Don’t be influenced by preconceptions. Once you know what to listen to (and how it should be heard), equalization of an acoustic guitar is easy. These principals are responsible for mixing live performances and studio mixes.
Mixing any instrument has two parts. One is getting it to sound great by itself, while the other is allocating a dominant frequency band so it can shine with the rest of the orchestration without being too intrusive.
How to EQ Acoustic Guitar
There are some tricks that can be used to EQ acoustic guitars, but most times less is more. This means fewer plugins, fewer tracks, fewer recordings from fewer microphones, and less overdubs. Too many plugins and too many tracks can cause problems, especially when you are playing chords.
Routing all your tracks to a single guitar bus is my recommendation. This allows you to deal with them all as one, providing glue, minimizing work load, decreasing plugin usage and CPU usage, and making it easier for phase issues to be identified.
You don’t have to know how to do it. These principles can be applied to each track individually, with the same results or perhaps even better depending on how you record.
Tip: Send a dry signal to the Digital Audio Workstation if you are recording at home or in a studio. This means that you don’t need to use any onboard equalization for acoustic-electric guitarists and that your signal chain doesn’t contain many effects pedals. Mix it all in post-processing to give you as many options as possible.
Acoustic Guitar Equalization
There are four steps that you will always follow when you start a project with acoustic guitarist. It doesn’t matter whether you recorded with a DI or jacked directly into your interface, whether you used one mic for mono recordings or two, these steps will always be followed. These things will always be first.
1) HIGH PASS FILTER THE LESS FREQUENCIES
When recording any kind of music, the first thing you should do is set up a high-pass filter. A parametric equalizer is my preference. It allows me to have between 5 and 6 bands simultaneously. You can also stack multiple plugins on your multitrack. It produces the same result, but with one plugin you have less latency.
The bass roll off or high pass filter allows you to define a frequency and reduce all frequencies below it. This will cut out most floor noises and bumps that travel up the mic stand as well as low frequency hum and sub-bass. It also leaves you with more headroom.
Each track is different, so a good EQ setting is 80 Hz with a 0.75Q at approximately a 24 dB per octave rolling off. This allows the sub-bass to be almost silent, and the range of the bass to be significantly quieter. This is something you will want to do even if you are a singer-songwriter who sings only with guitar and vocals.
You may find that this roll is more dramatic when you consider the whole mix. This will allow for more space for the kick drum and bass guitar. The bass guitar EQ, which is a completely different animal, can be used in conjunction with the kick drum.
2) TIGHTEN AND BALANCE THE BASS FREQUENCIES
You should now turn your attention towards the bass frequencies in the upper range, which is between 80 Hz and 250 Hz. I usually use a low shelfEQ to set it between 250 Hz and 300 Hz. Then, I will experiment with decreasing it. This will often get you close to the sound you desire.
You might find that the bottom-end feels a little sluggish, especially when you use the 5th or 6th strings. To combat this problem, you can add a boost of around 150 Hz. A wide Q is recommended and no more than 5 decibels of boost.
The large Q helps to keep the transitions between frequencies smooth and musical rather than abrupt and obvious. This is especially important in the bass region, where so much energy is located. You can move your center frequency with different amounts of boost to locate the sweet spot. Then, you can adjust your Q.
3) EQ THE ACOUSTIC GUITAR SOLO MODE
You want to turn your guitar bus into solo mode. It’s possible that you’ve done this before, but it doesn’t matter. We’re going to be working in the high frequency and mid-range ranges and must hear them clearly. If you don’t have any acoustic treatment panels, high-quality headphones may be able to help.
Scroll down after you’ve read the previous step. The section called Acoustic Guitar Frequency Range will break down all the sub-ranges you need to balance tonally and listen to. There you’ll find individual advice.
You’ll be focusing on the bass and listening for fullness, rather than a weak or thin sound. Also, boominess will be an important consideration. This sounds like your room is muddy. Next, you will need to balance the body volume. If string squeaking is a problem, you can reduce it.
4) EQUALIZATION IN CONTEXT TO THE FULL MIX
You will need to de-solo your acoustic guitarist bus in order to hear the whole mix. Before you return to this step, you will need to put together the remainder of the mix. This step is about determining the range allocation for the Acoustic Guitars.
Your guitar tracks will likely be panned if you’re using rhythm guitars. The lead guitar may also be panned. This allows you to center all instruments and helps you identify phase issues.
You will typically only have to deal with rhythm, lead guitar, vocals and maybe the snare or hi-hats. You will need to do compensatory EQ on all these instruments in order for them all to share the same frequency range, but each one has their own dominant area.
This is essential for clarity and understanding your tracks. They sound great in their own mode but they must share the frequency spectrum when they play together. While panning is helpful, we also drop to mono. This will ensure that you don’t make any mistakes or take shortcuts that could lead to poor results.
I can’t say more than that, except to mention the presence, boominess, and body. Sometimes you may need to reduce the presence in order to make space for the vocals, which are far more important, you can do this by using sparkle, brilliance, or air. Every set of songs and tracks is different so listen carefully!
Additional Acoustic Guitar EQ Settings
It is important to realize that there are no optimal EQ settings for an acoustic guitarist. Every track is unique, every mix is different and each song has its own arrangement and orchestration. Each track is unique, each mix is different and each song has a different arrangement. You’ll need to listen with your ears. Mixing is not an easy task.
