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I play acoustic guitar in a band with drums, electric bass, and electric guitar. I'm often told that I need to switch to electric because nobody can hear my guitar However, I like the sound of acoustic on pretty much all of our songs.

My current setup is an acoustic/electric into a Fishman Loudbox Mini, with a line out to the PA. It seems like this works in some situations, but not others, but the most specific comment I've gotten is "during the quiet times, when it's just the acoustic, you're fine, but when it gets loud, you get lost."

Is this just a characteristic of acoustic guitar in an otherwise electric band? Is it a problem with the mixing? Do I need a bigger amp? Could I be setting my EQ incorrectly? Should I switch to an electric guitar amp, for the more "cutting" sound (even if it does mean losing a lot of the characteristics of my lovely Taylor)?

How can I get my acoustic guitar to consistently be heard in live performance?

  • Is there always a PA when you are gigging? Is there always a dedicated mix engineer or are you mixing it yourselves? What size venues are you playing and having the problem in? – Todd Wilcox Nov 5 '15 at 14:00
  • @ToddWilcox There is always a PA when gigging, and there is usually a dedicated mix engineer. The worst venues have been larger ones, though ceilings are generally still low even in larger rooms. The best comments I've gotten have been smaller venues. Or that one time we played outside and I didn't go through the PA - just my amp, and our bassist was doing the mixing. Maybe I just need to record a couple gigs and hear for myself. – Ryan Kinal Nov 5 '15 at 14:08
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    I'm assuming the people suggesting you go electric are not your bandmates. If it is your bandmates, then you might want to have a discussion with them (or at least the other guitarist) about how you all see the band sounding as a whole and get on the same page. Maybe having an acoustic for some songs and electric for others would be the sweet spot. – Todd Wilcox Nov 5 '15 at 14:44
  • It's not my bandmates, it's members of other bands - musicians whose opinions I respect. There are definitely songs that I'd like to use electric on, but for the most part, I'll be sticking with acoustic. – Ryan Kinal Nov 5 '15 at 15:54
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    I also play a Taylor acoustic in a band with electric bass, electric guitar and drums. I will share how I keep the other instruments from drowning out my Taylor in an answer a little later. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 5 '15 at 19:01
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I also play a Taylor Acoustic (614CE) in a band with electric guitar and electric bass and drums. I also play in an acoustic duo and play at open mics with other musicians with all sorts of instrumentation in the impromptu bands we form, and I play solo acoustic. So I would like to share what I have learned from personal experience. The most important part is at the end.

First I want to address those who have suggested switching to an electric guitar.

I don't think you want to do that at all. The acoustic guitar is really a totally different instrument than an electric guitar. Sure they have similarities, but the sound and playing style are as different as a banjo is to a guitar. If the acoustic guitar is an integral part of your band's sound, stick with the acoustic by all means. And don't go with an electric amp for your acoustic. That will rob your guitar of some of the rich, resonant sound that endears us to the acoustic guitar.

In my band, we play mostly songs that an acoustic guitar complements well. There are a few songs we play that are more authentically rendered with two electrics and no acoustic. For those songs I would use an electric. But I would never substitute an electric for an acoustic, if the acoustic sound was what I am looking for.

Now let's talk about how your acoustic can be heard in your live performance.

First of all, it is a very common problem getting an acoustic guitar to cut through the mix in a live setting with electric bass and electric guitar and drums. Turning it up louder does not help much. Part of the problem is the sound envelope of the electric instruments and the drums is such that the sound will be perceived as louder. The sound of an acoustic guitar blooms and swells as the strings cause the soundboard to vibrate which then causes a sympathetic vibration in the strings which goes back to the guitar and creates a certain resonance and overtones. The pickup in your acoustic is detecting these vibrations in the top. In the electric guitars, the pickup is responding to an electrical response between the string and the magnetic pickup - so it's reacting directly to the strings. The resulting sharper peak in amplitude will travel more rapidly to the ears of the audience and be perceived as louder - even though the volume may be set the same as measured independently.

But there are several things you can do to overcome this common and natural phenomenon.

Start with EQ: You can EQ your guitar alone but then it is vital that you EQ the entire band as a whole. The guitar might sound great by itself, but be completely lost in the mix once the full band is playing. So you must EQ the band - not just the acoustic guitar.

