Now that we’ve covered EQ and compression for acoustic guitars, I need to get something off my chest. I have a real pet peeve when it comes to mixing acoustic guitars. More on that in a second.

This article is more of an opinion piece than anything.

I want to preface this by saying that I absolutely love acoustic guitar. It was my first instrument, and, while I’ve branched out and started playing other instruments over the years, the acoustic guitar is by far my favorite.

Almost every song I write and record is centered around the acoustic guitar. I’ve spent countless hours learning how to record and mix it. While I’m not perfect at it, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

I may not know too much about programming electronic music or putting together phat beats, but I know acoustic guitar.

As beautiful as the acoustic guitar sounds, there tends to be a trend among home studio owners, particularly those starting out, to use all sorts of effects on the acoustic guitar. Things like chorus and flangers.

I just don’t get it.

Phase Effects

You have this beautiful, rich, full instrument. You spend hours trying to figure out how to properly record it. You work hard to get a clean, pure recording. Then you want to throw a chorus plug-in on there and make it sound all phasey and weird?

This does not compute.

When I stereo-mic my acoustic guitar, I’m always listening to make sure the microphones aren’t out of phase with each other. I would imagine most of you do the same thing. That’s why it’s so fascinating to me that after achieving a perfectly phase-coherent recording, the first thing people reach for is an effect that introduces phase shift into the track. ‘Tis bizarre.

Reverb

Another effect that’s easy to overdo is reverb. Now I won’t go so far as to say you shouldn’t use reverb at all on acoustic guitar. Oftentimes just a touch of reverb can really bring the track to life.

However, please go easy on the reverb. This goes for any reverb on any track in your song. A lot of people when they first learn how to record go way overboard with reverb. (I know because I was the king. If it wasn’t swimming in reverb, it wasn’t finished.)

Recording Direct

Perhaps a reason people are so prone to adding all sorts of effects to their acoustic guitar tracks is because they’re recording the guitar direct rather than using microphones. I understand that some of you may not have microphones available to you, or you may think that the DI sounds just as good as miking the guitar.

Let me challenge you to perhaps A/B the two. I would personally prefer the actual sound of the acoustic guitar over the world’s best guitar pickup any day of the week. If you find yourself adding chorus and reverbs and flangers to try to make your DI guitar tracks sound full, perhaps you would be best served by recording it with a mic instead.

These are simply my opinions. Your acoustic guitar tone is a subjective thing. I personally don’t care for a heavily effected acoustic guitar track, but if you absolutely love, then go for it.

However, I’ve noticed that I really only tend to hear these affects on mixes from beginner home studios. I almost never hear them on professional tracks. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong, but it’s something to think about.

Thoughts? Leave a comment.

[Photo by Jim Sneddon]

  • Praxis

    Just wanted to comment that this is straight up the clearest set of articles I have read on the trials of recording acoustic guitars. Nicely written.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Thanks!

  • Tom LaPointe

    GREAT POST. I am hunting for an SM57 at this moment to record with. any recommendations for a better (yet affordable) option?

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      You can find ‘em used for $60. I wouldn’t go for a cheaper mic than that. Chances are it’ll sound pretty bad.

      • Tom LaPointe

        anything with higher recommendation in the $100-140 range you would prefer. looking at the 57A

        • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

          Just get the SM57. That’s a great start, and it’s a mic you’ll use for years.

  • Thor_VN

    What works for me to get a great acustic guitar sound is these 4 effects:

    – Waves x-noise
    – EQ
    – Compression (only a little)
    – Reverb (0,3 sec decay and 100% wet / 20% dry)

    Great lessions Joe, you are really good at writing these:)

  • joerawls

    I was guilty of this very thing. I used to record the acoutic direct, then used chorus or what ever I was in the mood for, to try and make it work in the mix.

    Since then I started using a Mic (shure SM81) great mic for Acoustic. But I still found myself reaching for effects.

