Eight Tips For A Great Acoustic Guitar Mix

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Photo provided by fabrizio

Start with the sound at the source.
Photo provided by fabrizio

Want a great sounding acoustic guitar mix?  Check out these eight tips that should have your acoustic guitar mix sounding great.

1. Check out the acoustic guitar’s on-board amplifier settings

Acoustic guitars can have on-board amplifiers with EQ settings.  If the guitar’s EQ settings aren’t set properly, then it means you have a terrible incoming sound before you start mixing.  Set the guitar’s on-board EQ settings all to zero (neither boosted nor cut).  The next time you have a chance, work with the musician one-on-one on getting the on-board EQ set while the mixer has no EQ modifications.  This way, you get the optimal sound coming from the guitar and the easier it will be to mix.

2. Three Months or 30,000 Strums – Check the quality of the guitar strings

Guitar strings are like the oil in a car.  When the oil in the car gets old, your engine’s performance suffers.  Old guitar strings are detrimental to a guitar sound.  This happens in two ways.  The first is that old guitar strings can easily go out of tune.  Secondly, while they might be in tune, they sound bad.  Think of it like looking at old oil that’s dark black and while you might say it’s still working in the car, ask yourself the question, “does it look like something that would be working as effectively as possible?”  For this reason, if you hear a guitarist with old strings, talk with them about it and explain how it’s detrimental to the music.

[whispers] If the guitarist still doesn’t change their strings after a few weeks, I’ve got a pair of wire cutters you can borrow.

3. Set the volume in the right place

Sometimes, a simple volume boost is all it takes to get the guitar to “sit in the right place” in the mix.  One thing you need to do is listen to how the guitar is used in the particular song. The guitar will have times when it needs to lead but it should also be part of a mix, not something that overpowers all the other instruments.  The best tip I can give regarding volume is to mute the acoustic guitar in the mix for a few seconds and then un-mute it.  You’ll immediately notice if the volume is too loud or too soft.

4. Listen for the low-end

A mix with other low-end instruments such as one with both drums and a bass has no use for the low-end frequencies of the guitar. That is to say, there is a limit on how much low-end the guitar can benefit the sound instead of harming it. Think of mixing paint.  The more similar dark tones, the more you get an ugly grayish, well, it’s not pretty. Roll off the lows until you find the sound in the mix is just a little clearer than it was before.

5. Listen for the high-end

The high-end frequencies can give a lot of clarity but they don’t define the core sound of the guitar.  Mixing the guitar should take into account the guitar’s natural tone and the other instruments on the stage.  You can’t make the guitar sound like something it isn’t.  Try a subtle boost in the high-end frequencies with a nice shelving EQ.

7. Make its presence known

This might be the hardest area of mixing an acoustic guitar.  The best place to start is in the 1kHz and 2kHz areas.  Boosting in these areas can give your guitar the fullness you desire.  Mixing is an art so expect to spend some time working with these frequencies to find out what works for a particular guitar.

8. Consider the other instruments

Mixing isn’t about getting the best sound out of each instrument.  Mixing is about blending all of the sounds into the best mix.  A wonderful sounding mix can have an acoustic guitar that sounds horrible on its own.  Therefore, when mixing the acoustic guitar, consider the other instruments in the mix and what you could take away from one of those that would enable the guitar to cut through the mix. An old trick is “cutting before boosting” which not only applies to removing bad frequencies but also applies to decreasing frequency properties of one instrument so another can shine through.

Question: How do you mix your acoustic guitars?

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Comments

  1. says

    This is a great post Chris. Acoustic guitars can be very tricky to mix and keeping everything natural without messing up the timbre can be challenging. But your article has some good tips that I believe can help anyone who wants to learn how to mix acoustic guitars.

