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How to Mix Acoustic Guitar: Keep It Simple

The acoustic guitar is a versatile and dynamic instrument that can add a great rhythm section or bright melody to any track or production.

However, getting it to fit into a detailed mix or even getting a solid sound from the get-go can be tough. Here in this article, we will show you how to mix your acoustic guitar sound to cut right through your banger track in the making! 

SIDENOTE: For this tutorial, we will be using Ableton Live with stock effects and plugins. The basic audio effects in Ableton Live will get you surprisingly far, which we will discover through this article. 

The Samples

The samples we will be using in this tutorial were downloaded for free from the Cambridge Music Technology Multitrack Library. The first sample is a picked guitar melody and the second is a strummed chord part. 

Picked Guitar
Strummed Guitar

We will be getting these examples to sound like this with some simple steps

Picked Guitar Processed
Strummed Guitar Processed 

Sounds great right? Let’s start with mixing the picked guitar first.

How to Mix Acoustic Guitar

Picked Guitar 


As usual, arguably the most important tool of all, EQ is the first thing to use here. With this first EQ, we will be focusing on subtractive work, which means no boosting the EQ anywhere (yet!). 

Starting with the picked guitar sample, we immediately want to get rid of any low rumble from the sound of the pick or the body of the guitar, which means a high pass around 100hz. This is a great rule of thumb for any acoustic guitar recording.


Next, we want to listen out for any other low frequencies that may clash with other aspects of our mix. There is a slight bit of mud around the 200hz to 300hz region, so I’ve added a wide but small cut to this area. 

low frequencies sound

With mixing, it’s always important to consider the context of what you are doing. For example, this guitar part is played quite high up the range of the instrument, so you may not want too much low end in your final sound, as it is quite likely other instruments will fill this frequency range in the track. 

Picked guitar parts are usually all about the melody, that is what we want to come through in the production and mix. 

With the final bit of subtractive EQ, we make a slight cut around 1 kHz to take away a bit of the tinny sound that is now present on this sample after the rest of the choices so far.

subtractive EQ 1

Before we go any further, here is the sample with and without subtractive EQ:

Picked Guitar without EQ
Picked Guitar with EQ

Already, we can hear that the sound is a lot more controlled, with the unnecessary low end gone and more focus on the bright sparkly end of the sound. 

In general, it is a good idea to do subtractive EQ first before anything else, as you are removing unwanted frequencies before they get put through a compressor or any other effects. Getting the sound right from the beginning of the mixing process is the key. 


The next step is to compress the guitar. We don’t want to make the guitar sound squashed and lifeless, but evening out the dynamics of the picking could help in getting a part like this to stand out in your mix. 

A gain reduction between -1 and -3, a ratio of around 3:1 and a knee around 8-db are good targets for picked guitar, as this will strike a good balance of the natural sound of the guitar and the compression. 


The attack settings for this kind of sound should be quite fast so that the compressor catches the transients of the picking. For this sound, my attack is set at 7ms. 

The release is set at 146ms, which I set by using the visual aid on the stock Ableton compressor to help me.

The release of the compressor should be in time with the music, almost “breathing” in time with it. The visual aid on the compressor is very useful for achieving this result.

guitar with compression

Now, let’s listen to the guitar with compression:   

Picked Guitar
Picked Guitar with compression

The sound is subtly tighter and more controlled, which would help hugely in a possibly dense mix.

It isn’t always necessary to compress the guitar, as you may have a sparse production where the guitar is consistently audible throughout the track. For this tutorial though, we are working with the idea that the samples are in a full mix.  

More EQ? 

With the picked guitar now sounding tight and controlled yet still dynamic, now is a good time to make some boosts with an EQ. Less is more with boosting, especially in the case of this sample as it is well recorded and from my view, it doesn’t need a lot added to it. 

Slight and wide boosts are very common with EQ’ing guitar in the mids, and I have used one myself here in the 2 kHz range at around 2db.

I have also put a low pass at around 11 kHz to deal with some slightly piercing brightness from the sound, but that is a little bit of a personal preference. 

More EQ

Let’s compare the original sound, with our processed result:

Picked Guitar
Picked Guitar with processing

I haven’t done that much to this guitar sound. This is for two reasons: firstly, this guitar has been recorded and played to a very good standard. Which is possibly the most important thing, and saves you a lot of work in the mixing process. 

Secondly, it can be tempting to boost a lot of frequencies on the EQ or overcompress. But if it sounds good as it is, do you need to add more? Sometimes the hardest thing to do in mixing is to leave something alone. 

