Guitar Room Acoustics: Understanding & Improving Sound Quality

Acoustic Treatment in a Recording Studio

When the iconic sounds of the 60s, like surf music, were being recorded, bands would set up in large, untreated rooms, their electric guitars echoing off the walls. The natural reverb of these spaces, combined with the raw energy of the musicians, created a sound that was distinctive and full of character. 

Fast forward to today, and the landscape of sound recording has evolved dramatically. Gone are the days when artists relied solely on the acoustics of a room. Now, almost every recording space, from professional studios to home setups, incorporates some level of acoustic treatment. 

This shift, while enhancing sound clarity and quality, has also contributed to the distinct difference between the sounds of old and modern recordings. The amplified reverb that characterized genres like surf was, in part, a product of recording and performing in untreated spaces. 

As we delve into the nuances of acoustic treatment, we'll explore how to harness the power of sound in any space, blending the best of both worlds to build out a listening or recording space that amplifies your sound.

Understanding Reverb Time (RT60)

Reverb Time, commonly referred to as RT60, is a crucial metric in the world of acoustics, especially for guitarists. But what exactly is it? In simple terms, RT60 measures the time it takes for the sound in a room to decrease by 60 decibels. Imagine strumming your guitar with vigor and then listening intently to how long it takes for that sound to fade away until it's barely audible. That duration is essentially what RT60 captures.

Now, you might wonder, what's the ideal RT60 for a room where a guitar is played? The industry standard rule of thumb targets a reverb time of 0.20 to 0.40 seconds at 1000Hz. This range is considered optimal for ensuring clarity of sound without making the room feel too 'dead' or 'live'.

However, it's essential to note that while these figures are widely accepted in the industry, acoustic treatment is as much an art as it is a science. Every guitarist has a unique playing style, and every listener has individual preferences. What sounds perfect to one person might seem off to another. Therefore, while the mentioned range is a great starting point, you might want to fine-tune your room's acoustics based on specific frequencies that resonate with your style and preferences.

In essence, understanding and optimizing RT60 is not just about adhering to industry standards but also about personalizing your space to achieve the sound quality that feels 'just right' to you.

How Much Acoustic Treatment to Use?

Acoustic treatment is essential for achieving optimal sound quality in a room, especially for guitarists. However, there's a fine line between just right and too much. Striking the right balance is crucial to ensure that the room doesn't sound too 'dead' or overly dampened. So, how do you determine the right amount of treatment for your space?

As mentioned above, it’s all based on achieving the target reverb time or RT60. The best way to hit your target is to use an online calculator such as the one provided by ATS acoustics. But what happens if you just throw all the foam at your wall?

Using Acoustic treatment to make a "dead" room

Risks of Overtreatment

Over-treating a room is a common pitfall many enthusiasts fall into. While it might seem like adding more foam or panels will enhance sound quality, it can lead to several issues:

  1. Loss of Natural Ambience: A room that's heavily treated can lose its natural reverb, making instruments sound flat and lifeless.
  2. Diminishing Returns: The principle of diminishing returns applies to acoustic treatment. The first chunk of foam or panel you add will likely make the most significant difference. However, as you add more, the benefits decrease, and you might not notice any substantial improvement.
  3. Aesthetic Concerns: Overloading a room with treatment materials can make it visually unappealing. It's essential to strike a balance between functionality and aesthetics.
  4. Cost Implications: Acoustic materials can be expensive. Over-treating means you're spending more without necessarily getting the best value for your money.

It's essential to remember that the goal of acoustic treatment is to enhance sound quality, not suppress it. While the industry provides guidelines and standards, it's crucial to listen to your room. After all, acoustic treatment is as much about personal preference as it is about technical specifications. Start with the basics, assess the sound, and then decide if you need to add more.

Where to Place Your Foam

Acoustic treatment is not just about the materials or how many panels you use, but also where you place them. Proper placement can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your treatment, ensuring that you achieve the desired sound quality. 

Understanding Reflection Points

Reflection points are areas in a room where sound waves from speakers bounce off surfaces and return to the listener's ears. These reflections can cause interference, leading to muddied sound or unwanted echoes. By treating these points, you can achieve clearer sound and reduce unwanted reverberations.

To understand reflections, imagine throwing a ball against a wall. The point where the ball hits and bounces back is akin to a reflection point for sound. Now, in the context of a room, sound waves behave similarly, reflecting off walls, ceilings, and other surfaces.

To identify the primary reflection points:

  1. Speaker-to-Wall Reflection: Sit in your listening position and have a friend slide a mirror along the wall. Where you can see the speaker in the mirror marks a reflection point. This method can be used for side walls, the ceiling, and even the floor if you have a reflective surface like hardwood.
  2. Corner Reflections: Corners, where walls meet, can create strong reflections. Bass traps or thicker foam panels can be effective in treating these areas.
  3. Behind the Listener: Sound waves also reflect off the wall behind the listener. Placing foam or diffusers here can help reduce these reflections.

