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Is your acoustic guitar squeaky? How much is too much? What can you do?

It's right that acoustic instruments should have a texture. Perfection is boring, but too many squeaks and too loud? It isn't nice to hear.


I'll dive straight in with an example sent to me by an Audio Masterclass student, neither he nor I nor Shazam know what it is or who composed and performed it. Probably it's production music. Take a listen...

Well it's a nice enough piece of music, but those squeaks? For me, this is definitely too much. The odd squeak, then fine. That's guitars for you. But this is almost a squeak concerto.

So what went wrong?

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Firstly the guitar does squeak, particularly the acoustic guitar. It occurs when a finger rubs against a wound string - the bottom E, the A and D, and the G if it is wound, as it usually is on an acoustic.

The squeak occurs when there is a change in left hand position (right hand for lefties) and the finger is allowed to press against the string as it moves.

Often it is difficult not to squeak and you can hear it with even the finest guitarists.

One problem can be that the player doesn't pay enough attention to what his or her instrument actually sounds like. They hear the music in their head, so they think that what they are playing sounds perfect. But it doesn't.

The other problem is that some guitarists think that squeaking is some kind of badge of honor. The more the merrier - "Hey this is a guitar and you'd better believe it!"

I think it's the latter kind of guitarist we have here.

I'm trying to listen carefully but I'm not sure whether this is one guitar line or two. Certainly though if the melody and accompaniment were recorded separately, it would be possible to squeak a lot less.

Worse - the squeak is in stereo. You can hear it pan across the stereo image. Of course it would if the guitar is recorded in stereo because the finger is moving across the sound stage in front of the microphones. It just draws more attention though.

Then it gets worse still - any compression on the guitar will inevitably emphasize sounds that were originally fairly quiet. The golden rule of compression, and any audio process, is DON'T MAKE IT WORSE.

What can be done?

The first thing to do if you have a squeaky guitarist is get the best take you can squeaks and all. Then have a polite word with them and ask if they can squeak less.

For the guitarist this is a matter of technique. Or there is Fast Fret, but I see this as more of a sticking plaster than a solution.

For the engineer, then the first thing would be to angle the microphone away from the fingerboard. Indeed with a figure-of-eight microphone you could place a lot of the length of the fingerboard in the mic's side null.

Following that, EQ might help but take care not to spoil the sound of the notes. Compression can make things worse so use it sparingly.

Finally... Editing. It wouldn't be reasonable to expect to edit out all of the squeaks, particularly in a solo performance. But when the guitar is combined with other instrument it should be possible to reduce the amount and level of squeaks to where they should be with a well-played guitar.

In conclusion, a few squeaks are good. Too many and too loud and things can be really annoying.

By David Mellor Saturday February 23, 2019