Simplicity and context are key. Solve problems that arise from the original recording and other instruments in your mix.

If you are finding yourself making extensive effect chains to get a sound that works, you may want to rethink the sound at the source and get a different recording or sample.

In conclusion, what we have done here is tightened and controlled the sound to better sit in a mix, without losing what was good about the recording in the first place. Let’s move on to mixing the strummed guitar and then some additional effects after that! 

Strummed Guitar 

You guessed it, EQ 

Once again, we’re using subtractive EQ to start. Similar to last time, a high pass at around 100 hz and a slightly wide cut in the muddy region of around 200 hz.

The mids and high mids don’t need any cuts on this sample, so leaving them alone right now is the best course of action. 

You guessed it EQ
Strummed guitar without EQ
Strummed guitar with EQ

Just like the picked guitar, the EQ cuts get rid of any unwanted low rumbles and mud. Switching the focus to the midrange of the instrument. 


Since the guitar is strummed this time, our compression settings are going to be slightly different. We want the strums of the chords to come through the compressor without losing the transients, and we want the snappiness of the rhythm to also not be lost in the compression. 


A medium attack time of around 50ms, a slow to medium release of 27ms with a slightly higher ratio of 4:1 and a knee of 7db is what I’ve used on this sample. Heavier compression for strumming can help the sound and rhythm stay consistent in the mix. 

The visual aid on the stock Ableton compressor was useful again in finding the right release time for the timing of the playing.

Compression 1 1
Strummed guitar
Strummed guitar with Compression

The compression has evened out the strumming, making it easier to stand out in a mix and maintain a consistent volume. The dynamics of the strumming are still present with this light compression, which is important so you can still feel the rhythm of the playing. 

Final EQ 

Compared to the picked guitar sample, there’s a lot of room for some mid and high boosts. I’ve boosted 3DB widely at 10 kHz and 2 kHz to give the guitar some of the midrange presence that it’s missing in the recording.

Final EQ

Let’s listen to the final result compared with the original recording 

Strummed Guitar
Strummed Guitar with processing

Now that we have our strummed guitar quite polished, let’s move on to the additional effects section article, which could apply to both of the samples used in this article. 

Additional Effects 

After establishing a solid sound with EQ and compression on both sounds, we can now experiment with some additional effects to get some more interesting guitar sounds. Here are some possible ideas to get creative with! 

Reverb and Delay 

Reverb and delay are incredibly useful in giving an atmosphere to a production. Guitars can benefit from having delays that accentuate their rhythms or reverbs that give a huge sense of space to their melodies or solos. 

Here are some examples of delay and reverb used on the two samples with the settings below 

Picked Guitar
Strummed Guitar
Reverb and Delay

Less is more with delay and reverb, EQ the effects accordingly and try to put them on buses and sends for your sounds so that they don’t lose their presence and sound washed out. 

EQ the effects accordingly


The stock Ableton saturator is a great way to add some subtle distortion to get the midrange to pop on instruments such as the guitar.

As is usual with effects, less is more. Distorting a sound will add new harmonics and frequencies to it, so put an EQ after the saturator to take out any unwanted frequencies. 

Strummed Guitar Distorted

The saturator has given the guitar a bit of a pop-rock feel, making it a bit livelier and easier to cut through a mix. I’ve added an EQ for a high pass and low cut as the distortion added some low frequencies into the sound. 

pop rock feel

Flanger or Chorus

Chorus and flanger are great ways to add interesting textures to a sound, as they add modulation to the pitch and can play with the stereo effect. 

Picked Guitar With Chorus
Strummed Guitar With Flanger

The picked guitar has a completely different tonal quality and is a lot wider in the stereo field, whereas the strummed guitar now has a warm and modulated sound. Get creative with these kinds of effects to get some original textures and sounds with acoustic guitar! 


Panning guitar in the right and left speaker is a great way to give your mix a sense of space and stereo spread.

Experiment with how far you want it on either side, I personally go for around 35. However, be sure to mix your guitar in mono first so that you can get a good idea of how it fits into the rest of the mix without panning. 

Keep It Simple 

EQ and compression are your best friends, in mixing acoustic guitar and mixing in general. It doesn’t need to be complicated usually with how you use them, and if it does then you may need to rethink your sound choices or your mix. 

Additional effects can help your acoustic guitar have a unique edge in your mixes and productions, but ultimately getting the foundation right with EQ and compression is how you mix acoustic guitar. You can also check out SplitEQ Review – it allows you to boost and cut the full frequency range separately.

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