had an email from a subscriber recently, and I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember his
name because these days unless I write things down, nothing gets done or remembered. It's
my age you know. Anyway, he asked me if I had any tips on recording solo guitar as he had
recently been doing so and was having a hard time. He said "Everything is just so
exposed, I hear every note, fluff and squeak, and it just sounds terrible and I had to
give up in the end".
This email struck a chord with me because during the last few weeks I have been finishing
up my new beginners/intermediate guitar course, 'Guitar Made Simple' and
have been recording all the audio examples here at my home studio. Now I can tell you that
for me, writing this course and getting inside the head of someone who knows nothing about
guitar, I mean a total beginner, was no small feat, because after playing guitar for a
good while, we naturally take things for granted. Just to illustrate this further, years
ago when I gave private instruction, a lady once said to me, "If I fret this note
with my left hand here, do I have to strike the same string with my right hand?" This
of course may be extreme, but I can assure you that when someone has never touched a
guitar in their life, it can indeed be rocket science to them, so teaching needs to be
done carefully and attentively during a student's early stages. And so my audio examples
in the first part of this course
needed to be played very slowly and explained articulately.
So I'm recording these audio examples, and I find that because many of them are played on
the acoustic guitar, solo, with nothing but a little reverb to make me sound better,
recording say four notes very slowly in isolation, is unbelievably hard! Just to
play a two octave scale, at say metronome mark 60 evenly and cleanly is extremely
Now, because it's my guitar course
I'm writing, I can hardly give up can I? and the truth is that what is acceptable to me
and what is acceptable to anyone reading through the course may well be two different
things, but for my own horribly anal and perfectionist nature, I simply HAD to get these
little examples to sound as good as I personally could. Even to play one simple chord in
isolation with the fingers, where all the notes came through evenly, where the attack of
the chord sounded absolutely right, well that was quite an issue too. Not to mention
microphone noise and technical issues to get the level right and so on. I would brush the
pickguard of my guitar ever so lightly and I would hear it in the recording, and naturally
it was unacceptable and had to be re-recorded. And breathing? Well forget it! OK - a
little drama here, but you know what I mean. The damn mike picks up absolutely everything.
Oh for a drummer to soak everything up!
Have I gone mad you ask? Well no, and I thought I had too, but I put this whole experience
down to well, just that - experience. I was a professional session guitarist for years,
having played on TV shows, albums and now a recording artist with five albums to my name,
so why on earth was this so difficult?? But I honestly hadn't recorded anything so
difficult in a long time! Oddly, the process got easier as the examples got more
challenging. Anytime I got to layer an instrument, the recording went just that little bit
quicker because it wasn't so exposed.
I have recorded quite a lot of solo guitar in the past, but music that had a beginning,
middle and end and one could get into a 'performance' state of mind, and at comfortable
tempos. These little isolated examples were difficult because so many of them had to be
played so slowly, and at the end of the day I can't recommend that students run before
they can walk.
So what advice do I have to impart? Well first I can now highly recommend that if you
think you have good time, if you think you know how to play cleanly and evenly, know how
to stop individual strings ringing on when they need to be muted while playing others,
know how to project each note at the same volume as the next, then I urge you to play a G
major scale, solo acoustic at metronome mark 60 and listen back to yourself. And a better
microphone may just make things worse because you'll only hear more!
Is this advice or instilling fear into you? Well it may be the latter and I do apologize,
but only because I may not actually have any real advice other than just do it. I
believe that if your ears are open, what you hear back from your recording should tell you
what you need to work on.
Here's the good news...
Do we really want to be robots? Do we actually want to have a quantize button attached to
our guitars? Do we want to be that serious and intense? I think the answer is no. This is
why most of us are more attracted to humans playing music than machines. Music should push
and pull, it should ebb and flow and shortcomings are often the character in one's
playing, to an extent. We need to just relax and play.
But if you are to record your acoustic guitar solo, you will no doubt come face to face
with certain issues that I did, and my subscriber friend did also. All I can suggest is
this; First, don't give up, but understand that one needs to surmount a problem to the
level of personal acceptance. In other words, if it sounds good to you that's OK, provided
you are pushing yourself and striving for your personal best. Now, that template will
probably change as you grow as a musician and what was acceptable then may not be now.
All I can say is, however you feel about this stuff, and whatever level you're at,
recording yourself playing solo acoustic guitar very very slowly is just bloody good