There are many things you can do that will make it easier to equalize. These are the tips I will be sharing with you, along with more EQ tips. These tasks will make it easier to perform EQing, and you’ll get better results even if you do need it.
GET THE RECORDING RIGHT
Recording acoustic guitar is all about the guitar, its performance and the microphone or preamplifier. It is important to get the audio right at the source. This involves getting your best acoustic guitar set up and practicing to make sure you are playing your best.
This means that you must be seated in the correct spot in the room. This is usually in the middle of the room, between the two walls. It’s also about 30% further down in the long direction. This is your best place in the room in terms of room acoustics. Avoid flutters and reverbs.
Your mic placement is also very important. A mic placement can make a huge difference in the sound quality of your performance. This is especially true if you are using more than one microphone. Use our miking tips to find the best position for your acoustic guitar. You should also know gain staging.
SEARCH FOR PHASE CANCELLATION
After you have dropped your mix to mono you should be able hear any phase cancel or constructive interfering that may occur when recording in stereo. To deal with this issue, either flip the channel’s phase or add a delay to one. Use a phase correlation plugin if you are unable to hear the sound.
Certain frequencies may be amplified or reduced in volume, or in rare cases even muted completely due to wave forms interfering with each other in the air. This is similar to how waves can explode in your face from the energy of colliding at their peak.
CLEAN UP THE HIGH EXTENT END, TOO
A high pass filter can be used to clean the high frequencies, just as you did with the sub-bass. If you wish, you can also add a high shelf. However, instruments such as cymbals should not have access to the highest frequencies.
To add more clarity to your recording, you can set the focus at around 10 kHz. Focus on increasing your presence and clarity by using a boost of around 5 kHz-7 kHz. You can cut through the mix without being too loud or clashing with the vocals, but it is important to keep it subtle.
COMPRESSION, PANE, MODULATION, AND REVERB
After your equalization, you will use compression. This will increase intelligibility if your attack is set up correctly. While panning can help you with clarity and clashing with other instruments it shouldn’t be used as a crutch.
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You can still use modulation effects such as chorus or flanger to cut through the mix, or make it pop enough to grab attention (try using sidechain compression). Reverb is a great option if you want to smoothen it out and bring it back into the mix, but can’t afford to lower the volume. If you are interested, we have a great article on mixing with reverb .
Frequency range for Acoustic Guitar
It is important to know the frequencies in which certain problems are located. These are named for the characteristics they bring to the track’s overall quality. Some are named neutrally while others are named good. Others are named bad.
SUB-BASS: 20 – 80 HZ
No matter whether you are a solo singer-songwriter or a band member, there is no reason for an acoustic guitarist to go beyond this range. To get rid of any noises, rumbles and sub-bass that takes up your headroom, start rolling off at 80 Hz (or higher depending on context).
FULLNESS: 50HZ -80HZ
A roll-off for the sub-bass I recommend is because it leaves some of the fullness range. If you leave too much in this range, your guitar will sound weaker and more sluggish. Too much can be distracting and will cause other bass instruments to sound muffled. To control the range, use a low shelf EQ and give it a boost back if necessary.
BOOMINESS: 100 – 250 HZ
This area is very tricky. Too much can cause your guitar to burst with mid-range energy. But too little can make it sound thin. However, it can also cause muddiness or boxiness.
This is where you need to be cautious as too much mud can ruin the fundamental sound quality of your guitar. A slight cut will be required in almost all tracks. Otherwise, a lot of dirt and mud could build up. A few decibels will suffice.
BODY: 200 HZ-300 HZ
This small range gives your recording “body”, which adds weight to the mix and anchors the guitar. You need to be careful when you try to remove the mud. This region must be maintained carefully. To find the sweet spot, use a tighter Q in a band of the parametric equalityizer.
STRINGS: 700 HZ and UP
This is where you will hear your fingers moving up and down the strings a lot. It can also be heard in the ears. To reduce string noises, do not place a cut here. You can use a De-esser to reduce string noises if they bother you. This is similar to a compressor sidechained with an EQ. They will only be reduced if they get too loud.
You need to create a tight boost in your EQ, and sweep it up and down at least 10 dB more amplitude. You’ll find it and make string squeaking worse. This is how you can identify the frequency range you want to cut in.
PRESENCE: 2 KHZ-5 KHZ
This area is vital. It is a feeling of firmness. Too much EQ can make your mix too rigid and harsh. However, too little can sound flimsy or soft. Your guitar mix will sound incredible if you get the presence right. But be careful.
This region should always be a priority for vocals over guitar. Automating a boost in this area can be done only when the vocals aren’t playing. You can have the best of both the worlds and not clash with the vocalist.
AIR: 10 KHZ-20 KHZ
This area is often called sparkle, brilliance and sharpness. This area brings out the highest frequencies from the guitar. You can play it safe with a high rolloff at 16 kHz. Then, drop out completely by 20 KHz. Finally, you can handle what’s left with an boosted high shelf.
This shouldn’t be done too often. This sounds great on vocals but it can sound awful on guitar. Then someone with bad EQ or tweeters in their car hears your song and it becomes a piercing mess. To get the best detail, use headphones while working in this range.
It’s easy to EQ an Acoustic Guitar!
You only need to know which frequency sub-ranges you should target for each tone characteristic you wish to increase or decrease, and how to use the appropriate tools. There are some tricks, such as mono mixing, but it is really all about listening.
You can bookmark this page to refer to the frequency ranges or save the image. These frequencies and their names are all you need to know about acoustic guitarEQ.