Dealing with Problematic Acoustic Guitars
by Frank Gryner (as published in Recording Magazine)
I typically avoid recording Ovation bowl-back guitars as I generally favor big, open, natural tone out of an acoustic instrument. When given no alternative but to track one of these guitars, you can get very good results by minding some basic principles. The advice I'll be passing along in this column should also work for any cheaper acoustic guitar from which you may be expected to pull a sonic miracle. The first and easiest thing you can do to improve your sound is to put on fresh strings . In this case, I avoid the coated ones and just change them more often . A new set of bronze strings will help the guitar's articulation and projection despite the poor resonating tone from the body itself. This life and brightness will diminish fairly quickly, but gradually enough that you may not notice before it's too late to fix. So use string cleaner often and have several sets on hand when that fails to resuscitate them.
Next, choose your mics and place them with an eye toward good tone. A good-quality large-diaphragm condenser mic pointed slightly off the sound-hole area (it may even end up between the sound hole and the12th fret). about 8-1 0 inches away from the guitar, is a decent place to starl. Every guitar is different, so you'll need to use your ears to experiment with mic placement and find the sweetest spot. In this challenging scenario, I usually feel fortunate to get one mic sounding good here; the prospect of getting a stereo pair to sound anything but phasy and uneven is hardly worth fighting for. The same goes for the built-in pickups-that two-dimensional DI sound is pretty much unusable in my book. They do make for a good, permanent feed into the tuner, though. Your next line of attack is to direct the player's technique in a tone-friendly way. If you can, direct the player to avoid hitting the strings excessively hard; I've found that a more delicatetouch translates better with this kind of guitar. Heavy strumming seems to "max·out" the amount of sound that can escape from the chamber and ends up working against you in the long run -it's a lot like hitting a compressor too hard. If you're recording finger-picking stuff or on arpeggiated part to layer with another instrument, you' ll find that the Ovation can actually do a decent job.
Well, I hope that this has done slightly more than just blow any possibility of an Ovation endorsement for me. Making the most out of a less-than-ideal situation doesn't have to be that much of a compromise, and can often yield unique results that odd personality to your recordings.