You have finally recorded your newest song, and you’re ready to start mixing it! You listen through your recording, but you notice that your acoustic guitar track doesn’t sound quite right.
You recorded it in a studio, yet it doesn’t have the studio-quality sound that you want.
It sounds muddy and unclear.
When you solo the guitar track, it sounds decent. But, in the context of your mix…well…not so much.
If any of that sounds familiar, then it’s about time that you learned how to use an equalizer (EQ) to get the sound you want!
To correctly use EQ, you must understand how we hear.
The frequency range of human hearing is about 20Hz to 20kHz. We tend to lose some of that range naturally as we grow up.
Most human adults have limited hearing in the upper frequencies. Keep that in mind while adjusting your EQ settings, and it will help your mixes pop!
There are plenty of excellent EQ plug-ins available at every price point. There are graphic EQs, which are great for shaping the overall sound of a track or mix, and parametric EQs, perfect for fine-tuning the precise sounds you want.
Both are great for mixing guitars, and I recommend having a few of both types at your disposal.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be using the stock parametric EQ from Logic X Pro as a visual aid. Hopefully, you’ll be able to directly apply what you learn to your mix!
How to EQ Acoustic Guitar
Sadly, there’s no such thing as a perfect EQ setting. There are just too many factors when recording acoustic guitar:
- Are you recording using a stereo pair, a single mic, or some other setup?
- What is the frequency response of the mic(s) you are using?
- What kind of guitar are you using?
- Is it an acoustic guitar or an acoustic-electric guitar?
The answers to those questions will all affect the sound quality of your recording.
If you record guitar in stereo, you can blend the body and neck mics together to change your guitar tone.
When you record guitar in mono, the tone is dependent on where you place the mic. You may need to tweak your equalizer settings a bit more on a mono track to get that studio-quality sound.
So where exactly do you start then?
1.) Listen to your guitar track
It may seem obvious, but it’s a crucial part of the process. It’s a step that too few mixing engineers take the time to do.
Listening is, by far, the most useful mixing technique at your disposal. For one, it’s absolutely free to do! The more you do it, the better you get at it.
Critical listening takes some practice, but I encourage you to do your best!
Your EQ settings should look like this until after you’ve listened to the track at least twice:
So what should you be listening for while the music plays?
- Overall sound quality
- Clarity (or lack thereof)
I like to listen in two passes and focus my listening in different ways on each play-through. This allows me to separate creative and analytical listening.
On the first pass, you should listen to the sound quality and clarity of the track.
Focus your ears to hear any room noises (like the hum from lights or the rumble of a fan) or other problematic sounds that will take away from the performance.
Listen to the recording to hear if any parts either stand out too much or not enough.
Take note of any issues you notice while you listen so that you can go back and correct them later.
On your second pass, listen to the intention and tone of the performance. Try to hear what emotions are being conveyed by the music. Is the song dark and brooding, or is it bright and exciting?
It is your job while mixing or producing to enhance your music. Make the sound match what the artist is conveying!
2.) Address any quality or clarity issues
Now that you’ve listened to the guitar track a couple of times, you can begin to improve it!
When you record acoustic instruments, you also record the room they are in. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. There are plenty of stunning spaces to record in, and as long as you’re conscious of the room you’re in, you should be just fine.
Sometimes, though, the room you record in just has some unavoidable issues. Maybe there is a low-frequency sound produced by the room, or perhaps the room resonates at a frequency that your microphone is highly responsive to.
This is a situation that happens often, so it is good practice to know what the frequency response of your microphone is like.
The frequency response of a microphone is how well it records (or responds to) different frequencies. Take the frequency response curve of a standard Shure sm57:
You can see that the sm57 responds much better to inputs in the 4kHz-10kHz range than to anything from the 50Hz-200Hz range.
Every microphone has a different frequency response, and every room resonates differently.
You can certainly take the time and effort to figure out the exact acoustics of your room (if you are building a studio, you definitely should!).
But, that takes a lot of complicated math that won’t fix any of the issues. Instead, try to compensate for these problems by applying subtractive EQ (taking away problematic frequencies).
For example, say that you have a guitar recording with a low-frequency sound (like a humming light) and a mid-frequency that resonates too much. How do you address the humming?
Luckily, the hum has a low frequency. It does not interfere with the actual performance. That means it can be eliminated easily.
