How To Record Acoustic Instruments

When recording acoustic instruments, it’s vital to get a clean sound, free of distortion, noise, and colouration from the audio interface. Which technique you choose will depend on the instrument and the vibe you’re trying to capture, but there are some basic principles you can apply to all acoustic recordings.

Capturing sounds with high dynamic range

Dynamic range is the difference between the quietest and loudest sounds an instrument can make. Brass instruments, for example, have a vast dynamic range, as do percussive instruments like tablas and congas, and recording these instruments cleanly can be challenging. When setting the gain for a trumpet, say, it needs to be high enough to capture the soft notes but not so high that it distorts when the loudest notes are played. This is why it’s important to choose an audio interface with low-noise, high-headroom preamps. If the preamps are noisy, you'll hear hiss in the quieter sections. If the preamps don't have plenty of headroom, they could distort when the instrument is played louder.

How to capture acoustic instruments

Generally speaking, the sound from acoustic instruments, including acoustic guitar, violin and saxophone, is loudest from the soundhole. But it’s not necessarily the most balanced sound. So, whenever recording acoustic instruments, it's worth experimenting with microphone positioning. Moving the microphone further away can add more character to the sound created by the instrument's body or the space it is in. Take care when recording loud instruments as it's easy for the sound of the room to get picked up as well. It's always worth making some test recordings to hone in on the sound you find most pleasing.

Using Air to enliven acoustic recordings

When recording with a Focusrite interface, try using Air mode to add sheen and breathe life into your strings, brass or percussion.

The golden rule when recording acoustic instruments is to experiment with mic placement.