June 6, 2024 by Nick Messitte

How to EQ acoustic guitar in a mix

Discover essential tips and techniques for EQing acoustic guitars. Learn how to enhance your guitar's tone, achieve a balanced mix, and bring out the best in your acoustic sound.

Do you have problems putting acoustic guitars into your productions? Are you not getting the sounds you want out of acoustic guitars in your mix? Are they too honky, too boomy, too brittle? Too mushy or too aggressive? Does nothing you try seem to work?

Believe me, you’re not alone. When you’re starting out, acoustic instruments are hard to get right. Something about a real-life, unamplified instrument seems to reveal everything you do to it, so you have to be subtle, careful, and determined. 

Indeed, your problems might just be that you’re attempting to do too much

In this article, we’re going to share how to EQ acoustic guitars in your mix, and when to EQ acoustic guitars. Hopefully, reading this will help you get to the sound in your head more quickly. 

Follow along with Ozone 11 EQ, a powerful, free EQ plugin that can help you sculpt your sound.

We will also be using several EQs from Plugin Alliance

Get Ozone EQ free      Explore Plugin Alliance EQs

Why should you EQ acoustic guitar in a mix?

This is a deceptively simple question. Perhaps we should word it thus: “do you even need to EQ the acoustic guitar in your mix?” 

The answer, of course, is no. You don’t need to do anything in life besides die and pay your taxes. And, when it comes to instruments like the acoustic guitar, the less you do the better, because acoustic instruments always bear the stamp of any processing you apply to them. They are unforgiving in this regard.

Nevertheless, EQ can be your friend when used well. Acoustic guitars carry all sorts of frequencies that might be unfavorable to your goals. They can be boxy in the low mids. They can be overly aggressive in the pick-noise department, fighting with your hi-hats for rhythmic prowess. EQ can help with all of these issues. The trick lies in using the right EQs with the right settings.

Using the right tools

We’re going to use a few different EQs when learning about acoustic guitar EQ. But I’d like to call your attention to four of them. Two are found in channel strips, one is a mastering-grade EQ with transient/sustain functionality, and the other is a combination saturator/EQ that works quite well for broad coloration. 

Consider limiting yourself to these four tools when getting started, and think of each one as executing a specific function.

For the purposes of showing off these EQs, I’ll use the following acoustic guitar example:

Acoustic guitar

Lindell Audio 80 Series

Modeling a classic British console strip, the Lindell 80 sounds great in the pursuit of a full and luxurious sound. It only has one midband control, but that’s not a drawback: simplicity and a specific harmonic color make this plug-in a go-to for achieving a warm, yet present sound.

Acoustic guitar

Lindell 80 EQ on acoustic guitar


Lindell 80 on acoustic guitar

Brainworx bx_console SSL Console 9000 J

Any of the brainworx SSL consoles will work for EQing acoustic guitar, so no worries if you’ve only got the 4000s. I’m choosing the Brainworx bx_console SSL Console 9000 J because it is arguably the most mellow one.  

Still, using SSL EQ on an acoustic guitar is all about adding a bit of aggression to the sound. If you want your acoustic to be pronounced, pointed, and focused – to function rhythmically rather than as a warm sonic bed – the EQ in the SSL 9000 J is a fantastic tool for the job.

Acoustic guitar

bx_console SSL 9000 J EQ on acoustic guitar


bx_console SSL 9000 J acoustic guitar

Ozone EQ

The Ozone 11 mastering-grade EQ is free, and is perfect for use on acoustic guitars when you need a transparent parametric EQ to make surgical adjustments. The transient/sustain modes can also be useful for tamping down some harshness in the high ranges without affecting the tonal balance too much.

Acoustic guitar

Ozone 11 EQ in T/S mode on acoustic guitar

Maor Appelbaum Mastering & Hendyamps THE OVEN

Maor Appelbaum Mastering & Hendyamps THE OVEN’s combination EQ/saturator is a wonderful tool for gently shaping acoustic guitars, either to beef them up, or to add a little top-end sheen without overdoing it.

Acoustic guitar

The Oven EQ on acoustic guitar


The Oven on acoustic guitar

Use these four tools to get closer to the sound in your head as we move along.

Now, before we talk about EQ methodologies, let’s ask another essential question.

What is the EQ range for acoustic guitars?

Depending on the tuning, the low E string of an acoustic guitar sounds at around 82 hz, while the 12th fret of the high E string plays around 659 Hz. 

You’ve usually got a few more frets than 12 before you run out of fingerboard, so you can estimate that a typical acoustic guitar gives off something around 1 kHz for the highest fundamental, depending on your tuning and the number of frets. 

Does this mean you should high-pass around 80 and low-pass above 1 kHz? Absolutely not! 

