How to go acoustic if you''re an electric player, or go electric if you''re primarily acoustic.

It’s a familiar story, and one that I’ve personally gone through: you’ve been playing for a while, maybe many years, then something happens. Maybe you hear a song that moves you in a way you’ve never been moved before. Maybe you’re an acoustic player and it was Jimi Hendrix’s use of a wide-open Marshall stack, or Eddie Van Halen’s unreal “brown sound.” Maybe you’re an electric player and it was the subtle sound of a beautiful acoustic guitar someone was playing in church. Whatever it was, suddenly you have an overwhelming urge to pick up a different type of guitar.

Moving from primarily playing an electric guitar over to acoustic, or vice versa, can be confusing—starting with one of the most important questions: “What guitar do I get?” Of course, perusing through all of the pictures and listings available online of the most beautiful instruments in the world, both expensive and inexpensive, can be bewildering. The trick is to find the one that will get you rolling in the right direction.

Going Acoustic
Obviously, acoustic guitars are different in terms of playing, tone and feel. If you decide to go after an acoustic, you need to ask yourself how committed you are to sticking with the instrument. If you want to try it out for a few months and experiment, then maybe a $10,000 custom-built model isn’t such a good idea.

For experimenters, there are many reasonably priced acoustics on the market in the $300 to $600 range. Most of them are well built, set up nicely out of the box, and if you decide to keep playing, will last for years with proper care. But be careful not to “cheap out” too much or the guitar may ultimately hold you back. A well-made acoustic will make the “crossover” process easier and much more enjoyable.

For those of us, such as myself, who got the itch to play acoustic and just couldn’t imagine life without one, there are other paths to take. There are many acoustics on the market that should be considered works of art. They feature premium woods, hand-selected tops, custom finishes and custom inlay work. Prices on these models can be of a much broader range, generally starting around $1500 and running up to many thousands of dollars. If you’re convinced you’re a “lifer” in the acoustic guitar world then the investment will surely be worth it to learn on a great instrument.

Going Electric
If you’re wrestling with the dilemma of whether playing an electric be just as gratifying as strumming an acoustic, the only way to find out is to try one. In that case, the same general rules of quality would apply. If you want to see what it feels like to peel the paint off the walls, you can get into a pretty decent electric for about $400 to $600. Realize, however, that more than acoustics, electrics can have very different tonal characteristics. For example, a Strat is generally a bright sounding guitar, while a Les Paul is a bit heavier. A decent starting point in your search is figuring out which one better suits your taste. Of course, an electric guitar is going to need an amp, and they come in all kinds of configurations and with different features. Some have built-in effects, some don’t. Some come with one speaker and others with as many as four. Some are huge and some are even small enough to fit in your hand—and with a set of earphones, you can silently practice and play in rock and roll heaven.

For those who want to dive right in and buy a high-end electric, there are hundreds of manufacturers making incredible guitars. Many of them feature hand-picked tonewoods, custom electronics and gorgeous finishes. Some are one-of-a-kind models, or special editions with limited quantities. You can pay as little as $1500, or as much as many thousands of dollars. If you’re serious, you won’t regret investing in a high-quality guitar. The one truly will last you a lifetime.

Crossing Over
Whether you’re going from electric to acoustic, or acoustic to electric, the changes you’ll experience as a player are well worth it. Any instructor or experienced professional will tell you the same thing: start slow, give your hands time to adjust to the new feel and techniques, and be patient—don’t expect miracles. Changing from one to the other will teach you to look at guitar in different ways, not only stylistically, but physically, too. The rewards are well worth the time. Best of luck on your journey!

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Control Tone with Mic Placement

Miking an acoustic guitar can be a tricky thing. The first thing everyone wants to do is to put a mic directly in front of the sound hole. The result? Over-emphasized, boomy low end. Let’s take a look at how to capture a more balanced sound.

The acoustic guitar is an instrument that has many sonic facets that come together to create one tone. The top, back and sides are all important; even the neck joint is important from a vibration standpoint. When recording acoustic guitar, it’s important to make sure you’re capturing that overall tone the best you can. I’ve experimented with using single microphones as well as multiple mics, and have achieved some great results.

Guitar Tracks Figure 1 —
Mic placement between the 12th and 14th frets.
Guitar Tracks Figure 2 —
Adding a second mic behind the bridge for more high end.
Guitar Tracks Figure 3 —
One mic out front and another overhead is an unusual approach that can work well.

One Is All You Need
If you want to use a single mic for a tight, focused sound, try a large-diaphragm condenser, placed between the 12th and 14th frets at distance of about a foot or so. The sound you’ll get will capture a good portion of the guitar as a whole without having to resort to using a lot of EQ (See Figure 1).

The Power Of Two
If you’re fortunate enough to have a pair of mics, try the same neck mic placement as described above, but place the second mic behind, and pointed at, the bridge. Combining these signals will create a natural sound with additional high end from the bridge mic (See Figure 2). Record the mics to separate tracks so you can balance and pan them as you like.

Over The Top
A few years ago, I was in a studio with a friend who was recording many acoustic instruments, including a violin. He did a brilliant job of recording this instrument without it sounding harsh. Two mics were used, one in front of the player, the other about three feet over the player. This mic captured the rake of the bow and cut down on unwanted harshness.

I took this idea and applied it to an acoustic guitar using a large-diaphragm mic placed about three feet in front of the guitar to capture the overall sound and room ambience, and a small-diaphragm mic hanging over top (See Figure 3). Mixing the two signals and slightly panning them left and right proved to create a great sound! I still use this technique today.

Onboard Tools
Many acoustic guitars are equipped with an onboard pickup, preamp, equalizer, and sometimes even an internal microphone. If your guitar has a pickup, experiment with recording it. You may like the sound, or you may find it too sterile. Many engineers like mixing the pickup sound with the sound from either a single mic or even a pair of mics for greater tonal control.

There are a couple of ways to record acoustic guitar pickups. If you’re using a USB or FireWire interface with your computer that has an instrument input, plug your guitar straight in. If your recording system doesn’t have an instrument input, then you’ll need a direct box, which coincidentally was covered in this column last month.

Record the miked and direct pickup signals on separate tracks if possible, and experiment with different combinations, panning and balances when mixing.

Final Thoughts
Capturing a great acoustic guitar recording takes practice, and the best way to do it varies with each instrument and player you record. The most important thing is to have a good picture of the sound you want in mind, then move the mics and make adjustments until you find it. Feel free to experiment, play around, and make your own rules. Above all, have fun and be creative!

Mark Magdich
Mark Magdich is a Senior Sales Engineer with Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He previously lived in Los Angeles, where he was a guitar player, keyboardist, and vocalist for several bands and ran his own studio and record company. Mark recently finished his education as a recording engineer and is doing mastering work out of his home as well as being a live musician. Contact him at 1-800-222-4700 ext. 1265 or