Studio Notes: Recording a Vocalist Playing Acoustic Guitar

PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in December 2001, contributed by then Contributing Editor Robin Hood Brians. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!

Using the Alesis AM62 and AM40 Tube Condenser mics

If you have ever recorded a vocalist who plays acoustic guitar, you know the scenario. Vocals leaking into the guitar mic, guitar leaking into the vocal mic and both of these problems compromise the options you would have had if you could have recorded each of them isolated. The EQ that makes the guitar sound wonderful puts an edge on the vocalist that makes Darth Vader sound pleasant. And, when you try to compress the vocals or add reverb, the guitar bleed becomes a 300 pound gorilla. The solution: a hyper-cardioid mic on the vocal (some folks call them super-cardioid), and a mic you can put very close to the acoustic without turning it into a monster.

I had run into this problem so often, I had planned to buy a condenser with a hyper-cardioid pattern. I had considered either a Neumann KMS 105 or if business is really good, the Neumann M149. Since I have plenty of good expensive vintage tube mics for vocals (Neumann U67s and AKG C12), I decided to save some bucks and try the Alesis GT AM62.

The Set Up

Vocal – I used the Alesis GT AM62 for the vocalist. It has a 1inch 3-micron gold evaporated Mylar diaphragm and 4 patterns, omni, figure 8, cardioid, and hyper-cardioid. It comes with power supply, 25ft cable, case and two mounts. One is a shock mount.

Guitar – I used the Alesis GT AM40 on the acoustic guitar. It is a front-addressed tube condenser mic that is very reminiscent of the early Telefunken or Neumann tube mics. It has a 15db pad and a low end roll-off. It comes with power supply, case, 25ft cable, and either regular mount (shock mount is optional) This mic was a cardioid version with a3/4” diameter gold evaporated Mylar diaphragm. Hyper-cardioid and omni capsules are also available for the AM40. I also recorded the direct out of the guitar pickup through a Countryman type 85 direct box. This is an all-discrete device.

All inputs were routed through API 3124+ mic pres and into a Mackie D8B. I did use a touch of compression using Behringer Composers on all three channels. The AM40 was 6-8 inches from the guitar. The singer was about 5-12 inches from the pop screen which was almost touching the mic. 5-12 inches represents the singer’s range of working the mic.

The performances: I had the singer record 4 songs of different styles and volumes. One of the songs was very rowdy and gave me an opportunity to see if the close placement of the AM40 could provide enough separation for the guitar. He also sang one very soft song to test the hyper-cardioid pattern of the AM62. This was not an exceptionally good sounding acoustic guitar. Even though it was acoustic, it was really meant to be used with the pickup. However, the combination of the pickup and the mic, panned 45 degrees for stereo effect created a very credible sound. The singer was a pro in the studio and “worked” the mic enough to allow me to keep the compressor set to a very moderate amount of compression.

The Results

AM62: The AM62 is a tube mic, but has a crisp, clean top end that reminds you of a Sanken or a U87 that’s had the top end “opened up” by Bill Bradley of the Mic Shop in Nashville. It did not require any EQ and that’s rare for me. I can usually find a way to touch up the EQ and improve any sound. I discovered that you can achieve the “vintage” sound by simply rolling the very high end off and emulating the sound of the vintage Neumanns. This allows the smoothness of the tube to be more pronounced. Even though the singer was very close, I did not have to use the low end roll-off. Naturally, there was some guitar bleeding through the vocal mic. However, it was not enough to be a problem. The guitar did not have a booming low end like some guitars so, not using the low end roll-off preserved the bottom end presence. While the AM62 did not set the tube mic market on its heels when released, I think the hyper-cardioid feature gives it a very good reason to be in your mic collection.]

AM40: I have two AM40s and have been using them for some time on guitars, amps, fiddle, and piano. In fact, I have not put an SM57 on a guitar amp since I got the AM40s. If this guitar had a booming low end, I would have probably used the 75hz low-end roll-off. However, the bottom end was mild enough that I could place the mic very close to the hole without any problem. The separation was unbelievable! I could not believe my ears. There was so little vocal coming through the AM40, it sounded like the vocalist was behind a gobo several feet away. And, the guitar sound was warm with plenty of clean top end. I really love these little mics. They have performed beautifully in every application I have tired.

Countryman Type 85 This is probably one of the best overall products ever made in America. They are rugged and deliver a smooth clean sound (thanks to the all discrete circuitry). I panned the direct input 45 degrees to the left and the mic 45 degrees to the right. Just a touch of flange from the Mackie D8B effects card made the guitar float on the slow songs. I did use quite a bit of EQ on the direct input. However, they almost always require more EQ than you would expect to use on a mic and, this guitar was no exception.

Tips

1. If you’re recording an acoustic guitar that does not have a pickup, try using two mics: one in front where the neck joins the body, and the other in the back, at the other end of the body, set out of phase. Pan them 45-45. This works on some guitars better than others. If it does work… enjoy!

2. When you must record a singer who is not a true pro and does not know how to “work” a mic, record vocals on two channels; one hot and one backed off 12db. This will allow you to switch between the two when mixing and avoid having to use massive compression to protect against overs.

3. If the singer uses a “slab” electric guitar, still mic the strings very, very closely. You might be surprised how nice some songs sound with just a touch of the live pick sound blended in with the electric sounds.

4. If you should find yourself recording a singer who cannot carry a tune, has a terrible guitar that is out of regulation, and breaks meter… fake equipment problems and cancel the session. Life it just too short!!!

My thanks to John Byron Haynie for pickin’ and singin’ to help me with this little test. Check out his new double CD.

* The Alesis GT (Groove Tube) products I own were produced during the period when Aspen Pittman’s famous Grove Tube Company was associated with Alesis. Groove Tubes is once again an independent company. Aspen Pittman is one of the true icons in the microphone industry. You really should check out Mr. Pittman’s newest babies at http://www.gtelectronics.com.

For more information about Robin Hood Brians’ other adventures, log on to http://www.robinhoodstudios.com.

Leave a Reply