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Monday, February 7, 2011

Finding The Best Place In The Room To Record

It's time for an excerpt from a new book I wrote with Rich Tozzoli called "The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook." The book tries the resolve the many questions that every guitar player has in his quest for the ultimate tone. We try to give you some background on why instruments, amplifiers and effects sound the way they do, then provide some guitar recording and production techniques so you can capture that great sound that you hear.

Here's a brief excerpt from the Electric Guitar Miking Techniques chapter. Not only does it apply to amplifiers, but to acoustic guitars, vocals, and any other instrument. To read more excerpts, go to the book excerpts page on my official website.
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As we said in Chapter 5, the room can make a big difference in the sound of a guitar amp, especially if it has an open-back. That’s why it’s best to find the place in the room that’s acoustically beneficial to the sound if possible.

When you’re tracking with other players (especially a rhythm section), finding the best room placement is secondary to leakage concerns and player sight lines, unless you can place the amp in an iso booth. You try to capture the sound as best as you can, but there’s a good chance that you might have to replace it later.
That brings us to overdubs, which is where we concentrate on the sound of the guitar the most. Here are some considerations in finding the best placement in the room. Keep in mind that the following ideas work equally well for amps or acoustic instruments.
What you’re looking for is a spot where the amp or acoustic instrument sounds relatively live without the environment acting as a detriment to the sound. Try these following steps to find the best placement in the room:
  • It’s usually best to stay out of a corner. The corner normally causes “bass loading”, meaning that the low frequencies will be increased causing low notes to boom. When you’re tracking, this can also lead to sympathetic tom ringing and snare buzzing on the drum kit. 
  • Test the room by walking around and clapping your hands. That’s a good way to find a place in the room that has a nice even reverb decay. If the clap has a “boing” to it (a funny overtone), then so will the sound of your amp or acoustic instrument, so it’s best to try another place in the room where it will hopefully sound smoother. If you can’t find a place without a boing, place the amp where it sounds the smoothest and try putting some padding or something soft on one side wall to break up any standing waves.
  • Ideally, you don’t want to be too close to a wall. The reflections (or absorption if the wall is soft) can change the sound of the amp or acoustic instrument, especially if you’re using an open-back combo amp. The middle of the room usually works best.
  • Ideally, you want to be at the place in the room where the ceiling height is the highest. If the ceiling is vaulted, try placing your amp or acoustic instrument in the middle of the vault first, then move it as needed.
  • Whatever you do, stay away from glass if you can. Glass will give you the most unwanted reflections of just about any material. If you have no choice because of the way the room or the band is situated, try setting up the amp at a 45° angle to the glass.
  • Try putting a rug under the amp or acoustic instrument. A rug stops any reflections off the floor, which can sometimes have a negative impact on the overall sound. On the other hand, sometimes the reflections from a hard floor can enhance the sound. Try it both ways and choose.
  • Try placing your amp on a chair or road case. Because the amp isn’t coupling directly with the floor, there are fewer phase cancellations on the low end so the sound will be more direct and distinct. Acoustic foam like Auralex works as well.


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