Should I Record Acoustic Guitar in Mono or Stereo?

You probably have been confused about whether to record your guitar in mono or stereo. Though most modern music is mixed in stereo, it’s not always the case. An acoustic guitar can be recorded using either technique, depending on the genre of the music and the aesthetics you’re aiming for. For the most part, electric guitars are recorded in mono. However, they can also be double-tracked and panned. Depending on the musical context and intentions, acoustic and classical guitars are recorded either through the mono technique or by employing stereo micing techniques. In this article, we will learn the ins and outs of mono and stereo recording so that you can make a better choice on what recording technique to use. Let’s dig in!

What is Mono Recording?

Mono
Mono

Any musical track that was recorded and played back using only one audio channel is monophonic (mono). A mono recording is what you get if, for instance, you use only one microphone to capture an acoustic guitar. A “mono guitar track” consists of a guitar performance recorded using a single microphone on a single audio channel. The playback of a mono-track will result in a uniform sound coming from both speakers. “Centered” audio refers to this type of sound positioning.

What is Stereo Recording?

Stereo 1
Stereo

The sound captured and played back utilizing more than one channel is called stereophonic (stereo). You can adjust the balance between the right and left channels by panning the sound in a stereo track. The final sound is close to how one would imagine a live event to sound.

The Difference Between Mono and Stereo Recording?

Two audio channels are required to capture and replay a guitar performance in stereo. As opposed to stereo signals, mono signals only require a single audio channel for both recording and playing back. The effect on the listener, however, is very different.

As you can guess, stereo uses two tracks for recording and playing back, while mono only uses one. To determine the most suitable recording technique. You must consider the following:

  • What part does the guitar play in this style?
  • How about an acoustic or electric guitar?
  • How many instruments are used on the track?
  • Is this the only guitar on the tune, or are there others?

Mono or Stereo?

For those who are just starting and prefer to work in the comfort of their own homes, mono is the way to go when recording an acoustic guitar. Quick tracks can also be recorded using a D.I. and an acoustic-electric guitar (fitted with a pickup and/or preamp). You can use any basic dynamic microphone to capture a mono track. It’s easy to understand, cheap, and quick to implement. 

But a stereo mic may be in order if you’re a songwriter or your track is built on the acoustic guitar with no other instruments in the mix. To make a stereo recording, you’ll need to understand how to properly position the two microphones. The most popular methods of positioning the microphones use a spacing pair (A/B) or a coincidence pair (X/Y). Simply put, the acoustic guitar will take center stage if that instrument is the focal point of the composition or arrangement. You should use close-mics stereo techniques to record. The fundamentals of stereo micing—such as where to put the microphones and how far apart they should be—are necessary for any stereo recording technique. The acoustic guitar performs a new function when other instruments are added to the mix, such as bass, drums, keyboards, etc. A mono recording would be more appropriate if it’s being used in a percussive or rhythmic capacity. 

Most beginners favor mono when recording an acoustic guitar for a few reasons:

  • It doesn’t take too much space in your track.
  • Setting up one mic is relatively easier. 
  • It’s way cheaper in terms of equipment
  • There are no phasing concerns to think about.

Further, you can always double-track and pan additional acoustic guitar recordings to add depth to your arrangement. The same holds for recording an acoustic guitar- you can always edit out the second mic. In addition, you can do several mono recordings using a variety of microphones, such as a condenser and a ribbon, and then choose the most desirable outcome.


Notable Differences Between Stereo and Mono Recordings

Track Volume

By the numbers, a loudness meter will show that both the stereo and mono tracks are equally loud. However, the phenomenon known as “perceived loudness” must be considered. A guitar recorded in mono may seem louder to the listener than a guitar recorded in stereo. Monophonic recordings are generally perceived to have a higher volume level when played back.

Centered Sound and Stereo Imaging

Have you ever used earbuds or listened to music on reasonably spaced studio monitors and noticed that the vocals are always in the center? Stereo imaging, a crucial part of recording and playing back sound, is to blame. When you’re walking down the street and hear a dog barking, you can tell which way the sound is coming from and also estimate how far away the dog is. This is because the human mind and ear have developed the ability to accurately determine how far away or in which direction an incoming sound is coming from.
Realistic sound recordings cater to the human capacity to perceive and localize sounds in a three-dimensional environment. To simulate the experience of being at a live performance, sound engineers use the concepts of spatial positioning and directionality in the mixing process. Stereo imaging is a technique used to achieve this. Getting this right makes the overall blend more enjoyable for listeners.

Final Thoughts

As a general rule of thumb, an acoustic guitar is recorded in mono when it is part of a fuller or busier mix and in stereo when it is featured prominently or is the only instrument in the mix. Knowing this will help you determine what kind of recording to choose depending on what you need. Good luck!

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