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How to Fit Acoustic Guitars into a Dense Mix

Dec 25, 2019

Acoustic guitars can be problematic to fit into dense arrangements as they take up a large frequency range. We offer 3 tips for remedying this issue.

How to Fit Acoustic Guitars into a Dense Mix

Acoustic guitars can take up a lot of room in the frequency spectrum, making them challenging to fit into dense arrangements. It’s essential to use all the available space in your mix by effectively placing elements within the stereo field. For mixes filled to the brim, you can use sidechain compression to make room for your acoustic guitars.

1. Use all the Available Space in Your Mix

There may be space in your mix that you aren’t capitalizing on. The three main mixing dimensions you’re able to manipulate are width (x-axis), height (y-axis), and depth (z-axis). You can move track elements along the x-axis with panning, the y-axis by manipulating frequency, and the z-axis by modifying the volume and perceived space of a sound using reverb.

The H-Reverb Hybrid Reverb is a great option when attempting to position acoustic guitars along the z-axis of your mix. Use a short reverb time under 1 second to keep your guitars upfront and present in your mix, and then adjust the dry/wet knob to strike a healthy balance between the unprocessed and processed signal.

To push your acoustic guitars further back in your mix, use a longer decay time, and increase the dry/wet value so that the reverb effect is more prominent. Identify where you have room to position your acoustic guitars within the stereo field, and then fit them into place.

2. EQ Your Guitars for the Arrangement

Acoustic guitars tend to take up a large amount of frequency real-estate. If they’re recorded well, a full-bodied acoustic has sustaining low-frequency content that can, at high volumes, even mask drums. For this reason, it is critical to identify the role that your guitars are playing in the song/arrangement, and EQ purposefully.

If you’re working on an acoustic folk track, you will probably want the full range of the acoustic guitar. However, if you’re crafting a dense pop mix and your acoustic guitars are just providing a nice top-end texture, you will not require the low end. Using a high-pass filter on an EQ like H-EQ, gently roll off frequencies as far as 200 Hz, and perhaps add a low shelf cut for the 200-350 Hz range. You will notice the acoustic texture to begin to poke out of the mix much more clearly.

3. Use Sidechain Compression

A dense mix will contain track elements packed throughout the frequency spectrum. You can usually fit a maximum of two similar sounds within the same frequency range if you place one sound in the center of your stereo image, and the other out to the sides.

Most interesting mixes aren’t static, meaning sounds are often highlighted throughout a song. For example, you may want to include acoustic guitar plucks on every offbeat to add rhythm. However, what if the arrangement you’re working with already includes a lead vocal panned to the center of the stereo image, and backing vocals panned out to the sides?

If you duplicate and pan your plucked guitar out to the sides using a plugin like Doubler, it’s going to conflict with the backing vocals. You can apply a multiband sidechain compressor like the C6 Multiband Compressor to the backing vocals, and attenuate them within the conflicting frequency range each time your guitar plays.

Insert the C6 Multiband Compressor on the backing vocal track or bus. Engage a bell filter with a moderate bandwidth and set the band’s center frequency to the frequency in which you’d like your guitars to shine through. Set a short attack and release time, and then reduce the level of the band’s threshold until the backing vocals no longer conflict with the acoustic guitar plucks.

Want more quick mix fixes? Get tips on fixing muddy electric guitars.

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