Let's start with the acoustic guitar. If you have a Taylor with the Expression System, you can use a TRS to XLR cable to plug directly into the mixer. This will actually give you a higher output signal and more volume with a given setting on the mixer than using a standard guitar cable. Taylor ES System from Taylor Guitar I am not sure why you need the Fishman Loudbox when you are using a PA. Another note on the Expression System. If you have a 2008 or newer Taylor with the ES, there is a switch inside the guitar that will turn off the body sensor(s). Using only the neck pickup will reduce feedback with stage volumes.

If you skip the Fishman Loudbox you would start with your volume, bass and treble controls in the neutral (on Taylor the detent) or middle position. Plug your guitar into a channel on the mixer and adjust the trim or input gain on that channel by turning it up until you can cause it to clip (red) by strumming hard, then back it down until it no longer clips. Now you have the input gain set and can adjust the channel volume and channel EQ from there.

If your mixer does not have individual channel EQ with at least 4 bands, you might want to consider a DI BOX with an equalizer such as the LR Baggs Parametric EQ DI box LR Baggs Website PARA DI or this one for less than $30. 7 Band Danelectro DJ14 . When you are playing with a band as you describe, you will EQ your acoustic guitar entirely differently than if you were playing acoustic solo.

When playing with a bass guitar and a kick drum, there is no need or room for the low end of an acoustic guitar. If you have a high pass filter (HP) on the guitar channel of your mixer you can use that to keep the lows in check - but otherwise, you want to roll off the lows with your EQ. I have found that most acoustic guitars sound better with the mids (600-800 Hz) pulled back. Try boosting the 1,000 – 3,500 Hz range slightly but not so much that the vocals can't find their place - and boosting the 3,500 – 12,000 Hz range. There is some trial and error involved. Remember when you are EQing your acoustic for part of the overall band mix, it is not going to sound as good as you think it should by itself.

So once you think your guitar EQ is dialed in, and the bassist, electric guitarist, and drummer have their EQ adjusted, and everyone's gain is adjusted properly, it's time to listen to the overall band as a whole. Mixing for a full band isn’t about getting the best sound out of each instrument - but rather about getting the best overall sound from the band as a whole.

Mixing the band will involve adjusting the relative volume of each instrument, and to the extent your equipment allows, further tweaking the EQ of each instrument so they each occupy their intended and appropriate tonal bandwidth. The object is to achieve an ideal balance by blending and contrasting among the instruments.

To get one instrument to stand out more in the mix, start by cutting down the volume of the instruments (or vocals) that appear to be stepping on or drowning out the instrument that needs more prominence. If you start compensating by turning up the instrument that needs to be heard, then some other instrument might need to be turned up and the volume wars start. During this band mixing process, it's always best to turn down than to turn up. After the optimal mix is achieved, you can turn up the main volume without affecting the relative mix.

After adjusting relative volume of all the instruments in the mix, you will want to tweak the EQ settings. Obviously you want the bass and kick drum to occupy the lower end of the tonal spectrum, the cymbals and snare, the higher end, the vocals in the middle and the guitars somewhere between the cymbals and vocals. The cutting before boosting adage applies to EQ as well. Again, trial and error and a trained ear are a big part of this process.

After getting the overall band mixed properly there are a few other things you can do to get better results on stage with your acoustic.

The monitor volumes need to be just loud enough for the musicians to hear what they need to hear, particularly your monitor. If your monitor is too loud, you will get feedback and will have to dial back the volume of your guitar. Also, if you hear your guitar too loud in your monitor, you might subconsciously play softer, thereby reducing how much of your acoustic the audience hears.

Another idea is to use a simple 20db boost pedal with your guitar for those parts of songs where the entire band is playing/singing really loud and you want your guitar to be heard. Of course you would set the volume control to give you far less than 20db. Here is a link to information about one that is geared towards use with an acoustic electric guitar. Signal Boost Pedal for acoustic guitar

If you are using phosphor bronze guitar strings, you might switch to 80/20 bronze for playing with the band. It will give your acoustic a brighter more present tone and may help it cut through better. Obviously old dull strings will not sound as good as fresh strings.

Okay, now that I have covered the things you can do to get your acoustic heard as much as possible in the mix - we still have the inherent problem discussed earlier that brings us back to the reality that no matter what you do - an acoustic guitar will never be heard over an electric guitar in a band situation like yours.

