The Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman concert came to an end and within moments, I was standing by their live engineer asking how he got such great tone from Steven’s acoustic guitar. I was expecting him to say, “That’s what you get from a $4000 guitar.” I was expecting him to say, “It takes a lot of EQ work.”
I wasn’t expecting his reply.
The standard church acoustic guitar setup goes like this:
- Musician pulls out their acoustic guitar with either a sound-hole pickup or on-board pick and plugs into a DI box.
- The sound tech does their magic.
Two steps. Yes, maybe the musician has their own fancy DI box with tone knobs and switches but as far as connecting the guitar to the system, it’s that simple.
In short, whatever the musician is playing is what you’re getting. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Before you start your EQ work, let me ask a question.
Is the musician using any form of effects pedals?
It’s common for a guitarist, even an acoustic guitarist, to run through an effect pedal or two. Yes, even acoustic guitarists can be tone freaks (that’s not a bad thing). Whatever is sent to the sound booth is what you get.
Let’s return to what the engineer told me oh so many years ago. (I know I’m showing my age.)
“I run a wet mix and a dry mix from the stage and then blend them.”
- A dry mix is the pure signal from the guitar. If the guitar plugs into an amp, without using effects pedals, then it’s sound straight from the amp.
- A wet mix is the signal that’s passed through any processing; effects pedals, pedalboards, etc. If the effect pedals then goes to the amp then the amp sound is the wet mix. The wet mix is what we usually get.
How to Get a Wet and Dry Signals
Get the wet and dry signals from the stage by running the two signals into two different stage jacks (resulting in two mixer channel controls). Do that by running the guitar cable into a DI splitter, like this one, and then taking one straight to the stage jack and the other through the effects processors and then to the other stage jack.
Mix Wet and Dry
Time to use your ears. For now, let’s keep this simple. There is a lot that can be done with digital work stations and plugins but I want this to be useful for everyone, so I’m staying basic.
Bring up the wet mix volume in one guitar channel so it sits right in the mix. Now, slowly bring in the dry mix so it enhances, but does not over-ride the wet mix. You might have to do a little EQ work, as expected, but you’ll have a better sound than before.
Think of it like this, the dry mix has the CLARITY of a clean acoustic guitar. When the wet mix lacks clarity, add in the dry mix until you hear what you like.
The Take Away
Dealing with only a processed acoustic guitar signal, with whatever effects the musicians has added, limits how much we can enhance it. It’s like blurring a photo and then printing a copy. You can’t un-blur the copy to return it to its original quality. But you can overlay the original in a way that enhances it. Of course, this can also be done with electric guitars.
The Next Step
Want to learn how to get a great acoustic guitar sound? If so, check out:
Want to learn other ways for wet/dry mixing? Check out this article in Premiere Guitar:
Thought? Questions? Comments?