While the acoustic guitar is one of the most fundamental instruments around, it can also be one of the most difficult instruments to mix. Of course, even before attempting to mix an acoustic guitar, you have to make sure the recording is right, as it’s difficult to make a poorly recorded acoustic guitar sound great.
If you have a solid acoustic guitar recording and you’re trying to figure out how to help it stand out with your mix using compression, then you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s explore the ins and outs of acoustic guitar compression!
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Can You Compress Acoustic Guitar?
Absolutely! While it’s not always necessary, in many cases, acoustic guitars can be too dynamic to sit well in a mix. Whether you’re dealing with a strummed acoustic guitar that is acting as a layer in the background or a fingerstyle acoustic guitar that is acting as the main instrument in the mix, controlling peaks and volume dips is extremely important to get that polished, professional sound. The first thing you want to do is make sure you record your acoustic guitar properly.
How Much Compression Should An Acoustic Guitar Have?
Acoustic guitars are very natural-sounding instruments, which is why you must be very careful when compressing them. It’s so easy to go overboard with acoustic guitar compression, leaving your acoustic guitar sounding squashed and lifeless.
In some cases, you shouldn’t use compression at all!
However, if you feel like you need it, it’s a good idea to start with around 1-3dB of compression and see how that feels before going any harder. Typically, this amount of compression is more than enough to help the acoustic guitar sit in place while retaining its natural sound.
From there, you’ll have to adjust the attack and release settings.
If you feel like your acoustic guitar still needs some help sitting in the mix, read this article on how to EQ acoustic guitar. You can also consider adding a touch of tape saturation to help contain the acoustic guitar while adding warmth.
Acoustic Guitar Compressor Attack/Release Settings
The attack and release settings for acoustic guitar compression will depend on the sound that you are going for. For example, solo finger style guitar should be much more dynamic (aka less compressed) than acoustic chords strumming in a rock song that includes drums and electric guitar. However, there are a few standard settings that you can start with to being sculpting your final sound.
When it comes to attack time, it’s good to start slow. The last thing you want is to squish the sound of the pick or finger as it hits the strings. With an attack time that is anywhere from 10-25ms, you can retain the percussive elements of your acoustic guitar recording while controlling the dynamic sustain points.
The best approach is to start with a slow attack time and slowly dial it to a faster position until you notice that it starts squashing the transients. At this point, back it off just slightly, and you should be good to go!
The release time should also be fast so that you do not cover up any notes. A release time that is too slow may end up sucking successive notes up, making individual notes less intelligible. It’s a good idea to start with a release time between 50-150ms.
A good rule of thumb is to watch the needle on your compressor (if it has one) and try to make it move in time with the song.
Other Compressor Settings for Acoustic Guitar
You’ll also need to consider the ratio of your acoustic guitar compressor. Unless you’re going for a heavy-handed effect, you don’t usually need a ratio that is above 4:1 for acoustic guitar. Personally, I like to use a 3:1 ratio, as I feel that it meets a happy medium between mellow and heavy compression. With a 3:1 ratio, you can retain the natural sound of your acoustic guitar while controlling dynamic peaks.
If you have a knee setting on your compressor, I recommend keeping it at the ‘soft’ setting for a natural sound.
How To Compress Acoustic Guitar Solo
When compressing an acoustic guitar solo, you can be a bit more heavy-handed with your commission settings. It’s important to keep the attack fairly slow to make sure your transients stay in place, though you can time your release settings based on how much sustain you require in your particular solo.
Assuming you have a bed of instruments acting as the backing track for your acoustic guitar solo, the goal should be to keep your solo upfront. For this reason, you can almost treat it like you would a lead vocal, compressing it slightly harder to make sure it stays in front of everything else.
Using a Multi-Band Compressor on Acoustic Guitar
Multi-band compressors can come in handy for acoustic guitar, especially if certain frequency ranges stick out more than others. For multi-band compression, we recommend the FabFilter Pro-MB, which offers incredible dynamic control.
For example, poorly recorded acoustic guitars will often have dynamic low-end. Room resonances, proximity effect, and other variables can heavily impact how the low-end on your acoustic guitar reacts. Some low notes may end up being far more prominent in your mix than others, leaving you with a dynamically uneven sound.
