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I'm not experienced with recording. I know that, first of all, I can choose to record from a pluggable acoustic guitar of attach some external device to a non-pluggable guitar.

So my first question would be: Do professional players use pluggable guitars or external devices?

If they use external devices or if it's ok to attach a device without compromising quality, which one do I pick? In what situations is one better than the other? What factors do I need to consider?

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A very big question. The answer depends on what you want the recording for. –  Anonymous Apr 18 '11 at 19:11
    
The answers seem good, so I rewrote this to be less of a shopping recommendation. I think it's (currently) off-topic here, though, so I'm closing. It would be on-topic at Audio Recording but we generally don't migrate questions to sites in beta. –  Matthew Read May 27 '11 at 22:31

3 Answers 3

There are many, many scenarios here, but I will cover a couple of basic ones to get you started. When recording an acoustic guitar, you in essence three options. I'll enumerate those, and then go through some basic questions to hopefully get you moving.

  1. Use an Acoustic/Electric guitar and plug it into a recording interface of some kind.
  2. Mike an Acoustic guitar without any electronics and plug the mike into a recording interface.
  3. Install a pickup into an Acoustic guitar without any electronics and goto: 1.

Those are very, very broad topics upon which entire books could (and likely have) been written, but in general professional guitarists go one of those three ways. Because good microphones are very expensive and can break easily, most live performances involve options 1 or 3--but some artists have been known to mike very old or expensive guitars that they didn't want to install electronics into. On to the questions.

What is a recording interface? A recording interface is an electronic device of some sort designed to take the signal generated by your instrument, run it through some transformations, and send it somewhere else for storage or more processing.

What is an Acoustic/Electric guitar? An Acoustic/Electric guitar is an Acoustic guitar that has a pickup installed in it. These come in many flavors.

How can I record a standard Acoustic guitar without a pickup? You can install a pickup in it or use a microphone positioned in front of the sound hole of the guitar. There are many methods to miking an acoustic guitar, but I won't get into those here.

How can I record using a microphone? In general this requires a gadget called an audio interface which hooks up to a computer, mixer, or other processing device. You run a cable from the microphone to one of the inputs on the audio interface, calibrate your software, start recording, and then start playing.

How can I record using an Acoustic/Electric guitar The same way you record using a microphone, except instead of plugging the microphone into the audio interface you plug the guitar in. Most audio interfaces support standard 1/4 inch jacks used by all Acoustic/Electric or electric guitars.

As you mention, the quality of the devices you use will affect how your guitar sounds. Higher quality components sound better, but are consequently more expensive. Hopefully that will answer some of the more basic facets of your question :).

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Great explanations. I have further questions regarding specifics for each of these techniques but I'll ask as other questions in the future. Thank you –  Anonymous Apr 19 '11 at 1:35
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For further technical information you might want to go to the new S.E. beta site: "Audio Recording and Production" audio.stackexchange.com –  ogerard Apr 19 '11 at 6:23
    
Fishman makes a DI especially for acoustics Fishman Aura Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Imaging Pedal. –  InternalConspiracy Apr 24 '11 at 2:08

This is my understanding, and different musicians are different, but it's my understanding that when acoustic instruments are recorded, they are recorded acoustically and are recorded in stereo, by which I mean two mics, pointed in two different places to get two different kinds of sound. I don't mean that they're split in the mix, left and right.

There are cases where the behavior of the magnetic soundhole pickup and/or piezo bridge pickup might suit the use of the instrument in the music. I always say that an acoustic guitar in a full band context is pretty much a tuned snare drum, and so you're going for that punch and shimmer, not the full sound of acoustic instruments. I'm very sure that the acoustic guitar in the Eagles' "Take It Easy" was recorded acoustically, because I don't think the technology was there yet and because they're pretty notorious gear fiends, but for the purposes of the song it could have just as well been.

Live is different. It is common for "acoustic" guitarists to play plugged in, with internal mics, soundhole pickups or piezo bridge pickups. This means you can play and not be stuck in one place to be heard. I know Doc Watson plays with a piezo, and many don't like the piezo sound he gets, but I don't think it's fair to force a blind man to keep an eye on the microphones.

By "external devices", I assume you mean effects pedals. Some great acoustic players play with more effects than some great electric players. There are a few kinds of effects that enhance the sound of an electric guitar without changing it too much. Compression evens out the volume between the high and low strings. Reverb gives you the sound of a bigger room. Chorus can make it sound a bit like you're multitracking. The thing to remember is that these can be recording and mixing effects as well as pedalboard effects, and if you're not playing to an effect, it's best to put it on in post.

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Thank you very much. Helpful! –  Anonymous Apr 19 '11 at 1:34

Jduv and VarLogRant having adequately addressed the physical aspect of recording, I'd like to wiseacre a bit about the strategic aspect of recording [a song].

If you want to record a song with multiple instruments that was written on the guitar. You'll want to record a base track of just the guitar; but at the same time you want a synchronized track with vocals as a reference when adding other instruments. A good way to get both is to plug the guitar in to one track (using its built-in electronics if it has them, or a magnetic or piezo pickup) AND use a microphone to get guitar+vocals on a second track at the same time. This reference track can have a metronome click as well, if you don't intend to use it in the final mix.

If you have a measly 4-track, you can re-use the reference track after you get a good take on the vocals.

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