How to Mix Acoustic Guitar (Indie Rock)

Transcript:

Hey, Matt Weiss — theproaudiofiles.com, weiss-sound.com. And today we’re going to be looking at some acoustic guitars. Now, I have a record here, it is called Borrowed Hearts. it is by Hezekiah Jones and it was part of the weathervane project, which is run and managed by my friend Brian McTier, over at Miner Street Studios. Amazing studio, particularly for indie rock, or really any kind of acoustic sound. Fantastic studio, I really recommend it. We have this:

[unmixed song]

Sounds pretty nice, but we want to get it to here:

[mixed song]

Okay, so how do we do that? Well, there’s a lot that goes into a mix. And for this little tutorial, I’m just gonna show you what I’m doing with the guitar. The acoustic guitar in this is extremely important. It is the backbeat of the entire song. It plays throughout. And in parts, it’s really the arrangement is as stripped down as vocals, acoustic guitar, drums. That’s it. And then a bass comes in. And then there’s some ear candy stuff that comes in later. But if we don’t get the acoustic guitars right, the whole record is just not going to work.

So before even treating anything, I have to make a decision. What kind of sound am I going for? Am I going for something that’s bright and poppy? Am I going for something that’s dirty and vintagey? Am I going for something in the middle? Am I reconciling both? I kind of feel like in this song I’m reconciling both. I want it to sound modern, but I want to have the qualities of analog recordings to still be in there. The things that we like about the analog recordings let’s keep. The things that we don’t like let’s try not to have.

So bearing that in mind, we have to use a little bit of judgement. Let’s start with this acoustic.

[acoustic guitar playing]

That’s a good sounding acoustic. I don’t know how John tracked it, I have a few methods that I like, but whatever he did, he did it right. There are a couple of things that stick out to me as things to consider. The first is that in terms of a modern recording, it’s a little bit on the duller side. But not much. Then there’s also sort of a ringy kind of tone that’s in there, and the low end is a little bit loose maybe.

[acoustic guitar playing]

Let’s loop this up. You hear that “ahhh” kind of tone that’s coming out. If we were going for an earthy organic feel we might leave that in. If we’re going for a more polished type of sound we’re probably going to want to take that out. And here’s why. Our ear can only hear so much at the same time. If we can take that out it’s going to enhance both the strum and the body and fundamental tone of the guitar. So I think I am going to do that. And here’s what I do with it.

[guitar]

Okay so first let’s find the tone. It sounds pretty close to a test tone to me, so I’m thinking it’s gonna be somewhere around 1k, but by boosting this narrow frequency, and kind of knowing what I want to hear, you gotta know what you want to hear. By knowing that I know when it jumps out at me, that’s what I want to get rid of.

[acoustic guitar]

So with taking out a tone like that, you generally want as narrow of a frequency as possible to get rid of the whole tone. This is a little wider than some resonances, but it’s not as wide as I’ve got the Q set right now.

[acoustic guitar]

Nice. Alright, so next step fairly easy.

[guitar playing]

All I’m doing is I’m boosting up a little bit of that strum. The attack of this is going to become very important because not only is the acoustic guitar providing the melody and melodic bed, but it’s also providing the rhythmic bed “dum dum, dum dum dum.” If we don’t have that rhythm, we’re gonna lose the drive of the sound. So through all of this we’re going to be trying to bring that up in as nice of a way as possible.

[acoustic guitar playing]

And just tighten up some low end.

[acoustic guitar playing]

I’m just rolling out, there’s a little bit of extra rumble down there, and there’s a little bit — like I don’t really need all of the bass in this acoustic guitar, I mean it’s nice to have that very rounded sound, but there’s gonna be a bass in there, there’s a kick drum in there. I can take a little bit of the bass down and it’s okay. Especially if it’ll help focus in on that body and that strum.

Next step: compression. This is the Kush Audio UBK-1. Compression and acoustic guitars are kind of like rats and rabbits on the Chinese zodiac. They’re not enemies but they’re not necessarily friends. So let’s go over my process for doing this. Now you’re going to hear a huge volume difference, and it’s because that’s what compression kind of does. It makes things appear louder.

So there’s a trade off there. If I was going for a natural sound, that would be too much. Like I screwed the pooch on that one. But I’m not necessarily going for a natural sound. What I want to do is I want to enhance the musically of what’s happening. Which means I need to bring up both the color of the acoustic guitar and the body of the acoustic guitar, and retain as much of the strum of the acoustic guitar as possible.

[acoustic guitar strumming]

The UBK-1 is divided into three separate plugins basically. A saturation section, a compression section and a density section. Saturation is basically going to add color.

[acoustic guitar strum]

So what I’m doing — everything has a parallel knob. So I’m actually blending in the amount of color that I want. Let’s turn it down just a touch.

[acoustic guitar strum]

I still want it to feel like the original recording, but I don’t want it to — I want it to come a little bit more alive, a little more colored.

[acoustic guitar strum]

So in the compression section — what’s tough about this is there’s a number of curves to the compressions: splat, smooth, glue, squish and crush. And it’s really hard to tell which one is going to be best. In this particular instance I’m using the crush one, which I think was designed for making drums really sound like super pumpy and choppy. It’s a really cool and very colored setting. What’s happening is there’s a very short kind of release that has some — because of the release timing, there’s a little bit of this kind of distortion effect. And also the length of the attack actually brings the strumming out. And that’s what I really liked about this.

[acoustic guitar strum]

You get a little bit of extra bite on the attack of the guitar. Which is good because I want to bring up the sustain but I also want the attack to be really present. And those are almost conflicting ideas. So the crush setting really worked here.

[acoustic guitar]

The density setting I think is the coolest setting on this thing. It either works or it doesn’t. And I love it when things either work or don’t because then I don’t have to think too hard. In this particular case, it’s really bringing the top end of the guitar to life. It’s sort of like a multiband compressor. The treble range — because of how it’s set — is just becoming a lot more dense as the density knob would indicate.

[music]

Now the body — the color of the sustain in particular — has really come to life using this. And that’s what I wanted to do with this. I do think that just because this is a rhythmic driving element, a little bit of transient enhancement — and I’m not really doing much — I’m doing about 3 decibels here. And that’s fairly moderate duration: about 30 milliseconds on how long it stay active and about 40 milliseconds on how long it takes to decay.

[music]

And that’s how I get my acoustic guitar sound for this record.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
Smiley face
Recommended