    I stopped reaching after “Joe” explained how to EQ properly! High Pass Filter and notching out the Mid Lows Suddenly made the Acoustic fit without using effects!

    Thanks again Joe…..

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      1. I love the SM81.
      2. I love that you referred to me as “Joe” … ;-)

  • http://www.myspace.com/kentgunderson Kent Gunderson

    Ditto for ditching phase/flange/chorus on flattops, and also for electrics IMO. Nothing takes me back to the cheezy '70s quicker than hearing those sounds. Piezo makes set up more convenient for playing gigs, such as writer's nights, but the sound quality isn't up to par for recording by a long shot.
    Also, I've attempted the exact lick that kid in the photo is playing. It's an F# Lydian line woven into a B whole tone line connected via chromatic intermediaries laid over an Ab7b9 chord in 9/16 meter punk-reggae style using hybrid sweep-picking across 6 strings at 152 bpm. Take my word for it, ya gotta make a face just like that to pull it off cleanly.

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      HA! That's hilarious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rpimusic Ryan Patrick Imming

    Great post Joe! I couldn't agree more on the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to effects on acoustic guitar. My whole goal on recording and mixing my acoustic is to make it sound as “real-life” as possible.

    I almost always mic my guitar with one mic on the 12th fret, I try to find the sweet spot and I've found a great way to add fullness is by adding a short mono to stereo delay. I'll keep the left side mix set to 0 and the right side to 100, usually set the delay around 15-25 milliseconds (I always have to play around with it to get it to set right based on the tempo of the track) and it really adds a great stereo vibe, and it opens up the middle of the track for vocals, drums & bass.
    Great articles on mixing the acoustic, cheers,

    Ryan

    • Ryan S

      nice tip. seems to give the guitar a bit more stereo spread too, not as center. not that you’d always want that tho. how much feedback do you use ? I used about 7 ms. and on the side where you got the mix at 100, is the pan at 100 as well ?

  • http://www.better-guitar.com/ Dave

    Nice post. IMO your advice is dead on. I think when people are first getting started, they have a natural tendency to overdo the effects, just because they can. From that point, it takes a while to rediscover the simplicity of the instrument itself. That's what happened with me anyway..

  • Neil

    AMEN! Ok, I know my track in the production class has some distortion on the acoustics, but that's just a specific effect for a specific song. Chorus on acoustic? Yuck…

    I asked a bunch of people if they knew of an acoustic pick-up that they'd ever record through (since setting up the mics, turning off the radiators, etc is sometimes a drag). But not a single 'yes'…

  • http://www.mydigitalpathos.com/ Julian

    I started out doing DI on my Yammie APX guitar not long ago, as my second “stereo” guitar track. It didn't sound all that good to have one track be mic'ed and the other DI'ed, when compared to actually using 2 mics. When I saw your stereo mic bar & XY placement in another article, I tried it and the sound was much much fuller. I needed to learn this too because the Martin I recently bought sounds so nice (and it has no pickup).
    I did have an idea to maybe have a 3rd DI track on any acoustic guitar w/ a built-in pickup…just for a bonus track for fullness later on. Dunno if that idea would work out in practice.

    And yes, +1 on the article picture. 'Tis awesome.

    • soleman72

      I recently recorded my accoustic with a match pair of Rode mics 1, pointing at the 12 fret, and 1 at the bridge about 8inchs away. I also have a fishman blend pickup on the guitar (brigde pickup and internal mic) which I DI'd to my mixer. The sound that I got was really good. Mics where panned left and right and I used a little of the pickup in the centre (only a smidge) and the sound was very full.. Thought I would share this with you.

  • http://www.TheRecordingRevolution.com/ Graham

    That picture of the kid jamming…just about made my day! Oh, and I agree with the post. Keep it simple on mixing the acoustic!

    • http://www.homestudiocorner.com Joe Gilder

      Could NOT pass up that picture. :-)