    Thnx

  2. flow says

    i love acoustic guitars :) such a nice range of frequencies, from resonant lows to crisp finger movements. it is great to be ale to use it all.
    they take up a heap of sonic space, though, and can really clutter a mix, reducing the clarity of all other other instruments and especially voices.
    i’ve found that i can keep more of the sound by spacing the sound. pan the guitar hard left, and pan a 16ms or so delay hard right. if you have two guitars (or something like an accordian or sitar or other full-ranged instrument) then you can pan that the other way.
    you still get the ‘whole’ sound, but there is space left in the middle and centre sound stage for voices, and at the extremities for stereo cymbals and piano etc, and you don’t need to throw away any of that beautiful sound.

  3. says

    Since I’m the worship leader (on an acoustic) and also the sound guy at our church plant, I guess i can answer! LOL!

    First, my Washburn guitar has an older-style LR Baggs dualsource pickup. Gives a great sound, but doesn’t have any onboard EQ…just volume control and a blend for the Mic/transducer pickup. So I have added an EQ pedal to the mix. Also have a LR Baggs DI box which also has EQ control specific to an acoustic guitar. Then, of course, there’s the sound board EQ. Just a standard analog Yamaha board 3 band with sweepable mids.

    For the mixing: I start at the board, giving the best sound possible with the DI box and EQ pedal set to zero. Then I go to the DI box and do the same. Finally, a few small tweaks with the EQ pedal gives me the perfect sound. I suppose if I had a fancy new digital board with a gazillion different EQ posibilities, it may be easier. But….that’s not in a church plant budget as of yet!

    • Cajundaddy says

      Brian,
      The Baggs Para EQ DI box with sweepable mids and notch filter is an excellent tool for dialing in an acoustic guitar onstage. It is far more precise than a basic analog board with fixed B/M/T eq. Try getting your sound first with the Baggs DI and do final touches with the main board.

      • says

        I did do that in the past. But I found I could get a better overall sound mixing the board first, as the EQ on the board is more of a general EQ. Then I can go to the specific EQ/notch filters on the paraacoustic and dial in the more specific acoustic sounds. But maybe that just works better for my guitar and system….

        • says

          Brian, I used to play on the worship team AND I used (and still use) the LR Baggs Para DI. Here is the key to a great sound…
          1. Go into the sanctuary when no one else is around.
          2. Get a long XLR cable so you can sit in the middle of the sanctuary with your guitar and hear your sound DIRECTLY from the house speakers.
          3. Play, adjust, play, adjust, rinse, repeat.

          This way, you’ve used the power of the LR Baggs to create the best sound as you heard it DIRECTLY from the speakers. Then, if the tech has to do any adjustments, I guarantee they will be minor if at all.

  4. Cajundaddy says

    Getting acoustic guitar right is important because it is often the lead instrument in contemporary Christian music. Acoustic guitar regularly must stand on it’s own in worship music so it should always sound smooth and natural. We generally build other instrument frequencies around the lead instrument instead of the other way around. Listening to a favorite acoustic track such as Phil Wickham on headphones and doing A-B comparisons is often helpful to dial in a sweet acoustic sound just like the pros.

    Problem areas:

    -The lowest note on guitar is E (82hz) so unless your guitarist uses a lot of percussive strokes for effect, everything below 80 hz is just boom and rumble which muddies the mix. Cut sharply below 80hz to clean this ugliness up.
    - Every acoustic guitar has a resonant frequency (mine is Ab at 103 hz) which is prone to feedback in a loud sound stage. Be prepared to use a notch filter here to cut a narrow band and eliminate soundboard resonant feedback.
    - With cuts at 80 and 103hz, some warmth may need to be added back in by boosting slightly and broadly centered at around 180 hz to taste. Use your A-B comparisons here.
    - Mids are tough and every guitar has different needs. I go for a more delicate mid section rather than bold mids that cut-through. Experience is your guide here.
    - I like a guitar with sparkle and usually find it by boosting slightly around 10-12k. Highs are like salt and pepper though. A little seasons the meal and too much ruins it, so tread lightly and err on the side of too little rather than too much.

    If you do this mix well, the lead acoustic guitar will sound fantastic and no one will ever be aware of the masterful job you did bringing it all together. It will just sound great.

    Be blessed.

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