When it comes to mixing acoustic guitars in a song, there might not be a perfect way to go about it to get that perfect sound, since people perceive music differently. However, there are some things you can do to improve your chances of getting a great sounding guitar in your records.
With that said, here are some tips to get you started.
1. Understand the Role You Want For the guitar
You might want to introduce acoustic guitars as a rhythmic supplement to the song, or you might want to include some finger picking parts to layer in the background of the song.
If you’re going for something that sounds more rhythmic, I suggest going for a sound that is a bit more lush so if highlights the sound of the strings and the chords. If you are going to go after a plucking style sound, it might sound a bit better to focus on the mid-range so that the tone of the pluck can pull through the mix. Ultimately your equalizer, panning, and compression settings will depend on the role you want your acoustic guitars to play. So don’t be afraid to role up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.
2. Low Cut/High Pass Filter
With the high pass filter, you can set it up so that the low end of the guitar is filtered out and the high frequencies pass through without being affected. The high pass filter can also eliminate noise; it frees up some of the low end so that other sounds can fit into the mix, and it also frees up headroom in your mix.
I suggest starting around the 100Hz range as it seems to work in most situations but at the same time, you are going to have to adjust based on your song.
3. Use of Slow Attack Compression
To get more pluck from your acoustic guitar sound, you can incorporate a slow attack compression setting as it usually does the trick. It allows you to introduce and play with the guitar in the mix without affecting the transient, which can make your song even more exciting.
4. Dealing with Stereo Acoustic Guitar Sounds
If you are recording your guitars in stereo, you are going to have to be vigilant about making sure that they are in phase.
Video on recording in stereo (to help eliminate phase)
But if the sound is too full in context with the rest of the songs, you can always try collapsing the guitar into mono. This can help bring focus to the guitar and can also free up a lot more space for other sounds to live.
5. Aligning the Guitars
Sometimes you are going to have to mix guitar parts that weren’t played by someone who is very experienced. If that’s the case, you are going to have to manipulate the parts so that they line up and play in time with the rest of the track.
If you are the one that’s playing guitar, and you can’t get another guitar player to perform the parts for you, I would advise investing in some guitar training. It does help in terms of getting your timing and your technique down pat. I suggest working with a company like Guitar Lessons Oakland because they do remote guitar lessons as well as local lessons to give the most value to their students. So stop waiting!
Here is where Guitar Lessons Oakland is located…
6. Getting Equalizing Right
What EQ settings you use are going to be important when mixing acoustic guitars. You need to understand that the settings you use are going to depend on the songs key and also its tone.
You can get your hands on some presets as a way to start and get going but to be honest, they are going to be far from perfect. I suggest using your ears and your best judgement to find the frequencies that sound good to your ears.
With that said, I’ve created a list of guidelines to help you equalize the guitars and get the most out of your mixes.
Deep Bass – To allow more room for the kick drum and the bass guitar, some low-end filtering needs to be done. This helps avoid or get rid of any low-frequency noises from your guitar tracks.
Fullness – If the acoustic guitar is the main sound in the song you are mixing, be sure to filter up to about 80Hz for the best results. If it’s not the main instrument and you have a lot of other stuff in the song, you could try pushing the high pass filter a little higher – maybe 120Hz – to give more room to the other sounds.