RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
Whether you’re playing through a coffee house PA, in a world-class recording studio, or anywhere else, really, one of the biggest challenges in music is how to EQ acoustic guitar.
So how do you EQ an acoustic guitar?
The best way to EQ acoustic guitar is to start by cutting the lowest frequencies, boosting the lower mids for warmth or the upper mids for presence and watching for harshness in the highest frequencies. Acoustic guitars produce a wide frequency range, which can be hard to reproduce through microphones or pickups.
The exact path you take depends on a lot of different things, from whether you’re mixing a live performance or a recording to whether you’re working with a solo acoustic guitar or a larger band.
Let’s take a look at some of the EQ settings you should choose for acoustic guitars and what influences those choices.
What Is EQ?
EQ, short for equalization, is the way certain frequency ranges are adjusted. You can use a wide variety of different methods to EQ a track, and you should normally choose more than one.
There are a wide range of EQ systems out there to choose from, and the decision can get quite complex at times.
Broadly speaking though, there are graphic EQ systems, which usually have a number of frequency ranges you can adjust; parametric EQ systems, which allow you to target a single frequency range, including adjusting the size of the range; and filter EQ systems, which let certain frequencies pass through and block others.
No matter what system you end up with, though, the goal is the same: to reduce frequencies that cause unpleasant sounds and boost ones that make your mix sound better.
To start down that road, you have to understand the kind of sounds the acoustic guitar can produce.
Frequency Range For Acoustic Guitar
The acoustic guitar’s tone spans the frequency spectrum more than most instruments. Its fundamental frequencies mostly sit between 100 Hz and 500 Hz, but it can produce tones and overtones that extend all the way up to 15 kHz to 20 kHz, which is the very edge of human hearing.
The tones and overtones become especially apparent when it is strummed with a pick.
That’s one reason an acoustic guitar can accompany vocals on its own, and still sound like nothing is missing — the broad frequency range fills in for the role of a lot of other instruments.
This video demonstrates a tablet app that works as a spectrum analyzer and shows the range of frequencies, a guitar can produce, including overtones.
Let’s take a look at the different categories of frequencies and how they can affect tone.
- Super Lows, 20 Hz to 60 Hz: This is the range you feel as much or more than hear. You probably want to get rid of these frequencies, which can make a guitar part sound too dark and rumbling.
- Lows, 60 Hz to 250 Hz: The bass frequencies can give your guitar a booming authority or make it a muddy mess, depending on how far you push it.
- Low Mids, 250 Hz to 2 kHz: Guitar is a midrange instrument, so many of your adjustments will happen here. Tweaks to this range of frequencies can do everything from enhancing warmth to giving single-note lines a nasal, honk-like tone.
- High Mids, 2 kHz to 4 kHz: Adjustments to this part of the frequency spectrum will emphasize the attack of picking and highlight bright, sharp sounds. That could be good or bad — think of how the sound of a pick on guitar strings can enhance or ruin a solo, depending on context.
- Highs, 4 kHz to 6 kHz: Also known as presence, adjustments to this range can affect how clear and how close a sound seems in a mix. Push it too far and you can end up with a harsh sound, though.
- Super Highs, 6 kHz to 20 kHz: Adjustments to this range can make the very highest notes seem to sparkle and shimmer. Be careful not to take it too far, though, or you’ll risk clipping and shrillness.
EQ Settings For Acoustic Guitar
The broad frequency range a guitar can produce is normally an advantage.
But as with most things, you can have too many frequencies, especially if they’re competing with each other rather than working together. That’s where EQ settings come in.
Let’s look at some:
Super Lows and Lows, 20 Hz to 250 Hz
If a tune is using the acoustic guitar to provide pretty much all the instrumental tone and structure, consider a boost in the 100 Hz to 300 Hz range.
This really highlights the lovely warm tone of the acoustic guitar, and it’s criminally underused in my opinion. It produces a warm, bassy sound that anchors the accompaniment, and can interact beautifully with vocals too.
You need to consider the arrangement, though. Too much competition in this range will lead to a muddy and messy-sounding mix.
If you’re playing with bass, drums, and other rhythm instruments like electric guitar and piano, you will want to cut this range in your acoustic tracks.
Mid Lows and Mid Highs, 500 Hz to 4 kHz
Another way to increase warmth for an acoustic guitar is to boost the 500 Hz to 1 kHz range.
If you’re cutting in the 100 Hz to 300 Hz range to make room for other instruments, try a boost in the 500 Hz to 1 kHz range to add acoustic mid tone. When choosing where in the range to boost be careful not to center it too close to the low end of the range.
Too much boost around 500 Hz can make an acoustic guitar sound boxy or even flabby.
You can also boost the 1 kHz to 2.5 kHz range, but you have a limited range. A little boost in this range can add an incredible amount of presence in just about any instrument.
Usually, though, the acoustic guitar is used for accompaniment rather than as a lead, and this range is cut so it doesn’t overpower other parts of the mix. If the acoustic guitar has a lead section, or a section where it’s given the “center stage” try a slight boost here.
Again, be careful about boosting too much. The same frequency range can add a honk-like tone to a guitar, and that might emphasize the “quacking” tone some acoustic guitar bridge pickups can have.
The 2.5 kHz to 4 kHz range can also be tricky. A lot of the unpleasant aspects of the acoustic guitar’s sound tend to group here, including harsh strumming textures, handling noise, string noise, bumps, and clicks. I think you should nearly always cut here.
