While working as an engineer in Nashville, I spent a lot of time miking and recording acoustic guitars. Despite the steadily improving pickup systems being installed in acoustic guitars, I still believe that there is no substitute for a well-placed condenser microphone (or microphones) when it comes to capturing the warmth, body and air of an acoustic guitar.
However, as with all acoustic instruments, it’s a challenge to properly sit one in a mix and preserve its texture and character while also blending it with the other instruments. There are a couple of approaches to compression and EQ that will go a long way towards solving this problem.
Acoustic Guitar Compression On The Way In
When compressing acoustic guitar on the way into my DAW, I find it’s better to be a bit more aggressive with attack and release settings than you would with a lead vocal.
I’ll use the more of a medium fast attack (approximately 22 ms) and release (approximately 500 ms) on a hardware compressor with a ratio of 3:1 and then play with the threshold knob until, again, the gain is attenuated by about -3 dB.
Acoustic Guitar Compression In The Mix
At this point, it’s a good idea to base your compression settings on the kind of a mix you’re doing. If it’s a simple acoustic guitar and vocal recording, it’s entirely possible to leave off all compression on the acoustic.
However, if it’s a full band mix and I want to make sure you can hear the acoustic strumming or finger picking clearly among the other instruments, I’ll use a compression plugin (like Metric Halo Channel Strip) and compress a bit more aggressively: 16 ms attack and 160 ms release with a ration of 3.5:1. Take a peek at my settings.