Acoustic guitar-Record in mono or stereo?

I’m a bit confused from reading the suggestions in the FAQ, and am not a big tech guy. I’m recording primarily acoustic guitar parts. Should I record in mono or stereo? What are the advantages of recording in each way? Thanks.

I almost always record two tracks for acoustic guitar but I’ve never really considered this “stereo.” I use and LDC near the hole and and SDC at about the 12th fret. Sometimes I’ll place the SDC over the player’s shoulder for a different sound.

When you mix you can eq and pan these two tracks to give you more flexibility in how you present the guitar sound in the song. I usually don’t pan them very far apart but it’s nice to be able to make the guitar image bigger, especially if it is the main instrument.

Will the guitar be by itself, or is it part of a mix? How complex is the mix?

I’m just doing acoustic guitar parts…no vocal, with about 4 tracks (chords, melody, bass, harmony) on most of the songs. Thanks for your help.

I work like 8thnote as well.

I like the sound a little more of setting the mic not looking at the 12th fret a little more towards the bridge than the soundhole, but it is a preference and not a rule. Hardly anything in recording is - if it works for you - do it. Do a couple of experiments with microphones in different positions.

Record the two mics, but then play with pan (and levels) on them. Play it stereo vs mono and see what happens.

I also like to record two takes of the same thing (using the mic positions as mentioned above) and then pan the two takes left and right (1st take ‘A’ and ‘B’ mics left and 2nd take ‘A’ and ‘B’ mics right).

Gives a nice natural stereo effect without sounding processed. Sounding natural is the important bit for me on an accoustic guitar sound.
I really need a good reason for not doing my accoustic guitar like that.

You can then vary the ‘wideness’ of the sound by playing with pan settings from just off centre to hardpanning.

If you use a stereo mic pair of some sort (Like XY) then I would think that it would be wise to record (and mix it) as stereo, but then I won’t go too wide on the stereo panning (unless again that is the sound you want).

Does this help ?


My above post was addressed to ‘strumming’ or chords.
It might be usefull for harmony parts as well, especially if you want to ‘double’ the harmonies - an interesting sound can be achieved if you do two harmonies (the same or different) and then put them left and right over the main part. (But not too wide)

The bass I would pan centre, as well as the melody.

On the melody, if it is a solo single string sound you do, I would use the same ‘close to the sound hole and at the 12th fret (or over the shoulder)’ mic setup, but that I would approach differently in the mix.

I’ll test and go with one of the following:
1: See how it sounds if the melody’s two mics are slightly panned to get a little bit of stereo effect

2: Just pan them both dead centre and mix them in relation to each other and then in relation to the rest of the mix. The melody is after all what it is about.

If you go with ‘stereo widening’ or doubling of the rythm/chords parts as well as the harmonies, I wouldn’t try to ‘stereorise’ the melody too much. For me the focus on the melody needs to be tight as that is what it is about, but again (as always) the important thing is as long as you are the artist, and you get the sound that you want, no one can tell you it is wrong.

If you start doing this for clients its a different story, but up to that point YOU do what YOU want and as long as you and your target audience enjoys it it works and it is the right thing to do.

It would be nice if other people can chime in with the way that they do it / advice and then you can try it all and end up with a solution that works for you.

Hope I’m not rambling too much…

The starting point in a nutshell: more complex the arrangement and less dominant the role of an instrument is, more reason there is to avoid recording it in stereo.

Varakeef hits it on the head, seems to me. With that much going on, stereo micing might really be too much, with the exception of the lead instrument.

Still, rules are made to be broken… :)

Thanks for your help, everyone. I appreciate it!

First, terminology: if you’re recording two tracks on the same instrument and pan them apart at all, it’s “stereo”. It doesn’t have to be a lifelike, realistic, or accurate stereo image to qualify. If you use two mikes and blend them without panning apart, then technically it’s not stereo. (Not that anyone really cares.)

There are two different reasons to use two mikes. One is to get the best overall tone, due to both differences in mikes and differences in miking locations. The other reason is to get a stereo image.

A lot of people use the two-mike solution that 8th_note mentions, and it’s a good one. I’ll mention two pitfalls to this method, things to check and consider carefully – but they’re NOT “method killers” by any means. The benefits are already covered above, but mainly, full tone and stereo image.