For one thing, guitars have overtones, and these go well above 1 kHz. If they didn’t have overtones they’d just be sine waves – and nothing besides a sine wave is a sine wave.

For another, acoustic guitars are typically recorded in a room using microphones. The room has its own frequency response going all the way from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. If the musician played their instrument in a fantastically famous room, you’re doing a disservice by automatically cutting that glorious room out of the sound.

Some people do use a DI on acoustic guitars (a “direct injection” by means of a built-in pickup), but even so, you’ll find information well above 10 kHz. 

Here’s a DI’d nylon string acoustic:

DI'd acoustic guitar

And here’s a spectrum analyzer on it.


Ozone Spectrum Analyzer on DI acoustic guitar

There’s information well above 10 kHz – so do avoid cutting it out!

How to EQ acoustic guitar in a mix

And now, the answer to your burning questions: how do you mix an acoustic guitar in a song? What are the right EQ settings for acoustic guitars in your mix?

And of course the stock answer: there’s no one right way to mix an acoustic guitar. Not when you have so many variables, such as:

What kind of acoustic guitar are we talking about?

Are we talking about a steel-string guitar, or a nylon-string classical? Even among the two broad categories you find specificities. Steel strings have their own subgenres (parlor, dreadnought, orchestra, etc). Different materials influence the sound as well. Don’t believe me? Google “Ovation” guitars. 

The same goes for nylon strings too, by the way. A flamenco guitar will sound different to something made for traditional classic fare. 

This is one reason you can’t make generalizations.

How was the guitar recorded?

Was the guitar recorded in a nice room, or does the track require de-noising because the room had a big ol’ air conditioner blowing away? Did the artist just plug their guitar DI’d into an interface? Recently I did a record where we got both DI and mics on the acoustics. So, there were a lot of options. All these factors change your approach, and of course, it goes deeper: 

Was the acoustic guitar miked more towards the soundhole, or right where the neck meets the strings? How many microphones were used? What kind of pickup is the DI? 

The answer to these questions also have an impact: if you’ve got multiple mics, changing volume, panning, and polarity on any of the tracks will have a drastic effect on the tonal signature. Likewise, different DIs will require different mixing techniques.

What’s going on in the song? 

What kind of song are you working with? How dense is the arrangement? How many acoustic guitar parts are there? Do you have multiple people playing multiple acoustics – and do they need to sound distinct and recognizable? Or do they need to cohere into one single mass? 

You can’t EQ in a vacuum. Every move responds to the context of the mix. So, let the song dictate your choices. Pay attention to the why of it all. 

What is the function of the guitar part?

Some acoustic guitars are the primary instrument in a song. Others are meant to double another instrument, providing texture to a specific part. Others, still, carry a more rhythmic purpose; maybe we don’t need to hear the notes so much as feel the strumming. 

Consider the function of your acoustic guitar in an arrangement before you make decisions, and you won’t find yourself chasing your tail.

How was the guitar played?

Did the musician use a pick, their fingers, finger picks, or a pick and their fingers? Did they position their right hand closer to the bridge or closer to the neck? Did they play well, or badly? 

All of these things influence your EQ decisions too!

With this in mind, let’s move on to some examples of how to mix guitars in a real world context.

Examples of acoustic guitars in a real-world mix

I recently mixed a record for a band called Ari and The Buffalo Kings. They’re primarily an acoustic band, so their music makes for fantastic real-world examples. Let’s examine three songs on their album and go into how I EQ’d the acoustic guitars for each one of them.

1. EQing acoustic guitar as a textural element

In this song “In the all together,” the acoustic guitar is a textural element – one that’s doubled by ukuleles and bass figures. Watch what we do to get them to sit right in the mix:

2. EQing rhythmic acoustic guitar

In “Swimming on a dream” we have a classical guitar functioning more like a rhythmic part than a harmonic one. Observe how we use polarity and subtle EQ moves to fit it into the mix.

3. EQing acoustic guitar when its the main chordal instrument

And lastly in “Trick of the mind” we have a rolling fingerstyle ballad where the guitar is our main chordal instrument. Let’s show off how to EQ guitars for a mix like this.

Start getting a clean, clear acoustic guitar sound with EQ

If there’s anything to take away from this article, it’s this: use the subtlest hand you can get away with. The less goes onto an acoustic guitar the better. Yes, you might need to correct frequency issues or pick problems, but that’s the exception rather than the rule: it’s always better to keep an acoustic guitar as natural as possible, unless you’re pointedly doing something weird.

Hopefully these examples, these tips, and these tools will help you on your journey in mixing acoustic guitars. Experiment with some of these techniques using Ozone EQ. 

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