Imagine you’re recording a country band with a singer, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, steel guitar, and drums. If you try to record all those instruments at once, you’re guaranteed to get a muddy drum sound.

Why? Leakage. The drum sound “leaks” or “bleeds” into the microphone intended for the acoustic guitar. The guitar’s mic-preamp gain is turned up high because it’s a quiet instrument. So the guitar mic is very sensitive to other sounds in the studio, such as a drum kit. The guitar mic is acting like a room mic for the drum kit, making the drums sound distant and muddy.

You could use a pickup on the guitar to prevent leakage, but a microphone almost always sounds better — it’s more “acoustic” and less “electric”.

The solution is to record the guitar and drums at separate times. That way the guitar mic picks up nothing but guitar. There’s no drum leakage to muddy the sound of the drums.

Here are two ways to do it:

Method 1: Record the guitar first, then overdub drums. You might have the guitarist listen to a click track while playing so that he or she plays at a steady tempo. Overdub the lead vocal, too. Then, in another session, record the drums, electric bass direct, and steel guitar direct. All those players listen on headphones to the guitar and vocal tracks, and play along with them.

The bass and steel players monitor themselves (and the guitar/vocal tracks) with headphones. They don’t use an amp because it can leak into the drum mics.

Method 2: Record the drums first, then overdub guitar.
You could set up all the musicians in the same room. Record a scratch vocal track and scratch guitar track as the band is playing. Then record a new vocal track and guitar track over the scratch tracks.

You might want to record the acoustic guitar in mono, twice, and pan the two tracks left and right. That makes a beautiful, spacious effect.

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A member of the Audio Engineering Society, Bruce Bartlett is a recording engineer, microphone engineer (, and audio journalist. His latest books are “Practical Recording Techniques 6th Ed.” and “Recording Music On Location”, both available at


Originally posted 2011-01-19 18:34:51.