1) Often, when mixing the two mikes to mono, the result is unflatteringly colored due to phase relationships. (The phase relationships can be caused by two things: (1) relative delay, which can be fixed, and (2) instrument physics, which can’t other than by trying different positions. If you want to know more about this, just ask.) If the result doesn’t sound good in mono, don’t do it. With few exceptions, a mix should sound good in mono.

If it doesn’t sound good in mono, then you’re not really getting the “full tone” benefit.

2) When this arrangement is used for stereo, it often causes a tone imbalance between left and right side. In many mixes, especially when the acoustic guitar isn’t central, this imbalance can work nicely in the mix. In cases when the acoustic guitar is central, though, e.g., solos and singer/songwriter, the imbalance is a flaw (common in amateur work).

If it sounds imbalanced, then you’re not really getting the “stereo image” benefit (unless an imbalanced image is fine for your particular mix, of course!)

Mid Side technique

This is a very different approach, with very different pros and cons. I highly recommend at least experimenting with recording acoustic guitar this way, where one mike is pointed directly at the guitar (or whever you’d put it for single-mike recording), and the other is pointed 90 degrees to the side. (Best if this second mike is a fig-8 pattern, but not at all necessary.) The first one is called the “Mid” channel, and the other is the “Side” channel. The capsules of the two mikes should be as close together as possible to minimize phase issues. If they’re not together, though, any difference in distance from guitar can be corrected later.

The two mikes don’t have to be matched, as they would when using most other one-point or spaced pair stereo techniques. (The two mikes don’t need to be matched for 8th-note’s method either – but it is best when the result sounds evenly balanced.)

The mid-channel mike needs to sound good by itself. If it doesn’t, use a different technique. The side mike is far less important in terms of overall sound quality. It will only be used to provide stereo ambience, and the sound of this mike will cancel out completely whenever the mix is summed to mono.

I used to mike my acoustic at the neck, but since getting a VTB-1 preamp I find I get the best results from my SM57 miking a foot or two away. Good preamps can make a big difference in the quality of acoustic guitar tracks – more than soundcard quality. Anyway, I use SM57 for Mid mike, pretty much dead center a foot or so away, with a Studio Projects B3 LDC mike in fig-8 pattern directly above the SM57 (hanging upside down in its shock mount, as usual). If I had a good SDC, I’d use that instead of the SM57, but I like the sound I get from the SM57.

Record the two signals to separate mono tracks (just as you’d do using 8th-note’s method). On mixdown, both channels are panned center, but on the Side channel, you invert one side. (Do this in the channel EQ.) If the mike was pointed left, invert the right channel to recreate the room, but that’s not really necessary so just do what sounds correct.

Start by killing faders to both channels, and bring the Mid channel up to the correct volume for the mix. Then slowly bring up the Side channel until you can clearly hear a nice stereo image. (Then, following the usual “less is more” rule for effects, back off a bit.)

Bingo, that’s pretty much it.

Now, the cons to this method. As I mentioned above, you always need to check a stereo mix in mono. Using this technique, the side channel will cancel out completely in mono, so that shouldn’t cause a problem as long as the main mike sounds good.

However, there’s another check that’s often overlooked, and particularly important when using Mid Side. Listen to each side by itself, and check for unnatural or unpleasant coloration. Expect to hear some, just don’t tolerate too much. A better way to check this might be to simply walk around and check the sound when you’re much closer to one speaker than the other. Anyway, one potential problem with mid-side is coloration in each side, even though you don’t notice it when listening in stereo. But someone will play this in their living room with a speaker on each side of the couch, and someone will hear it sitting way too close to one side or the other.

The other disadvantage is that the one mike has to sound good by itself – good enough for a mono mix, anyway.

Of course, you can combine the two techniques, using 8th_note’s method for the Mid channel, and a 3rd mike for the Side, if you can record 3 channels.

You can also use the MS technique with a mike and built-in pickup. Now, I generally detest built-ins, or pickups in general, since they don’t sound natural – they don’t sound like an acoustic guitar, really. However, when used as the Side channel, they can be quite nice, as long as they’re not played hard enough to “quack” (the nasty tone of overdriven piezo pickups).

For example, here’s a soundclick recording someone made using mike and pickup, hard panned:

=> Finding God

I downloaded this and remixed it using MS technique. I was able to back off considerably on the pickup, resulting in a much more natural tone, and with a much more even tone balance.

