Essentials for Mixing Acoustic Guitars

Essentials for Mixing Acoustic Guitars

Stringed instruments have been around a long time so it’s no wonder the acoustic guitar is a common instrument in the church. And for that reason, we should be doing a great job mixing it each week. This article aims to cover all of the aspects of the acoustic guitar, from where the tone originates to mixing the acoustic guitar itself.

Tone

Sound quality starts at the source and with an acoustic guitar; you can’t get much more source than the wood used for the front and back of the guitar. For an acoustic guitar, consider the tonal properties of four of these woods:

  • Mahogany
    The wood emphasizes the low overtones as well as the high-end response for a full warm tone.
  • Maple 
    Maple produces a very bright-sounding tone with an emphasis on the high range of the guitar.
  • Cocobolo
    Found in limited edition or custom guitars, it produces even tones across the full spectrum of sound. Individual notes ring clear even within strummed chords.
  • Koa
    This wood will produce a solid tone with pronounced areas in the mid-range and high end.

We have choices in how we mix an acoustic guitar but we must know how it sounds before it’s amplified, as the type of wood does affect the sound. As an added note, some woods change the tone with age. For example, as Koa ages and the guitar is played more and more, it will begin to sound like a mahogany guitar, or as I saw described, “a mahogany on steroids.”

Listen to the tone of the guitar when it’s not amplified—and get 10 feet from it so you’re hearing the direct sound. Make note of how the low, mid and high frequencies are represented.

Strings

I’ll dispense with listing out guitar string brands and models except to say that the gauge of the strings (heavy, medium, light) affect the sound as does the material and methods in which the strings are produced. I use DR acoustic strings, not because the company sponsored me (ha ha) but because I love the tone I get when they’re paired with my guitar.

The only other note to add with strings is the age.

  • New strings sound funky.
  • Old string sound bad.

New strings go out of tune faster until they are broken in, though they sound brighter. Old strings go out of tune and sound dull.

Sound detection

The last part of understanding the sound at the source is how the sound is captured.

Pickups

There might be a built-in on-board pickup located inside the guitar under the bridge. Or, a portable pickup can be placed across the sound hole. The sound of the same guitar will be different in each scenario because the sound is captured in a different space.

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Chris Huff
Chris Huff is the author of Audio Essentials for Church Sound. He also teaches all aspects of live audio production, from the technical fundamentals to creative music mixing to keeping your sanity. Find out more at www.behindthemixer.com

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