Much of the contemporary music out there nowadays may be based on digital instruments created virtually in our DAWs. But, there's still plenty to be said for the hands-on approach of stringed instruments which dominated before computers digitalized music.
Even though their usage is less common these days, the acoustic, electric and bass guitars still have a very important role in shaping the sound of the current best-selling songs. So we're going to share some tricks when it comes to mixing these elements and explain why we decided to do it this way.
Let’s take the electric guitar for example. This instrument is used in many many genres out there, and in every genre, there is something significant about the guitar part that separates it from all the other genres. In jazz/blues music, the preference for the guitar is to have a clean, warm, and cozy tone that soothes the listener – in opposition to punk/rock where there are lots of distortion effects and fuzzes added.
For this reason, we cannot share one-size-fits-all audio mixing techniques and processes for this instrument because it sounds different from genre to genre. But what we are going to do instead is share some general information about these three instruments and how to improve them in your mix.
So let’s start! Click the chapters below to jump ahead.
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How to Mix Acoustic guitar
1. Get a natural recording
<br>Even though you can emulate the sound of acoustic guitar with virtual instruments, it is best when it is recorded with microphones. And in comparison to VSTi, the sound will be more natural when recorded. That leads us to the peak of this tip – record your guitar good right at the source.
When you have a great recorded acoustic guitar, you will just need to do minor technical changes in your DAW to get it to the right point. This leads us to the next tip.
2. Microphone placement
<br>Choosing a good micing and microphone placement technique is crucial when you need to record this instrument. When we say good micing, we mean using proper microphones for the purpose of this instrument and properly placing them in front of the guitar. Avoid setting a microphone to record directly at the soundhole – you will get too much boom from the body of it.
A microphone placement methods are useful here because you can get various outcomes when recording it. Also, try to have a good acoustic guitar for a recording and change the strings if needed (at least 10 days before recording).
Here are some good microphone placement techniques when recording:
Budget variation – Using one microphone. Both dynamic and condenser will work here, but if you have a condenser you will get more details in the signal. The best placement is right where the fretboard connects to the body of the guitar. Cardioid or Bi-directional polar pattern options for this one.
Two microphones – One aimed between the 8th and the 12th fret of the guitar, with at least 10 inches distance, and one microphone aimed right above the soundhole, pointed away from it.
Two condensers – Both pointed between the body and the fretboard of the guitar. One of them cardioid and the other one bi-directional or Figure 8 pattern. When recorded, you leave the cardioid pattern in the center. The Figure 8 recording: Duplicate track, switch polarity to the duplicated version, pan one of them hard left and the other hard right, and process them differently. Mix all three to your taste.
3. Equalization techniques
<br>When it comes to post mixing an acoustic guitar, in regards to equalization, try exposing the sweet spot of the guitar. Cut down a bit from the low end, but not too much to make it sound really thin and when it comes to higher frequencies, this instrument should sound clean and bright.
To really separate your recording from the other artists, try using Mid/Side EQ on it. Make a small boost in the mids at around 650Hz for a little fullness of the guitar and high shelf above 4.5kHz. This will give a nice vibe to it when listened to both in mono and in stereo.
4. Use compression
When we are at the point to add compression, we do it lightly and we do not over-compress it. We always let the initial transients go through and add a touch of compression at the tail of the signal to make it more consistent.
Because this is a nice acoustic and dynamic instrument, we always want to sound more natural in comparison to electric guitar or any other instrument. That’s why we add a little bit, just to even out the signal where it’s too quiet.
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How to Mix Electric Guitar
1. Double tracking and pre-amps
Working with electric guitars is totally different from acoustic ones. First and foremost, if you want to introduce a little bit of separation and if you have more than one electric guitar, record the takes separately with different guitars on each take.
Besides the regular double-tracking that you can do with one, doing it this way will add two different colors of electric guitars which can only compliment the track in whole. Apart from that, using two different preamps can help as well. Even if you have an acoustic-electric ukulele can do the job quite well to add a touch of difference if your track requires that.
2. Distortion and saturation
<br>When you are at the point to add more color to your electric guitar, you can do that with adding the classic distortion and saturation. Besides fattening the electric guitar up, will add more character to it, of course, if it suits your needs.
You should browse around for some good effect pedals for your guitar that can even add the analog feeling to the sound. In case you are not in a position to do it with pedals, you can always process the electric guitar in your DAW. There are multiple options that you can reach out for, but we always liked Guitar Rig from Native Instruments the most.
3. Add delay
<br>Another effect that you can reach for at this stage is the delay. Especially when it is in a slap-back mode. This will add more body to the guitar and more space to it. Adding a short trail of the main guitar behind it will certainly complement the final sound.
