Capturing the Guitar

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.


I am convinced that the reason why quiet household sounds are relaxing is exactly BECAUSE they have no rhythm.

We hear music all day long. At home, in the car, in the mall, in each store, in the restaurant, practically 24/7. I don’t listen to music in my car and I will drive miles further to avoid a gas station that plays music. I detest restaurants that play loud music and malls are only for emergencies.

Being surrounded by different kinds of rhythm all day long it has to be the very quality of no-rhythm that makes ASMR so appealing.

The thing to do then, is to treat sounds as if they are ocean waves playing in the background while the guitar is the foreground.

Or perhaps I can sculpt a soundscape from such sounds, some slowly repeating, others coming and going. A walk through a landscape, where the hills are a sound, the trees are a sound, the ground cunching under our feet is a sound, and the distant caw of the crow in the tree is a sound.

Turning the Page

Yesterday I recorded turning the page of a ring-bound notebook and occasionally writing something with a nib and no ink.


I love listening to this. I wonder wether it would be more interesting to use this file as a background to some guitar music as is, meaning not in any rhythm, or whether I should try to fashion a rhythm from this raw material. Turning the page could become a “hi-hat”, the scribbling nib might turn into a shaker. Back to the lab for more experiments.

PS: experimenting with the sounds this morning I am thinking that I might not want to use them to create a rhythm. That’s been done by lots of people before. Matthew Herbert did an album called “Around the House” in 1998 and one called “Bodily Functions” in 2001. The former utilized lots of house hold samples and the latter used sounds like brushing teeth and cracking knuckles. Matmos released an album in 2001 that is called “A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure”. It uses sounds from surgery and has titles like “Lipostudio… and So On” and “California Rhinoplasty”. Yikes.

No, I feel that the a-rhythmic quality is actually what makes sounds soothing, like the bubbling pumpkin sound, or the paper turning. Bare feet on wooden stairs might be nice too, and could be a little more rhythmic.