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The Recording Guitarist: Two Mics Are (Sometimes) Better than One

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Which sounds best? To my ear, none of the blends sound as good as a single close mic. My vintage Strat tone is already “phasy” sounding. The cancelled frequencies overemphasize this quality, while the added ones just sound sloppy.

It’s tricky to predict the results of mic blends—you must experiment. For that reason, engineers often record via several mics, but wait till the mix to decide which sources to use. Yet the technique can be more than hit-and-miss. For example, I got to visit Metallica in the studio when they were tracking the “Black Album.” Producer Bob Rock had erected a low tunnel of drop cloths extending many feet in front of one of James Hetfield’s amps. He explained that the tunnel was tuned to emphasize “one particularly prominent frequency” in James’s tone. (Bob clammed up real fast when I asked which frequency, but I assume he referred to either the 77.8 Hz of James’s low Eb, or 139 Hz an octave above.)

Rate your room. Evaluate the sound of your room before laboring to capture it. Hetfield and Rock were working in a fine studio. Pagey recorded in spacious rooms and spooky old castles. But if you’re working in a crappy-sounding bedroom or garage, your best bet may be to close-mic and add artificial ambience later.

But before surrendering to an uninspiring room, search for its hidden sweet spots. Have a friend play your guitar (or ReAmp one of your parts) as you wander around, listening for lively spots. Get down on all fours. Crawl around. Bark like a dog. (Well, the barking might not help.) You may be shocked by how much better certain spots sound.


A bathroom’s reflective surfaces can lends a bright, aggressive edge to rock tracks.

Toilet tone. You may already have a great guitar chamber: your bathroom. Reflective porcelain and tile can add a tough, resonant edge, especially to rough-hewn rock parts.

I recorded another set of two-mic tones, close-miking a Marshall 18-watt clone in the shower with a Royer R-121 ribbon mic, adding the 103 condenser at varying distances (Pic 3). Here I feel the second mic does improve things, adding texture and depth to a potentially generic crunch tone. (The clips feature the close mic, then the far mic, and then both.)

All clips so far feature roughly equal mono blends. Adjusting relative levels, panning positions, and dynamic processing adds infinitely more wrinkles. I recorded a few more variations: In clip A, the panning morphs from mono to maximum stereo back to a modest spread. (Does one particular position sound best?) In clip B I apply extreme compression to the room mic, a common technique. And for clip C, the condenser mic is behind the open-backed amp. (This thumping tone can bulk up a track, though you usually need to reverse the phase of one track when mics face each other.)

In short, multiple mics can summon magic or misery. So let’s hear about your magical/miserable recording experiences!

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