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Acoustic Guitar String Noise

By  Brandon Drury | Published  08/21/2006 | Getting Started

Getting Rid of Acoustic Guitar Finger Noises

?Typical Problem:

I just recorded an acoustic guitar track. The track itself sounds pretty good, but the string noise is distracting. What should I do?”

Two Acoustic Guitar Questions, First.

#1 Are you sure the acoustic guitar string noise is a problem?

I see all sorts of beginning home recording guys who really get bent out of shape on finger noise. Personally, I don't understand it. I just can't remember a time where the string noise in an acoustic guitar recording even bothered me.

Of course, a lot depends on the style of music. A dense rock mix with acoustic guitar just there to thicken things up will never let guitar string noise through. It's in there, but you will never hear it. So before you decide that you have a problem with your acoustic guitar, make sure you are listening to the full mix. This will solve the problem 99% of the time.

#2 Are the noises detracting from the emotion of the music or are you just insecure about your recording skill?

No offense if you are experienced, but I see a lot of home recording guys who are worried about doing it the “right” way and afraid they are doing it “wrong”. This is music, dude / dudette. There are no rules! If the noises are seriously detracting from the music, you do have a real problem.

Since the acoustic guitar noises are distracting from the song, the first solution is easy.

#1 It goes like this: “Hey guitar player. Quit making that finger noise!”. Done! Problem solved, unless you are the guitar player. Ha ha!! Seriously, this is the best way to fix it. This is no different than a singer who singers with snot in his/her throat. You probably want to redo that part.

As stated before, I think that finger noise is part of the performance and I can't remember it ever being a problem. If it is, it's the guitar players responsibility to fix it.

#2 Assuming you are mixing now and can't retrack your acoustic guitar, I'd take off all EQ, reverb, and compression from the guitar. How does the squeaky guitar sound now? It's quite possible that adding too much high end EQ will cause problems like this to stick out. It's possible that the wrong reverb will make string noises jump out. It's possible that compression will bring out the level in those noises. Take a look at all these factors and make sure that you, the mixing engineer, are not the problem.

#3 If the guitar sounds horrible right now without EQ, compression, or reverb you should re-record the acoustic guitar because you, the recording engineer, screwed up. The guitar shouldn't need anything added to it to make it work. The effects are just there for the cherry on top unless you are going for something unique and weird that sounds nothing like a well recorded acoustic guitar.

#4 If the guitar sounds okay, try manually REDUCING the level of the acoustic guitar noises. You can do this with automation if you want to, but I like to go into Cubase SX3 or Vegas (both programs do this) and split the track on every noise. Then just move the finger noise down 3dB or so. I wouldn't go any further than that at first. Basically, you are finding all the loud parts and pulling them down with volume automation. You don't want to get too aggressive with this because there may be issues with sliding into the normal acoustic guitar notes. You only want to effect the volume of the noises.

#5 If that doesn't work, you are being way too picky about something that doesn't matter or you had two corn cobs crammed in each ear when tracking. Learn your lesson from this. If you let something THAT horrid through during tracking, there is no one to blame but yourself (in this case, I still blame the guitar player because it makes me feel better about myself...har har!).

#6 If it does work (and it had better fixed it) start all over with your EQ, compression, and effects. You probably don't need that much effects anyway.


#1 DO NOT move your otherwise perfect mic placement just because you hear acoustic guitar squeaks. I'm serious. There is a perfect position for every microphone for every song / guitar / whatever. (It might be different every time however). When you find the place where the acoustic sounds great, do not ruin the tone of the acoustic guitar recording because you are afraid of a little acoustic guitar noise. If the problems are that bad, use a different guitar player.

#2 DO NOT use plug in treatments to fix problems like this unless you've exhausted all other possibilities. Remember that a parametric EQ is a wha pedal. How is a wha pedal going to fix an acoustic guitar recording? (Hell, that kind of sounds like fun, actually!). Seriously, a de-esser can control peaks in the high end, but you are relying on weird processing that will catch some noise and some good stuff and potentially destroy the fidelity of both. Sometimes, distracting noise is better left alone than sounding processed. With that being said, you'll still hear the noise, it will just sound like you put a de-esser on it. Volume manipulation is the best way to get out of this mess.

#3 DO NOT be too opposed to re-recording the acoustic guitar. If the guitar is as mangled as you think it is, you may spend much less time re-recording than you would tinkering around with your toys. Make sure you have an extra acoustic guitar on hand as well as that may be the problem.

#4 DO NOT forget to listen in context. When fixing little problems, we tend to use the solo button. That's okay, but make sure you check everything in the context of the full mix. You'll be glad you did.

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