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How to Record Classical Guitar
by Ben Tobiasson

Well the first thing you do is find yourself a very small recorder (that will fit inside the sound hole of the guitar) and turn it on. Put it inside the guitar and play until the tape runs out. Really? No not really.

The following is how I do it. Everybody plays differently, and minor adjustments have to be made for each individual. You will have to find what adjustments need to be made, and make them on your own. Probably your best tool here is your ears. Keep making adjustments until the sound you get, matches the one in your head. This "adjusting" phase is a frustrating one, and is purely by "trial and error". Don't give up. Note: After you get the sound you were searching so hard for, write down all of your settings!!

Why learn how to record? Years ago, I booked studio time to start recording my first album. I was well rehearsed and ready to go. I was getting the cut rate of $100 per hour, with an engineer (I told you it was years ago) at one of the major recording studios in the city. The studio opened late, the heat was off (it was very cold in there), I hadn't had my usual 3 cups of coffee that morning, and it was far too early to be playing guitar. Anyway, needless to say, the session did not go well and achieved nothing. I thought that at a hundred dollars an hour, I could buy some equipment and learn how to do this on my own. That's how it all started. My first real recorder was a Fostex cassette 4 track and this was an amazing thrill because for the first time, I could do "sound on sound". This format works, but generates a lot of "hiss" and noise, making it unsuitable for professional recording. While visiting a guitar-playing friend, I was introduced to "reel to reel" recording: a much quieter and far more "professional" sound. I sold the 4 track and bought a Fostex Recording Console (812) and a Fostex 8 track Recorder (R8) complete with effects loops: Alesis Quadraverb, a Ross EQ, and a Yamaha FX90. Shortly after, I acquired an AKG C1000S microphone. I used this equipment to record "Free Spirit" (1993) and "Rain, Wind and Moonlight" (1995), plus many other projects in between. I recorded the back-up tracks for a play. That was a hoot….I had to record a choir, in sections, and put it all together. I have to tell you about one of my favorite sessions: I was helping Mark and Caesar (our Edmonton-based duo) record a "demo". It was warm in the studio (and outside) and we had the window open. The playing was superb and the recording was going very well until, near the end of a very long piece, a bird outside near the window decided to start singing along with the guitars. Yes, it did ruin the track.

While analog recording has it's own unique qualities and attributes, the way of the future is most definitely digital recording. "Cut and Paste" is quite difficult using tape but it's a "breeze" in digital format. It was extremely difficult to choose what kind of computer to buy because all of the "really good" software was written for the Mac: "Pro-Tools", "Digidesign", etc. The problem was that I didn't want to spend that kind of money for a exclusively music computer. I think Macs are great, but I needed a computer to do everything: word processing, the internet, etc. so I bought a PC.

Hardware:

PC (Intel chips) 200 MMX (or anything faster)

Soundblaster AWE64G sound card, 64 Meg RAM (32 minimum)

3.2 Gig (Main drive) Quantum Fireball, 6.4 Gig (Music drive) Quantum Fireball (believe me, you'll need lots of room for music)

Creative 4210 CD burner (if you want to record to CD)

Software:

Operating System: Windows 98 (Windows 95 is okay, too), Cakewalk Pro Audio Version 7 (Version 8 is on it's way)

Q Sound AX (This is just a luxury, but I like it), Adaptec's EZCD Pro 95 (The new version is EZCD Creator)

Peripherals:

AKG C1000S mic (or better if you have it)

Fostex 812 Recording Console (or anything quiet to go between the mic and the computer) Studio Speakers and Amp. (there are so many variables here…..find something you like in your price range. I'm using EQ'd Radio Shack gear…..don't laugh, it works!!)

After many, and I mean many, ruined tracks, I've found a mic placement that works well, every time. The mic (a condenser mic) is placed, pointed at the lower part of the soundboard, about 3 feet away from the guitar and about a foot off of the floor. I would dearly love to take credit for this discovery, but I learned this placement from the professional engineer, Roger Monk. I met Roger while recording in Saskatoon. He's based out of Vancouver, Canada and has recorded some of the top names in the industry, and recorded for the movies (Platoon, for example). If you use this placement, you will find that squeaks and chirps are manageable and right-hand "nail-noise" is at a minimum. On my guitar, this seems to give a well-rounded balanced sound.

Why Cakewalk? I learned how to run the Cakewalk software, and I'm comfortable with it. You can get a free download version (trial version, that won't allow a "save") on the net from their website at http://www.cakewalk.com. There are lots of other software titles that probably work very well too like "CoolEdit" and "Cubase". There is a really cool feature in Cakewalk: it will let you score and print your music, and with a little work, you can "score-in" backup tracks to MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and have them play behind your guitar. MIDI tracks can be played on any "MIDI compatible" instrument. For instance, I prefer the sound of the strings on my Roland D20, so I have the computer "play" the scored tracks on it. I'll quit now, before this starts to sound like a "Cakewalk" commercial. Last word: the support staff at Cakewalk are great and so far have had the exact answer to every problem that I've had (emailed), the next working day.

Sounds easy? It is, after an extensive learning curve and many lost and destroyed tracks. Don't give up. I still get "Red Light Syndrome" where I can play the piece perfectly as long as the recorder isn't running. But, if you have ever had the urge to record some of your guitar playing, this will probably help to get you started.

- Ben Tobiasson