Back in 2015 my wife Georgie and I recorded a vast collection of our original songs in Pro Tools and live to camera. At the time most of our material was based around the acoustic guitar so I chose to record our acoustic guitars using the built-in pickups via DI. I knew the DI approach would be the quickest and easiest way of getting acoustic guitar performances down in Pro Tools as opposed to using multiple microphones. Using multiple microphones takes more time to setup and get right. I also wanted to avoid time delay/phase problems in the mix than can occur when using lots of microphones in tracking.
In this article, I share the plug-in chain I have used to shape the DI acoustic guitar pickup recordings in the song "Somebody Else's Shirts" - The goal was to get the acoustic guitars to sound more realistic and natural in the mix.
Raw Acoustic Guitar Pickup Recording
The quality of the acoustic guitar pickups in these recordings are passable however, both guitars sounded lifeless and both tracked with a fair amount of HF noise. Acoustic guitar pickups generally sound very different to microphones on acoustic guitars for recording. The noticeable differences between the two are in natural tone and resonance. Internal pickups don't produce a true tonal representation of acoustic guitar bodies, in fact, pickups usually make any acoustic guitar recording sound just any other acoustic guitar pickup recording. Microphones help capture the individuality of acoustic guitars.
Insert A - FabFilter Pro-Q2
First I had to tackle the noise issue as the hiss was causing problems with the plug-in on "Insert B" in Pro Tools. FabFilter Pro-Q2 did a great job of filtering out the hiss and also notching out a ringing frequency on my wife's acoustic guitar. Filtering out the high frequencies resulted in both guitar starting to also sound more natural as the nasty pickup plectrum crunch was now also been softened.
Insert B - UAD Sound Machine Wood Works
This was the first time I used UAD Sound Machine Wood Works. I wasn't that impressed with the early results as both guitars sounded too processed. After 20 minutes I realised that if I EQ the pickup recordings with FabFilter Pro-Q2 before the Wood Works plug-in I got better results. In Wood Works I selected a different tone for each guitar and used the "Neck" and "Body" controls to create a stereo microphone representation very quickly. Wood Works put back the tonal individualities for both guitars. The individuality of the guitars was the biggest thing that the pickups took away in the recording process.
Insert C - FabFilter Pro-Q2
At this point, both acoustic guitars sounded much more like how both sounded in the room when we were recording. It was now time to get them sounding balanced together in the mix. As FabFilter Pro-Q2 did such a good job on the way into Sound Machine Wood Works I chose it again as a post EQ which helped me balance the tones of each guitar in the mix.
Auxillary/Bus 1-2 - Nimbus By Exponential Audio
The last process that needed some attention was the space around the guitars. As "Somebody Else's Shirts" is an intimate song, I wanted both acoustic guitars to be up front and focused without sounding dry. A simple trick I have used for years is to add space rather than noticeable reverb and the best reverb presets for this are in the "Room" presets in Exponential Audio's PhoenixVerb. Very recently I got my hands on Nimbus and have been using the presets to add contextual room reverb to tracks in my mix and it has some great features that I'm still learning how to use.
Hopefully by listening through the audio examples in this article you will of heard the gradual improvements to the tone of each acoustic guitar pickup recording. Below are two further examples that compare this plug-in chain active and in bypass.