It would be lame for me to do a series on acoustic guitar tone without talking about how to mix those tracks once you’ve finally recorded them.

Lately I’m becoming more and more conscious of how my mixes are dependent on the quality of the recorded tracks. So now, whenever I record something, I try to get it to sound exactly how I want it to sound in the mix, right off the bat. I don’t just capture it and plan to go crazy with EQ later. I try to get it where I want it. My mixes are getting better (and easier) as a result.

Still, you need to mix those tracks, no matter how good they sound already, so hear are some tips for mixing acoustic guitars.

Use a High-Pass Filter (HPF)

I say this a lot, but that excessive rumble and boomy-ness you have in your mixes? It’s probably because you forgot to use a high-pass filter. Simply put, it rolls off the low frequencies below a certain point. If nothing else, you should at least roll off the unnecessary garbage below 60 Hz or so. An acoustic guitar has nothing of value that low.

Think of it this way, I believe the low E string on a guitar is 120 Hz, so there’s not a TON of information below there that you need to hear. Depending on the mix, I may place my HPF at 50 Hz or all the way up at 200 Hz. Use your ears.

Gentle, Wide Cut around 150-250 Hz

In just about every song I mix with acoustic guitar (and that’s a lot), I almost always do some sort of cut in the low-mids. Even if the track sounds great solo’d, it can interfere with the other instruments if there’s too much happening in the low-mid area. Somewhere between 150 and 250 Hz, you can probably do a nice, wide (low Q) cut, but nothing more than 3 dB. Listen to it, then adjust.

Avoid Compression

I’ve found that acoustic guitars don’t like compression all that much. If you’re working on a heavy pop track, where the acoustic is just a tiny part of the big picture, then yeah, you’ll probably use compression to make it audible. For quieter, acoustic tracks, where the guitar tone is really important, go easy on compression. 7 times out of 10, I won’t compress the guitar at all. Usually the compression that happens at the master fader (bus compression) and during mastering is plenty. Any more than that can sound weird and fake…and thin.

If You DO Compress

I learned this from Kevin over at MixCoach.com one day when we were having coffee. He said to put the threshold of the compressor all the way down (specifically the SSL channel strip compressor from Waves), then put the ratio at something small, like 1.5:1. It still compresses quite a bit, but it’s compressing the entire signal, rather than just the peaks.

The result? A smooth-sounding acoustic guitar that doesn’t sound overly squashed. Try it on your next mix.

Got more tips? Questions? Leave a comment below. I like hearing from you.

And if you haven’t joined yet, check out the Recording Acoustic Guitar class. It starts tomorrow!

  • Joe, in you CD do you dub any of your acoustics or just use a stereo recording ?
    The acoustics are just fine, very, very present and beautiful, congrats…
    I can hear your songs using headphones very loud and my ears get not tired at all.

    • I believe all the acoustics were stereo recorded. I don’t think any of them were doubled.

  • Astewart

    good series joe.. appreciate the tips!!

  • Dave Robertson

    The low E string is 82Hz, but using HPFs is a great tip.

    • Haha! I knew as soon as I typed that that it would be wrong. 🙂 Thanks for the heads up.