To remedy this problem, you can use multi-band compression. Start by finding the offending frequency range, which could is often somewhere between 100-300Hz, and compress it with a slow-to-medium attack and a fast release.
In doing so, you can compress only the parts that need dynamic control while leaving the rest of the frequency ranges open and natural.
Best Acoustic Guitar Compressor Plugin - Comp FET76
The Comp FET76 is Arturia’s emulation of the classic 1176 hardware compressor. This digital emulation offers some of the best compression tones for acoustic guitar, no matter what kind of sound you’re going for. You can dial in subtle compression with a low ratio and mellow attack/release settings, making it perfect for fingerstyle guitar, or dial in much heavier compression with high ratio settings to keep strummed rhythm guitars in their place.
Beyond its usefulness, the Comp FET76 is extremely easy to use. There are only a few buttons and knobs that you need to worry about, allowing you to dial in compression fast and move on to the next thing.
Even if you’re not planning on using heavy-handed compression with the FET76, it can present a uniquely warm, analog sound that you won’t get from many other compressor plugins. There’s a reason that the 1176 has been an industry standard for so many years, and the FET76 just so happens to be one of the best emulations of that industry standard.
Best Acoustic Guitar Compressor Pedal - Wampler Ego Compressor
The Wampler Ego Compressor is an intuitive, full-sized compressor pedal, perfect for adding subtle or heavy-handed compression to your acoustic guitar. You get total control over your attack and release settings, as well as an additional tone setting for extra tonal shaping. I love dialing the tone to the right to get a bit of extra presence and sparkle in my sound.
One of the really unique things about this compressor is the Blend knob, which allows you to dial in much heavier settings and blend it in with your uncompressed signal in parallel to get the best of both worlds. On softer settings, when blended in full, this compressor is surprisingly transparent, allowing you to control sustain and dynamics while in the most musical way possible.
Beyond all of that, the components of the Wampler Ego pedal are housed in a durable container, allowing you to take it with you to the most unforgiving gigs for many years without having to worry about breaking it!
Learn more about Mixing with Compression
This is only one part of mixing with compression! Luckily, I've put together a bunch more articles to help you master this crucial mixing skill!
- How to Use a Compressor: Learn to Mix with Compression Quickly!
- Sidechain Compression Explained for Beginners & Key Settings
- 3 Tips for Using a Sidechain Compressor to Add Punch & Clarity
- Multi-band Compression Tutorial for Great Vocals, Drums & More!
- How to Use Mid-Side Compression for Amazing Recordings!
- How to Use Parallel Compression for Powerfully Punchy Mixes
- Should You Compress Reverb? The Real Answer Finally Revealed.
- The 5 Types of Compressors (And Exactly When To Use Each)
- 10 Vocal Compression Mixing Tips (Including Best Settings)
- 9 Powerful Drum Compression Techniques for Punchy Pro Mixes
- Loud, Punchy Kick Drums with these Compression Settings
- How to Compress Snare - Use *These* Settings Punchy Snares
- Exactly How to Compress Bass for Tight Low End Thump!
- How Compress Acoustic Guitar Perfectly, Every time
- How to Compress Synthesizers: Best Compressor Settings for Synths
- How to Compress Organ: 4 Steps to a Great Mix!
- How to Compress Percussion: Compression Settings for Everything
- How to Compress Strings: 8 Magic Settings You Need to Know
From a Frustrated Producer in a Ragtag Bedroom Studio to Major Placements on TV Earning $1,000s!
My name is Evan, and I've been making music since around 3rd grade. I'm from San Diego, California, but I've lived in Washington, DC for the last 20 years.
While I still have a full-time day job, I have created systems that have allowed me to produce dozens of songs a year in my spare time.
My songs have been on Netflix, TV shows like the 90 Day Fiance, an award-winning indie film, and NPR’s “All Thing Considered.” They've also been streamed millions of times.
In addition to being a music producer, I am passionate about teaching people how they can make professional-sounding music and earn money licensing it, all in their spare time.
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