Your first equalizer setting will be a hi-pass filter:
As you can see, a hi-pass filter gets rid of the lower frequencies and allows all of the higher frequencies to pass through (hence the name).
Try adjusting the curve until the annoying hum is no longer audible but, you can still hear the full spectrum of the acoustic guitar.
Now address the overly resonant frequency. You know from listening to the track that the issue is somewhere in the mid-range of frequencies but, you aren’t sure where.
This is an excellent time to use a filter sweep. Try increasing the Q-value of your EQ band (how precise the EQ is) and then raise its level.
Drag that EQ band across your equalizer until you notice the frequency that stands out.
You’ll likely come across a few louder spots but hear a significant increase in resonance when you find the sweet spot.
On this track, it looks like the problematic resonant frequency is right around 600Hz.
Lower that EQ band so that the frequency doesn’t overpower the rest of the performance anymore. Lower the Q-value now to lower some of the harmonics of that frequency.
At this point, you’ve addressed the technical issues of the acoustic guitar track, and your equalizer settings might look something like this:
3.) Shape the tone of the track
Now that you’ve addressed the technical problems with your guitar track, you can begin to shape it to match the intention you listened for earlier.
This part of EQing is a much more subjective process but, hopefully, you’ll be able to use these suggestions as a guide to achieving your goals!
For an even and full-bodied sound:
Try cutting out a bit of the high mid-range frequencies. This leaves space for a vocal track to cut through without getting rid of the fullness of your guitar.
Boost the low frequencies and high frequencies to bring back some of the warmth and brightness.
This is how your EQ settings might look:
For a dark and warm sound:
Try cutting out some of the high and mid frequencies. Lowering the high frequencies will reduce the brightness while lowering the mids will add some clarity to the track.
Take care not to boost the low-mids too drastically as it will muddy your mix.
Here is an example of good settings for this sound:
For a bright and energetic sound:
Try cutting the low mid and high mid frequencies more heavily and boosting the high frequencies a bit.
This will lighten the tone and make your acoustic guitar track more cutting. Be careful not to cut out too much of the mid-range, or you lose the body of your tone!
Here is a sample of what that might look like:
I purposefully left out exact numbers as those will change with every track.
These examples are a good starting point, but try to use your own creativity while you EQ acoustic guitar!
Equalization in the Context of the Full Mix
You have learned how to EQ acoustic guitar on its own, but now it’s time to add in the other instruments of your mix.
Now you have to make sure that the awesome guitar track you have fits perfectly alongside the bass, drums, and vocals. Let’s bring the fairly even EQ setting into the full mix.
Luckily, by using a hi-pass filter, you’ve pretty much eliminated the frequencies that clash with the bass and kick drum.
Lowering the low mids of your acoustic guitar track will help you avoid muddiness with the higher range of the bass track.
That leaves you to deal with the vocal track. The vocal track in your mix is by far the most important in most scenarios. Because of this, you must give it space.
Be sure to listen to your vocal track and see what frequencies form the fundamentals of its sound.
Once you figure out where the vocals pop, cut it out of your guitar track to make some space:
As you can see, cutting out some of the mid and high-mid frequencies allows more space for the vocal track to cut through the mix!
The acoustic guitar is a fairly dynamic instrument. It can quickly go from quiet to loud in a recording.
It is a good idea to add dynamic range compression to your acoustic guitar track.
This will lower the dynamic range of your track and allow it to be dynamically consistent throughout the song!
Additional Acoustic Guitar EQ Settings
There are limitless possibilities when applying EQ to your guitar tracks, and, as long as it sounds good, you’re doing something right.
Here are a few more niche equalizer settings you may want to try out!
For a radio effect:
For solo classical acoustic guitar:
For a live acoustic guitar with a band:
For a live acoustic guitar without a band:
For an acoustic guitar solo:
Equalizers are great tools, and it’s important to practice using them in a variety of contexts.
I’ve given you some of the best EQ settings for acoustic guitar as a starting point. It is important to remember that every recording is different, and you will have to use your own judgment to fine-tune these EQ settings to suit your needs.
I can’t stress how crucial it is to experiment with different EQ settings until you find the right one.
Just keep in mind the techniques and ideas from this guide, and you’ll be far ahead of the pack!