I will have to get a quieter chair and learn to control my breathing better while I play.
And maybe find a different location to do your recording. I have a similar problem. I sit in a reflective space, backed into a corner with windows on each side and tile floor. The guitar also sounds brighter there.
As long as I am alone in the house it is ok, but all it takes is my wife in the kitchen, almost 50 feet away and anything she does sounds louder than the guitar.
You need to experiment to find the “right” combination of mic position and gain for your recording environment. I don’t think there’s a single formula, but positioning the microphone closer might help. Sometimes I’ll record guitar and vocals separately to make the recording and mixing easier, but sometimes I record them at the same time. If you’re recording them at the same time your mic position becomes even more important. (Although you could also use two mics with each positioned for either vocal or guitar, and you could try different combinations of dynamic and condenser mics.)
FWIW, when I record with condenser mics (which is usually, for acoustic instruments) I either stand, or I make sure to use a stool with no moving parts (no swivels, rocking, etc. to make noise).