Recording an EP: acoustic guitar

Having finished recording the drums, the next step was to start recording the guitars. There was quite a big gap in the recording process as a result of more significant life events: the birth of baby boys to both Alex and Niall during the autumn/fall of 2018. It’s wonderful that two band-member babies were born during the making of the record and it was also useful to have a good break and come back (relatively!) fresh. When we reconvened in late November, we decided to start with recording the acoustic guitar parts for the EP, as these would form the musical backbone to the songs.

What was your approach to recording the acoustic guitar? The aim for the record as a whole was to have few musical layers, with each element as well-recorded as possible (see this previous post). To this end, we used a pair of condenser microphones close to the guitar to capture a stereo image and then a third microphone further back that would capture more of the room sound. In addition, we used the line output from the acoustic guitar from the in-built piezoelectric pickup. This would give us plenty of options during the mix stage for shaping the final acoustic guitar sound. Condenser microphones are a great choice for acoustic instruments due their even frequency response (they don’t “colour” the sound) and the sonic detail they can provide.

The majority of the acoustic guitar recording was done in a single day. There were are few places here and there where we had go back and fix things up. The biggest challenge was The Flood, which has a pretty relentless acoustic guitar part and had to be recorded in a single take. We had to re-record this part at a later session when we noticed that acoustic guitar part was wandering out-of-time with the drums a bit. It took a few goes to get right – and at times I was wishing we’d used a click track – but we got there in the end. The video above shows the actual recording we used for the middle section of Chasing Butterflies. You can tell from chat at the end of the video that we’d had a few goes at this and were relieved to have it in-the-bag!

One of the things that I really took away from guitar recording sessions is how much easier things are in the studio if you put in the practice time beforehand. The parts I struggled with were either newly written or ones that I hadn’t played for a while. Once the red recording light is on you want to be playing-on-autopilot and trying the get timing and attitude right. Playing to pre-recorded drums (or click tracks) is tricky in this regard, because there’s no two-way feedback between you and the drummer. I find I sort of have to put my brain “in neutral” and try to feel, rather than think about, the slight push and pulls in tempo that inevitably happen during live recording. Patience and persistence are also pretty useful.. 😉

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