The Acoustic Guitar In The Mix, Part 2

In a previous article on the acoustic guitar in the mix we looked at compression and
equalization. In this one we will look at panning, volume and the use of effects.

Panning

The position in the stereo field for your acoustic guitar should vary depending on
the style of music, the number of instruments and the prominence you want it to
have. In a heavily crowded mix you will probably want the guitar to occupy a narrow
space so that it can cut through without interferring with the other instruments or
vocals. Perhaps pan it at around 9-10 o'clock on the left, or alternatively 2-3
o'clock on the right hand side. Sometimes I like to pan two mics one hardish left,
and one hardish right for a nice stereo spread of the guitar, but this is not such a
good idea if you have other guitars or instruments in the same sonic range in the
mix, as it can tend to muddy things up too much, and make for less clarity. Remember
it is important that every instrument occupies it's own space without treading on
the toes of the others. Hmm, since when did instruments have toes? Oh well, you know what I mean!

You could though, experiment with the two panned mics theory, but have
them panned more closely together, but with still a little spread to give a fatter
sound. If one mic is louder than the other, the sound will tend to pull towards that
mic in the stereo image, but it will still sound wider than if there was no panning
between them. If one mic has a bassier sound than the other, you can use the volumes to control the overall tone that the listener picks up when hearing a combination of the two mics. Try to avoid hard panning any instrument to one side, unless you have a very good reason to do so. It's generally best to retain some of each instrument's sound in both speakers. On the other hand, unless it is a lead instrument, avoid placing the guitar in the center as well, because this will tend to interfere with any lead instrument or vocal.

Volume

We have already discussed volume a bit here, but I would just like to add that the
perceived volume will be shaped not only by the level of the fader, but by the
interaction of all these factors: equalization, compression, panning and the level
of effects such as reverb and delays, which is the next thing I will touch on here.
If you find you are having to bring the fader right up to get the guitar heard in
the mix, try looking at these other factors to see why that is.

The Use of Effects

There are a number of different special effects that can be added to guitar sounds,
but I will mainly just deal briefly here with reverbs, delays and chorus effects.

Reverb

Reverb would be the most commonly used effect. There are plenty of different reverb
types available that you can use on acoustic guitar. I usually like to go for a
combination of two reverbs, or a reverb and delay combination.There are no hard and
fast rules. Really it all depends on the song in question as to how much reverb and
what type of reverb to use.

Maybe start with a shortish reverb with about 1.2 seconds or so, with just a little in
the mix and then add a plate or large hall reverb with a time of between 2.5 and
3 seconds to thicken and smoothen the sound up a bit. Don't overdo the amount of reverb as the guitar will sound too far away and indistinct. You can even try panning the reverb a bit away from the main guitar sound if you want.

Delay

A delay timed to the track can work really nicely, especially on a lead acoustic
part in combination with a good reverb. Timing the delay to the track is important
for it to sound smooth but unobtrusive. Avoid too much delay feedback though and
don't overdo the amount of the overall effect, as once again it will tend to make the
guitar sound too far away in the mix. I almost always pan my delays some distance
away from the main guitar sound, particularly if there is a heavy reverb, and this
helps create a sense of space without the wash that can occur otherwise.

Chorus

The subtle use of chorusing effects can help make the guitar sound as if its
doubled, or even kind of simulate a pseudo 12 string sound when applied to a 6
string guitar. For a doubled chorusy sound, keep the speed fairly quick, heaps of
depth but little feedback. For a 12 string effect, slow the speed down a tad, use a
bit less depth and a bit more pitch feedback.

Once again, don't overdo the overall chorus effect if you want the guitar to still
sound natural.

Well there you have it. A quick overview of the acoustic guitar in the mix. Just
remember when using effects don't overdo it. Use compression judiciously, pan within
a wide V rather than hard left or right,use EQ wisely and begin asking questions if
you have to push the fader up too far in order to get a strong sound.

Tony Koretz is a musician, singer, songwriter and audio engineer, based in New Zealand. He is involved in all aspects of music production, from writing and playing music to recording, mixing and mastering.

He runs Rocksure Soundz Ltd, a recording and production company.

Tony Koretz

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