Over the summer break I was asked to record a session for Walsh Gonzalez in the University’s studios. John and Lucas are a flamenco/classical guitar duo from Ireland and Argentina. They play nylon-strung acoustic guitars and are both excellent musicians. The aim of the session was to capture a natural sounding performance as possible.
While the guitarists and their instruments were warming up, I listened to them playing in two of the studio’s recording areas. We decided the tone of the instruments sounded better in the less ‘live’ sounding room and, as they were going to be playing together in the same room (without headphones), this also helped cut down on spill into each other’s mics. They set up at either end of the room facing each other, about 3 metres apart.
I decided to use two microphones on each guitar, not to capture a stereo image, but to blend the tones at the body and the neck of the instruments. For this I used a Neumann U87 at the body and a Rode NT5 at the neck of John’s guitar and a AKG C414XLII at the body and Rode NT5 at the neck of Lucas’s. After experimenting with the position of each mic I found the body mics sounded best (full but not boomy) around 30 – 40cm from the back of each guitar, pointing just behind the soundhole. Both mics were set to cardioid and with a flat frequency setting. The Rodes could come a little closer in (around 20cm) and were positioned pointing to where the neck meets the body, here the detail of the performance could be clearly heard. Each pair of mics was checked for phase (both on the mixing desk and in Pro Tools) and were found to be in phase. When the phase on one of the mics in a pair was flipped the comb filtering at the bottom-end was very noticeable.
The musicians replaced the strings on their instruments and bedded them in with another half hour of warm-up play. Each mic was assigned its own track in Pro Tools and all that was left to do was record a number of performances and select the best takes.
Mixing the tracks was pretty straight forward. No compression was used – the two mic tracks for each guitar just needed balancing together. A little EQ was used on John’s Neumann track to shape the low-end. After a lot of experimenting with the pan position of each mic track, I settled on the body mic for John’s guitar being panned left (10 o’clock) and the neck mic panned left (9 o’clock). Lucas’s guitar body mic was panned right (2 o’clock) and the neck mic right (3 o’clock). Possibly a little strange in terms of true stereo imaging but I liked the sound of them in these positions. Both neck mics had a low cut applied and were sent to an aux reverb to give a more natural sound to the mids and highs.
I think the recordings capture the intended aim – a natural sounding performance. However, I have to say this was made so much easier by having musicians who can play well and who know their material. Thanks John and Lucas – I enjoyed it!