So what now? The next part of the puzzle was mentioned in Todd Wilcox's excellent answer - arrangement and performance dynamics.

The only time an acoustic guitar is really going to shine on a stage with all the other instruments in your band, is when it is playing almost by itself. There may be some parts of some songs where you want the acoustic guitar to be featured. In those cases, the other instruments need to either drop out completely, or play very softly at much lower volumes.

The other thing that will help if your acoustic is the primary rhythm guitar, is to have the electric guitar play around you instead of on top of you. This means while you are chunking out the beefy acoustic chord progression that carries the verses or chorus, the electric guitar should just play fills and single note runs almost between chords. When it comes time for the lead solo, that's when the electric should be drowning out the acoustic.

I know that's a tall order for many electric lead guitar players. Some of them seem to want to hog the spotlight. But if your electric guitar player is playing too much all the time, that may be the biggest part of your problem of not being heard on your acoustic. A good guitar player knows when to play and more importantly when not to play. So arrangement and performance dynamics should facilitate the acoustic and electric guitars working TOGETHER and complementing one another - not competing with one another (the electric will always win)!

I hope some of this helps. Good luck ... and rock on brother!

  • I don't agree with everything here, but the part about being EQed for the mix sounding strange or bad when soloed is such gold I would upvote twice if I could. As a sound guy, my favorite acoustics to mix are Taylors with the Expression System (my own 714 turned 18 this year!), but even those I would rather have through an active DI than with an adapter cable. The problem with an adapter is it won't balance the signal and then it will run over a long distance unbalanced. An active DI will balance and impedance match it and give it a boost if necessary. – Todd Wilcox Nov 6 '15 at 2:28
  • One more thing, not to comment spam (sorry!). A 20 dB boost is a huge amount. If you're not getting it with a 6 dB boost then something is wrong. If you trim out the input of a channel a little hot (not unusual with an acoustic), and THEN add 20 dB to it, it could turn into a mess, especially on the loud chords. If you fed me 20 extra dB all of the sudden, I'd grab the fader really fast and pull it down, then check the channel trim and drop that by 20 dB (or so), which again, is quite a lot. An adjustable boost that you can set up ahead of time with the sound engineer's knowledge is better. – Todd Wilcox Nov 6 '15 at 2:32
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    @ToddWilcox Good point about the boost. Most of the boost pedals I have seen have UP TO a 20 or 25 db boost but you certainly would not want to use that much. I'm going to edit the question to clarify. Thanks. And BTW - I don't use the TRS to XLR cable on my Taylor but Taylor claims that the ES system will run balanced that way and unbalanced if you just run straight to the amp or mixer with a standard 1/4 inch instrument cable. I run mine through an effects processor. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 6 '15 at 4:58
  • So, I think the Fishman has mostly been working as an EQ in live performance, but I have most likely been using the wrong setting, given what you're saying about how it should be EQ'd. I'll definitely consider a DI/EQ box instead, though. Thanks so much for the information in this answer. – Ryan Kinal Nov 6 '15 at 12:39
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    @RyanKinal Glad we could help. I love Music Stack Exchange, I have learned so much in the almost year that I have been active on the site from folks all around the world. Good luck with your music. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 6 '15 at 19:04
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In a lot of mixes, it's normal and even intentional for the acoustic guitar(s) to get hidden behind the electric guitars and other instruments during the loud parts. If you listen to the Led Zeppelin songs that have both acoustic and electric guitars, it can sound like the acoustic track is muted during the "loud" parts, but it's usually actually sitting there in the background for the whole song.

The people saying they can't hear your guitar are probably people who specifically like your playing, like acoustic guitars, and/or like you, since they are not merely listening to the whole band as one unit.

