How to make your own “unplugged” vocal-acoustic guitar demo at home?

Basically what you are doing in Steps 1 to 4 is to normalize the volume. Normalization is a process of maximizing the volume without clipping. Most recording software includes this feature. The important thing is that after normalizing the volume, make sure there is no part of the recorded waveform that hits above 0dB. You should also listen to the results and make sure there are no audible distortion on it.

5.) Noise reduction is optional. I would not recommend it. If you do, you can read the following tutorial:

a.) Troubleshooting the sources of noise in recordings.

6.) Put a small reverb to add some ambience. Go to Effects – Delay Effects – Studio Reverb. Select “Room Ambience 2”. And then reduce “high frequency cut” to “3000”. Click OK. Screenshot below:

reverb settings

reverb settings

Most recording software do include some reverb effect, make sure you select “Plate” type of reverb and suitable for vocals.

7.) This step is optional. Since reverb will reduce the volume of the wave, go to Effects – Amplitude – Amplify/Fade – Click “Calculate Now” again then hit OK. This will “normalize” the volume back to its previous level.


Since you are recording at 32-bit float or 24-bits, you will need dither it to 16-bit format in preparation to MP3 or CD audio distribution.

1.) Save your work.
2.) Use Voxengo R8brain sample rate converter to do this job.
3.) Launch Voxengo and do the following settings:

a.) Resample to: 44100Hz (unchanged).
b.) Output bit depth: 16-bits.
c.) Quality – highest possible.

4.) Click “Perform r8brain” to start. This will convert 24-bits/44.1Khz to 16-bits/44.1KHz.
5.) The resulting format is now in 16-bits/44.1KHz. You can now convert it to MP3, etc. Listen to the completed sample track implemented using the above steps (from start to finish):

Song Credits:
Jeanine Maningo – vocal/guitar performance
Song title: “Feel so Close”

Note: If you listen closely, there are some slight hiss in the recordings primarily because it is not using balanced cables when connecting the microphones to the mixer (not using the preamp input).

Method #2: Using an external audio interface

What Gears do you need?

1 External Audio Interface (USB or Firewire) = with at least two pre-amp inputs. This audio interfaces should be capable to perform multi-channel recording and will be using ASIO drivers (most audio interface drivers used in home recording are now using ASIO).

1 Professional Vocal Condenser microphone = you will be using this to record your vocals. You can find a lot of lower cost microphones with superb capturing quality.

1 Acoustic guitar with pickup = make sure the pickup is of high quality and does not introduce noise. You can check the guitar sound thoroughly with the pickup before buying one in the music store.

1 quality guitar cable = any brand will do, a shielded cable is better for lower noise.

1 DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) = there are lots of cheap solutions out there that can bring outstanding results at less than $100 licensing fee. Do not use free solutions such as Audacity.

1 working PC configured as recording studio = if you do not have a recording studio in your home, read this tutorial on how to easily convert your pc into a recording studio.

Case Example/Illustration

In this tutorial, a sample short 15 second acoustic guitar demo of the song “Forever and for Always” (written by Shania Twain and Mutt Lange) will be created. The following are the gears used:

Audio interface: Focusrite Saffire Pro 40
Vocal microphone: Rode NT1A
Acoustic guitar: Custom nylon guitar with pickup
Digital audio workstation: Reaper
Operating system: Windows XP 32-bit

Step1.) Connect the vocal condenser microphone to your audio interface input 1. Use the manufacturer supplied microphone cables which should be XLR from end to end.

Step2.) Connect a standard guitar cable to the acoustic guitar and connect one end to the audio interface preamp input 2.

Step3.) Position the vocal condenser microphone around 6 inches to 12 inches from the singer. Use a pop screen such as shown below:

Parts of condenser microphone

Parts of condenser microphone

Step4.) Turn on the phantom power in your audio interface. Vocal condenser microphones need phantom power to work.

Step5.) If the audio interface has some features that can recognize instrument level signals (like Saffire Pro 40), enable them. If you are not familiar with instrument level signals; read this post: Difference between line, instrument and microphone levels.

Step6.) In Reaper DAW; insert two new tracks. Configure the first track to receive the recorded audio from audio interface input 1 (vocals) while configure the second track to received audio from audio interface input 2 (acoustic guitar). This is how it looks like:

saffire pro 40 inputs

saffire pro 40 inputs

IP 1 stands for the audio interface input 1 while IP 2 for the second input.

Step7.) Set for optimal recording levels, it is suggested you understand the concept of proper gain staging.

Typically you would be aiming around -16dB to -6dB max. Some audio interface has some level meters so use them.

Step8.) Play your guitar and test your vocals. You should be able to hear them in your studio monitors. Look at the level meters to make sure you set it right (not clipping).

Step9.) Turn your studio monitor off so that it won’t interfere with the recording and make sure the entire recording environment (your room) is quite to avoid some leakage.

Step10.) Start the recording (record at 24-bit/48KHz). In this, you are recording the demo song live. But there are two waveforms (one for vocals and one for guitar) that should be capture in your recording software (in this case Reaper), see the screenshot below:

Two waves captured

Two waves captured

At this point, you have completely recorded the demo. Sample:

Mixing Acoustic Guitar and Vocals

Once recorded, you can now mix them. Since mixing itself is a very broad topic, you can refer to the following tutorials:

Mixing vocals – tips on processing vocals in the mix.
How to add reverb on vocals -moderation is the key.
Clean guitar mixing – techniques on applying effects on guitar in the mix.
Panning guitars – how to place guitar strategically in the mix for best results.
Applying EQ on guitar – how to make your guitar sound clear.

Some mastering suggestions

Mastering is simply bringing up the volume of your track. It is also a very broad topic by itself. For details, I encourage you to read this post. It uses REAPER as the software for audio mastering.

Content last updated on June 15, 2014