And where we have a delay, the reverb is not far behind. A touch of reverb can also give much-needed space to this instrument. You can go crazy with it and make it sound large (if the genre supports this) or you can just add a room-sized reverb to make it more intimate and in the same space with the drums of the song.
4. Use a denoiser plugin
<br>If your preamp or cabinet injects more noise than needed, you can always reach out to a denoiser plugin to sort that out. There are many out there, but we can point out the Z-Noise from Waves. They also have many other VST plugins for music productions that can do this in a different way.
Simple EQing might not help here, but you can also try that out. Unfortunately, when you compress the guitar, this might pop up even more and it might be counter-productive. That’s why it is best to take it out and trim it for quality purposes.
5. Parallel or NY syle compression
<br>One trick that you can reach out for the electric guitar part is parallel compression or NY style compression. This will create a duplicated sound of your main guitar where you can add compression and mix it in with the original.
You can go with duplicating the track, but we suggest going with FX/AUX track option and routing all the guitars that you need into one dedicated fader for effects. Here you can do the magic and go for hard compression on the guitar, where later you will mix it and inject it into the original sound of it. By doing this, you will keep the dynamics from the original take and add the sustain of the compressed track. Best of both worlds!
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How to Mix Bass Guitar
1. Sidechain compression
<br>If you are having any troubles with compatibility between the kick and the bass, the best option that you can reach out to is sidechain compression. If executed properly, every time the kick plays, the bass guitar will duck down in volume and leave the space for the kick, making enough space for both of the elements to be heard properly.
You can take this even a step higher and do it with multiband sidechaining compression, where you will focus the ducking to be on a specific problematic band of the bass, while the other frequencies remain intact. The choice will be up to you with which variation you want to go.
2. Consider different frequencies
<br>The bass guitar in this case brings two areas to the track. That is the sub frequencies and the upper region where the bass is also noticeable on small speakers. To do this properly, you can mix the guitar in two tracks, where on the one you will focus on the subby part and on the other – to the upper region.
Do not underestimate the upper frequencies of the bass. They give character to it and the signature picking transient (if that is your goal). So there is more than one benefit to mixing upper area and bringing it forth to be recognizable as well.
3. Add compression, saturation and distortion
When it comes to adding effects to the bass, one thing that you should not worry about is reverb and delay. The bass requires to be dry as it is and it is always panned to the center. By doing this, you will ensure the bass to be heard equally on both small and big speakers as well as on mono or stereo systems.
The effect the bass will benefit from most is the saturation/distortion (subtle) and compression to even it out. The saturation will add character and distortion might expose the upper region. The compression on the other hand is crucial to even out the bass notes. In combination with transient shaper, you will both have noticeable transients and sustained/equal tail on the bass notes.
<br>If you are after certain coloration and character of your bass, you can try to record it through an amplifier that will insert such a thing into the signal. The goal here is to make the bass grittier or rounder, by recording it directly through the amp or using a microphone to record it from the front speaker as well.
In case you are not having such luxury, you can reach out for amp simulation plugins that can emulate the sound of the amp. There are various options out there, that with simple tweaking of the knobs, you can get an actual warmth as from a real amp. To be truthful, it will always be a simulation, but if you cannot afford a high-quality bass amp, this is the best option that you can go for.
5. Reference tracking
<br>Bass sometimes can be hard to nail and it is a problem for new audio engineers, that’s why it is a good time now to reach out for your favorite track which sound you are after, and try to use it as a guideline for your song. This is called reference tracking and it is a widely known process, even for experienced mixers out there.
Besides the balance, this will also help you with the leveling with the other elements, the amount of sub that the bass will bring to the track, and also if you are having a hard time arranging it, a reference track might come in handy for this process as well. Do not consider this cheating, because it is a process that will help you out with your song, so do not hesitate to go for it!
Here are the tips that we decided to share with you in this article and we think that you will be able to find a spot where you can try some of them out. As we said, these are general rules that you can try out to all the genres, for the sole reason of improving your instrument.
Always trust your ears when it comes to mixing, no matter the instrument or genre. Do it when you have well-rested ears and believe your choice. Always double-check your mix on several systems to ensure that everywhere sounds good. And if these instruments were the problem, focus on them when listening, so when/if you notice something to go back to the mix and fix it.
Thanks again for checking our latest mixing tips post and if you are having any questions, do not hesitate to shoot them in the comment section! Happy mixing y’all!
Toshe from Mixing Tips is the admin and content creator for The Mixing Tips and account manager of the Instagram page. With over 15 years working in the audio engineering world, he decided to expand the horizon and help newcomers with some great tips and guides on how to improve their music production and especially mixing.