Here are some thoughts:

  • You might want or need a sound hole cover to reduce possible feedback from bringing up the levels on your acoustic.
  • With my sound engineer hat on, I prefer an active DI feed straight from the acoustic output over the DI out of an acoustic amp. Both as an engineer and as an acoustic player, I would bring my own DI to make sure I have one that I know how to use. The Radial J48 and Countryman Type 85 are good examples of active DIs for acoustic.
  • If you don't want the acoustic to be behind the other instruments during loud sections (check with your bandmates regarding the overall sound you all want), make sure you are clear about that with any sound engineers you are working with.
  • The mix starts with the arrangement and the performance. Almost no engineering or equipment can make the acoustic heard during a loud chorus with a distorted electric guitar part, open hi-hat eighth notes, pounding bass line, and passionate vocals. If the whole band agrees on how the acoustic part should sit in the mix, then everyone will need to make sure they are leaving the necessary space (this applies to all the instruments, of course).
  • It's really common for some instruments, including acoustic guitar, to get lost in the mix, and many times it's ok and even desireable. Take all audience comments with a grain of salt - even the positive ones. Actually, even negative comments are positive since it means the person listened to you and thought about your playing and had a strong enough feeling about it they had to come talk to you. Assuming the you and the band are ok with the acoustic getting lost sometimes, come up with a few ready responses to this kind of audience feedback that is validating so you are acknowledging the person giving advice even if you don't plan to follow it.
  • If you use an electric guitar amp, it will make your acoustic sound like a weird sounding electric guitar. I worked with a band that made this their signature sound - outside of that I wouldn't normally consider it a good sound.
  • What about an A/B switch etc for EQ and levels so he can setup for both loud (full band mix, low-cut, higher levels etc) and soft ("quiet times", fuller acoustic sound). – Yorik Nov 5 '15 at 16:45
  • @Yorik That would definitely be better handled by the mix engineer, even one who doesn't know the song structure ahead of time. Changing a lot about the signal you send to the mixer can cause unexpected negative consequences, including nothing (mix processing undoes the changes made by the musician), distortion, feedback, and poor sound quality. In general, having the band "mix" themselves is good concept, but it should be done with arrangement and performance dynamics, not with on-stage signal processing. – Todd Wilcox Nov 5 '15 at 16:49
  • I think I understand what you are saying, but how is that different than his electric-guitar band-mate having a pedal board? – Yorik Nov 5 '15 at 16:54
  • +1 for thoughts on arrangement and performance dynamics. The other musicians must allow space in the arrangement for the acoustic to breath and be heard at appropriate parts of the song. It's very difficult for an acoustic to be heard OVER an electric no matter what the sound engineer does. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 5 '15 at 18:00
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    @Yorik A) In some ways it's not that different. An electric guitar player who steps on a pedal and actually makes their guitar a lot louder (or a lot quieter) is likely to ruin the mix. That's why during sound check the sound person normally asks to hear all the different kinds of distortion, or at least the "loudest" and "quietest" sounds and then asks for one or the other to be turned up or down until the levels mostly match. B) A guitar amp compresses and filters what it's given, so it tends to mellow out major changes made by effect pedals. Acoustic amps and PAs don't do that as much. – Todd Wilcox Nov 5 '15 at 18:17
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Agreed - a well played acoustic guitar often sounds better for rhythm in a band situation. If it's being DI'd from your little amp into the P.A., then it should come through the mix properly. If your mixer guy is doing it right, he should be able to remix for the louder numbers. It may just be that it's the Freddie Green syndrome. He played rhythm guitar, and was thought of as one of the best. He could hardly be heard, but when he stopped playing, it was noticed. Subtlety, I think it's called. Don't rely on others for comments - get a recording to hear for yourself. One from where the audience is, not off the P.A. It may be that the mix engineer has his own ideas of how you should sound. I lost count of the number of times I've moved the mic from in front of my amp, as he wasn't mixing what I wanted. His job is to produce the mix YOU all want, NOT what he thinks is good. I did it for a couple of years, and got into trouble for just that initially. You may also need to address the foldback, as if you're hearing a different mix there, it may fool you into thinking, for example, you're too loud, so play quieter.

  • I am reminded of the story/myth about Jimi Hendrix getting ready for a BBC radio thing and the setup was taking too long and then the engineers told him they were having a problem getting rid of the distortion. – Yorik Nov 5 '15 at 16:41
  • @Yorik that's hilarious "getting rid of the distortion" LOL! Jimi Hendrix was a pioneer for sure - in many ways. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 5 '15 at 18:03
  • Beware - the police will delete these comments! – Tim Nov 5 '15 at 18:59
  • @Tim Sting and Stewart Copeland are on Music.SE?? – Todd Wilcox Nov 5 '15 at 22:30
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    @ToddWilcox - note use of lower case. Now they'll get deleted... – Tim Nov 6 '15 at 8:01

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