=> Finding God, MS mix

BTW, I usually assign the two tracks to a group so that I can easily adjust the pan and level for the instrument once I have the M and S channel levels balanced nicely.

Oh, forgot one important thing. With the MS technique, the sound of the room is significant. Larger rooms with higher ceilings are better. Wood floors are great, generally with a rug under the performer & mikes. If you’re in a tiny recording booth or cinder-block basement, MS is probably not the best method.


You’re getting good advice here, DC. If Jeff’s post isn’t clear, read it a few times or ask for clarification… good stuff there.


Actually, I wasnt wondering about whether to record acoustic guitar with one mic or two, but was asking about on the ‘settings’ for ‘select audio format’ on the recording vumeter if I should check the ‘mono’ , ‘stereo’, or ‘stereo-two mono tracks’ setting.

I’ve been using the ‘stereo-two mono tracks’ setting, but am unsure as to what is the best. Thanks.

Quote (DC3443 @ Oct. 07 2006,13:21)
I've been using the 'stereo-two mono tracks' setting, but am unsure as to what is the best. Thanks.

That's the best option, because then you have two individually tweakable tracks of which you are able to balance the sound of acoustic guitar in a way that will please you.

For example, if you have opted for one mic in the 12 fret position (quite close mic) and one from the distance, you may want to end up using another one more (or even just that one).

Even if you're planning to record it with basic stereo pair (like xy) it's handy to have both sides in different tracks. This way you are able to determine the width of the stero image easily.

Right. Assign both tracks to a group so you can easily put on FX and adjust pan and volume without affecting the blend.

If you’re sure you’re going to hard-pan them, a stereo track uses less screen real-estate and is simpler to look at. Otherwise, there’s not much difference.

If you are going to hard pan them, you’ll want to hard-pan different guitar parts opposite ways, which can avoid the imbalance problem.

If you use mono tracks, you can easily try the mid-side method to see if you like the results.

I guess we answered the implied question instead of the one you voiced. Let me try again…

Acoustic guitars benefit from a stereo recording, so i wouldn’t suggest MONO.

Once you decide to record stereo, you have 2 options:
- 2 mono tracks
- 1 stereo track

They don’t sound any different, but it does affect your workflow and the options you have during the mixing phase. As stated above, 2 mono tracks gives you more flexibility during mixing.

However, there are disadvantages to working with 2 mono tracks, so i suggest you consider this method…

- Record to a single stereo track
- Do your editing with the single stereo track
- When editing is done, and you’re ready to mix, split the stereo track to 2 mono tracks.

Why? Cause there are several editing processes that are more easily done on a single file:
- Cutting & pasting
- Part alignment
- Volume, pan, FX evolutions

Once these have been done, then rendering the track, importing the resulting stereo WAV, muting the original WAV, and splitting the new WAV into 2 mono tracks gives you the best of both strategies.

Hope this helps some.


Thank you very much, tj…this is exactly what I was wanting to know! I appreciate it.

Quote (learjeff @ Oct. 06 2006,11:05)
(Not that anyone really cares.)

I care.

But I thought you alread knew that Jeff. :D

keep shinin'

jerm :;):

haha… we all care, jeff.

but jeremy cares more. :wink:

You’re welcome, DC.


Aw shucks guys, nice to know you all care about semantics! Makes me feel all gushy inside.

Teej, excellent point about recording to a stereo track at first and then splitting at the end.

BTW, for my CD, I recorded almost all acoustic guitar tracks in mono. A stereo image is important, but stereo recording is just one way to get it. And I was miking SO close (2") that small movements threw the stereo image off terribly, so I bagged it and recorded everything in mono and used stereo reverb to create the image (with high damping to reduce the tails, since it’s the early reflections that create the location image). I’m real happy with the results. Now that I have a better mike preamp (SP VTB-1), I can mid-side stereo mike from a foot or more away and I’ll be doing that a lot.

Another thing to keep in mind. When there are enough similar guitar tracks, stereo can cloud things up more than help, reducing clarity. The mix of guitars provides a great “image” – not really an image per se, but a rich stereo field. Adding more stereo can reduce clarity and work against the song. The more other tracks the more this is true (simply because more schtuff means it’s harder to maintain clarity). However, in this case, if the two tracks sound good mixed to mono (which I have as a requirement anyway), you can do that and no problem.