If the acoustic is very high quality, has great strings, is being played finger-style, and is miked up just right, this area may sound great, though. That’s what I meant above about there not being just one way to EQ an acoustic guitar.
Highs and Super Highs, 4 kHz to 20 kHz
The very top end, the 4 kHz to 20 kHz range, is very airy and textured and percussive. This is the area where the acoustic gets its shimmer and brilliance. Too much boost here can cause clipping, though, so be cautious when choosing your settings.
Best EQ For Acoustic Guitar
When you’re deciding what the best EQ for an acoustic guitar part might be, you have to start in the same place, no matter what — thinking about the instrument’s role in the track.
A lot of this will depend on the arrangement, regardless of whether you are in a live or studio context. Is acoustic guitar just one rhythm instrument?
That is: do you have bass, other instruments, and percussion? Or is acoustic guitar filling all those roles too?
Some bands use acoustic guitar as a third guitar, with a lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist and a singer playing another rhythm part on an acoustic. Some switch an acoustic in and out.
Plenty of times, you’ll be dealing with just one person or possibly two, with guitar and vocal duties. And sometimes you’ll even have an acoustic guitar as the main — or even only! — instrument.
For a great example of that, listen to anything by the legendary Leo Kottke. This video shows him performing a medley sometime in the 1980s.
Your EQ decisions are going to be driven in large part by the song. If it’s a solo acoustic piece, you’ll want to emphasize the full range of frequencies available, with cuts as needed to eliminate harshness.
If it’s playing rhythm, you’ll want to boost the Mid Lows to up the warmth, and if it’s in a band setting, you should probably cut as much of the Super Lows and Lows out as you can to avoid sounding muddy and confused.
How to EQ Acoustic Guitar Live
Acoustic guitars present an interesting challenge to EQ live.
The whole point of an acoustic instrument is that it naturally projects, but it doesn’t project enough for most live environments beyond very small rooms, so technology has to step in to bridge the gap. There are two common ways to do this: plugging an acoustic-electric guitar into a PA or amp, or miking the guitar.
The type of amplification used affects the guitar’s tone, and therefore affects the EQ needs of the instrument.
Acoustic-electric guitars with a built in preamp — a very common feature — get the reputation as being easy to perform with because you can just plug one right into the board on a PA, and you don’t need an amplifier or anything else. From a performer’s standpoint, that’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
In fact, I find live acoustic guitar to be one of the most difficult instruments to nail. Part of this comes down to personal taste, but to my ears, most acoustic-electric guitars sound absolutely awful when plugged in to a PA or speaker.
There are a few types of pickups common in acoustic guitars, and this video really walks you through many of the most common options.
If you’re like me, you think many acoustic pickups, especially under saddle pickups, which commonly use a piezoelectric pickup, sound very disappointing compared to the natural rich tone of an acoustic.
Many of them suffer from an artificial sound that has a lot to do with the characteristic “quack” commonly produced by piezoelectric pickups.
Avoiding the Plastic Tone
There are some exceptions to this.
A magnetic sound hole pickup does not sound great when run directly into a PA, but when plugged into an electric amp, you can get excellent dusky “Americana” type tones. Very blues and very roots.
It doesn’t sound much like an acoustic played naturally, but the tone is very unique and rich in its own way.
Otherwise, some acoustic-electrics have a mic pickup (which is really just a small microphone) inside the guitar. These are known to be the fussiest types of pickups, as they are prone to feedback and somewhat expensive.
But as you can hear in the Reverb video, they are far more natural and rich sounding. The texture sounds wooden and organic, not plastic and thin.
Internal acoustic guitar pickups aside, another option is to play the guitar acoustically and mount a mic pointing at the acoustic. Again, this is generally considered to be more of a fuss, as the player is limited in their range of movement.
If you use the right microphone, though the tone sounds much fuller and more natural — closer to the experience of being in a room where an acoustic guitar is playing.
EQ for the Plastic Tone
If you’re mixing an acoustic guitar live, keep the typical advice from above in mind, but also consider the method of amplification.
If you are EQing live guitar that is plugged into a PA and is not a mic-style pickup, then you will be dealing with the plastic tone that I was referring to.
I think this tone might bother me more than it does most people, but to my ear it ruins the entire beauty of an acoustic guitar. To fight this, I recommend cutting in the 2.5 kHz to 10 kHz range. If you can use other instruments to cover this frequency range, that is ideal, but if you only have vocals that will go a long way to fill in the sonic gap.
The range around 2 kHz can cause a honk-like tone, which will make under saddle acoustic guitar pickups sound even worse than they already do.
I think the Lows to Mid Lows, say the 100 Hz to 500 Hz range, sounds the best and the least artificial with these kinds of pickups. Fortunately, the acoustic guitar can sound absolutely great in that range.
I would boost here as well, and cut any other rhythm instruments a bit to compensate, because that range can get crowded and quite muddy if you’re not careful.
The great thing about modern technology is that just about anyone can have access to amazing recording and sound technology. No matter what you’re using to read this, you can download a free recording program and start making music in no time.
That gives you more freedom than ever before to experiment. Play guitar parts you know well and see how different EQ settings change them.
Mix them with other instruments and see how the sounds blend together and how they don’t. And once you know how to EQ an acoustic guitar, you already have a head start when it comes to closely related instruments.
You can hear for yourself what sounds good and what doesn’t, and you can decide what works and what might work in a different context.
Robert is a freelance audio engineer and the lead writer for Range of Sounds. Robert has had a lifelong obsession with dissecting and understanding music and is a self-taught composer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer, and recording engineer.