Capturing the Guitar

02021-07-04 | Guitar, Recording, Sound, Studio | 14 comments

I have written about my guitar sound before. Here is a post from 2010 and here is a post from 2019. This will be a more comprehensive post with more photos.

The microphone’s position has not changed in over twenty years. Tape marks where the chair needs to be, should it be accidentally moved.

The microphone is a Neumann M-149, which I have used since 1999 – following the loss of the previous Neumann. As you can see I tend to stick with something I like. I don’t feel the need to experiment and am rather loyal to things that work. I own only two Flamenco guitars, which is very unusual, and have only used one of those two for the last five years. I generally prefer depth over variety. I would rather be very intimately familiar with one guitar than be vaguely familiar with a hundred.

One photo shows the back of the M-149 which shows that the bass roll-off is set to 40Hz. There is also a photo that shows the mic pattern setting on the front of the microphone. 

From the microphone the analog signal travels to a Martech MSS-10 microphone pre-amp. Sadly Martinsound no longer makes the MSS-10, but luckily I have two in case something happens to one of them. In 1999 we rated a number of mic pre-amps and I wrote about that test here. The MSS-10 is by far the nicest mic pre-amp for the flamenco guitar that I have ever heard. When we listened to it the three of us – Jon, engineer Gary, and I – immediately preferred it over all others tested. From the MSS-10 the analog signal travels to the Digidesign 192 HD Interface that converts the analog signal to a digital one. I use the DigiDesign Reverb One plugin on the guitar, preferring a dark, but longer reverb. I put an EQ on the reverb, removing much of the lower frequencies of the reverb as they muddy the waters in my opinion. The guitar EQ is a GML (George Massenburg Labs) software plugin. I use it to dip out a frequency of my guitar that sounds boxy and to add a very small amount of presence. 

That’s it. The analog equipment – microphone and mic pre-amp – is expensive, but the digital side is not. I just looked up the Reverb One plugin and it retails for $300. The GML software EQ is no longer available. 

When considering a guitar sound one should not forget the guitar itself, the type of strings, the player’s way of holding the guitar – some players choke their guitar by holding it too tight – and, of course, the nail treatment and how the strings are struck. There are so many variables that it is good to go step by step.


Today, Saturday, I added four screenshots to the viewer. The first screenshot shows the EQ setting for my Blanca guitar when playing a melody. The second shows the EQ setting for my Negra when playing rhythm. I start with two EQ settings for each guitar:
There is a setting for playing rhythm – anything that’s not the main melody. This setting only removes a low frequency that every guitar has when one places the microphone relatively close. This becomes a problem when playing multiple rhythm guitars because that low-end builds up. A second setting, for the melody, removes a little less of the lower frequencey and adds a little bit of a high frequency. I look for a sweet spot where I can add a little bit of treble that sounds smooth and silky. Over time I collect more EQ settings for each guitar because the guitar can subtly change according to string wear or humidity.

The next screenshot shows one of the EQs for reverb that filters out much of the sound below 150 hertz. The last screenshot shows the One Reverb setting I prefer for all of my guitars. It is called “Dark Concert Hall” and I have used it for two decades.

14 Comments

  1. LHM

    Great photos! And a comprehensive explanation on your method.
    Thanks for sharing.

    PS. Gotta say that’s a fantastic pedicure you have there. (Very summer-y!)

    Reply
    • ottmar

      I am glad you like it. I would have been surprised if you didn’t. :-)

      Reply
  2. Ian Findlay

    Ottmar – this is fantastic – I really appreciate this

    Reply
    • ottmar

      You are welcome. I was wondering whether it would be useful to add a few screenshots that show the Reverb and EQ settings?

      Reply
      • Ian Findlay

        That would be good to see.

        Thanks again

        Reply
      • Ian Findlay

        I recorded today using your mic position and it definitely sounds better – less eq needed after. Is your box frequency around 330hz?

        Reply
        • ottmar

          That’s great. The boxy frequency is different on every guitar. It also depends on the microphone and it’s position, of course.

          I added four screenshots to the slideshow where you can see some of the EQs I use.

          Reply
          • Ian Findlay

            Once again Ottmar thanks for posting more pictures. You have no idea how useful this is to myself and others. There is very little info available on the best way to record the flamenco guitar – I have been using traditional steel string mic placement and now I’ve recorded from the side at the rear the difference is night and day. I am very happy with my U89 into a Teegarden Audio Magic Pre (very similar sounding to the Martech)

          • ottmar

            You are welcome, Ian. I am happy to share what I know.

  3. Steve

    I bet that MSS-10 is a discrete design, and they have really taken care to bias it with a lot of headroom. I’d be willing to bet it has something on the order of ~40-50V between voltage rails and they have probably taken a lot of care to maintain phase coherence as the signal propagates through the preamp. Probably has a DC servo control in it to control offsets. This part is easy to get wrong. Takes time and patience to get it right but … super worth it.

    There is a discrete opamp called the 990. The designer filed a patent for it specifically … I wonder …

    Reply
    • ottmar

      Whatever they did they did it very well. I read that the MSS-10 was loved more in Europe than in American for its transparent sound and ability to capture classical music beautifully. It appears to capture rather than to enhance the sound, which suits me just fine. We have used the GML mic-pre for the electric bass for twenty years now. The GML was our first choice for bass and third choice for the Flamenco guitar.

      Reply
      • Steve

        I notice in the test you published on 02000-06-14, that the top 3 positions are all discrete, pure analogue solid-state designs. That says A LOT!

        There is a … I dunno what to call it … a “preference” in the audiophile world for vacuum tube based designs, but I have always maintained that if the designer has done their due diligence at the design phase that the actual implementation should not matter: a well implemented design will be completely transparent irrespective of the technology used. Any deviation whatsoever from a purely amplified signal is distortion, including even order harmonic content, natural compression, etc … What you want in frequency domain is just a larger amplitude version of the input, with no “seasoning” added.

        Seems like that was the design goal by the top three in your test.

        Reply
        • ottmar

          That’s a really good point, Steve. I forgot about that.

          Vacuum tube pre-amp designs sound great for some applications but they tend to have a higher noise floor than solid-state designs.

          The microphone I used until 1999 was a Neumann tube design. The sound was beautiful but there was definitely an audible noise floor. That noise wasn’t apparent while I used a multitrack tape recorder (1990-1999) but it became obvious when I started to work digitally. Then I started to use the M-149 microphone which I understand to be a bit of a hybrid.

          From Neumann: “The capsule signal is then amplified by a subminiature triode tube, specially selected for lowest noise and optimal transmission characteristics. The final stage is a high-precision, ultra-low distortion transformerless output stage, which preserves the full dynamics of the preceding tube circuit and is optimized for 21st century signal chains. The M 149 offers higher sensitivity and much lower noise than vintage tube microphones.”

          I think what I am trying to say is that the Flamenco guitar is a very quiet instrument and that the transparency of a solid-state pre-amp just seems to serve the instrument’s sound better than a vacuum tube design.

          I am glad we did blind testing rather than going with the popular tube designs…. :-)

          Reply
  4. Albert Adinoto

    Thanks for sharing Ottmar ,
    Love your great music playing in line with high-end listening approach which all serious music listener (audiophile) gonna love this

    Reply

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