The acoustic guitar, along with other plucked string instruments, is one of the instruments that mixing engineers frequently report having EQ issues with. The tone qualities of these instruments are particularly complex. From the instrument’s warmth to the brilliance and presence of the strings, you then have to decide what you want to highlight. In the following tutorial, I’ll show you how to process plucked string instruments in your mix.

As usual, I have prepared a short sequence in our SoundBridge: DAW, which contains a middle eastern instrument called Saz or Balgmala. Let us listen to it.

This is a screenshot of my mix taken before processing the plucked string instrument

~Full Mix – Saz (Unprocessed)

The Saz sequence we’re hearing could sound better in the mix, so let’s start processing it. Saz or Balgama is a plucked string instrument from the Middle East. It has tonal qualities akin to the Acoustic guitar and other similar stringed instruments. If you had the opportunity to work on acoustic guitar mixing and processing, you could use similar techniques. However, since the Saz has a harsher sound, taming it requires more effort. Let us first hear how it sounds solo and unprocessed.

~Saz – Solo (Unprocessed)

How to EQ Plucked String Instruments

One of the first things we notice when listening to the Saz sequence is that the low and mid-low clash with the bassline and kick drum. We could fix that and other problematic frequencies with an EQ, so let’s begin by adding one to the Saz channel’s effect rack.

This is a screenshot of my mix and EQ applied to the Saz sequence

In the image above, you can see that I used a low-pass filter to cut the unwanted low-end, a shelf-type of the curve to tame the high frequencies (which the Saz has plenty of), and boosted some of the mid-range frequencies. Here’s how it sounds now.

~Saz – Solo (Processed with an EQ)

Process Plucked String Instruments With a Transient Shaper

Once we’ve finished with the EQ, I’d like to tone down the strong finger plucks. I’ll accomplish this using a transient shaper and lowering the attack value.

This is a screenshot of my mix and Transient Shaper applied to the Saz sequence

~Saz – Solo (Processed with an EQ & Transient Shaper)

Add Space With Reverb and Delay

At this point, I’ll transform our Saz by giving it space and movement. I have made two new return tracks in SoundBridge: DAW project and placed reverb and delay effects on them. I increased the send value on the Saz channel after setting the FX parameters, as shown in the image below. Too much reverb and delay can cause the sound to lose clarity, so it’s best to be modest with the number of effects used.

This is a screenshot of my mix and Reverb & Delay applied to the Saz sequence

~Saz – Solo (Processed with an EQ, Transient Shaper, Reverb & Delay)

Try Adding a Compressor Last

Lastly, for our Saz sequence processing, we would use a compressor. You can use a single compressor, but I prefer multi-band compressors because they provide more control. In this case, I’d like to highlight the mid frequencies to help the instrument cut through the mix. Finally, listen to how the Saz sounds solo and in the context of the overall sequence and all the effects applied.

This is a screenshot of my mix and the Compressor used to process the plucked string instrument

~Saz – Solo (Processed with an EQ, Transient Shaper, Reverb, Delay & Compressor)

~Full Mix – Saz (Processed)

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