Understanding and treating these reflection points is crucial for achieving optimal sound in a room.

Acoustic treatment on ceiling and floor

Ceiling and Floor Treatment

While walls are often the primary focus of acoustic treatment, the ceiling and floor play equally pivotal roles in shaping a room's sound. Sound waves don't just travel horizontally; they move in all directions, reflecting off every surface they encounter.

  1. Ceiling Reflections: Just like side walls, the ceiling has its reflection points. Especially in rooms with high ceilings, untreated surfaces can lead to strong, unwanted reflections. Acoustic panels or foam tiles can be strategically placed to combat these reflections. For those with drop ceilings, acoustic ceiling tiles can be a practical solution.
  2. Floor Reflections: The type of flooring can significantly influence a room's acoustics. Hard surfaces like wood or tile can cause strong reflections, while carpeted floors naturally absorb some of the sound. If you have a hard floor, consider using rugs or carpeting in key areas to reduce reflections. For recording studios, raised platforms with absorptive materials can also be beneficial.

Curtains in home studio

Window Treatments

Windows are often overlooked in acoustic treatment, but they can be significant sources of sound leakage and reflections. Glass is a hard, reflective surface, and untreated windows can introduce unwanted noise and echo into a room.

  1. Curtains and Drapes: Heavy, dense curtains can help reduce sound reflections. Look for curtains labeled as "acoustic" or "soundproof." These are designed to absorb sound more effectively than regular decorative curtains.
  2. Window Panels: Acoustic panels designed specifically for windows can be an effective solution. They can be attached when needed and removed when not in use.
  3. Sealing Gaps: Ensure that windows are well-sealed. Even small gaps can let in outside noise, disrupting the room's acoustics. Weatherstripping or acoustic sealants can be used to seal any gaps or cracks.

Acoustic Foam vs. Tiles and More

When diving into the world of acoustic treatment, one of the first decisions you'll face is choosing the right material. Acoustic foam and tiles are among the most popular choices, but there are other materials to consider as well. Let's break down the pros and cons of each:

  1. Acoustic Foam:
    • Pros:
      • Lightweight and easy to install.
      • Effective at absorbing mid to high-frequency sounds.
      • Available in various shapes and designs, allowing for aesthetic flexibility.
    • Cons:
      • Less effective at absorbing low-frequency sounds.
      • Can deteriorate over time, especially if exposed to sunlight or extreme temperatures.
  2. Acoustic Tiles:
    • Pros:
      • Typically made of denser materials, making them effective at absorbing a broader range of frequencies.
      • Durable and long-lasting.
      • Can be painted or customized to match room aesthetics.
    • Cons:
      • Heavier and may require more robust installation methods.
      • Can be more expensive than foam.
  3. Other Materials:
    • Bass Traps: Designed specifically to absorb low-frequency sounds, these are essential for rooms with pronounced bass issues.
    • Diffusers: Instead of absorbing sound, diffusers scatter it, increasing RT60 and creating a more natural sound environment.
    • Hanging Baffles: Suspended from the ceiling, these are effective in large rooms or spaces with high ceilings.

Choosing the Right Material

The best material for your room depends on various factors, including the room's size, the primary sound sources, and your budget. It's also essential to consider the type of sound issues you're facing. For example, if your room is too dead, diffusers might be more effective than foam. On the other hand, if you're dealing with background noise or mid-frequency disturbances, acoustic foam or tiles might be the best choice.

Remember, acoustic treatment is as much an art as it is a science. While technical specifications and guidelines can guide you, listening to your room and trusting your ears or the ears of someone else is best.

Installation Methods

Proper installation is crucial to ensure the effectiveness of your acoustic treatment. Whether you're using foam, tiles, or other materials, securing them correctly will ensure they function as intended and remain in place over time.

  1. Acoustic Foam:
    • T-Pins: These are ideal for temporary installations or if you're unsure about permanent placement. They cause minimal damage and can securely hold lightweight foam.
    • Adhesive Sprays: These provide a more permanent solution. Ensure the spray is suitable for both the foam and the wall material. Remember to allow the adhesive to become tacky before pressing the foam onto the wall for a stronger bond.
    • Double-Sided Tape: Another temporary solution, suitable for lighter foam panels.
  2. Acoustic Tiles:
    • Construction Adhesive: Given the weight of tiles, a robust adhesive is recommended. Apply the adhesive to the back of the tile and press it onto the wall. Bracing the tile until the adhesive sets might be necessary.
    • Mounting Clips: Some tiles come with clips that can be screwed into the wall. The tile then clips onto these mounts, allowing for easy removal if needed.
  3. Other Materials:
    • Bass Traps: These are typically corner-mounted using construction adhesive or mounting brackets.
    • Diffusers: Depending on their weight, diffusers can be hung using screws, mounting brackets, or adhesive.
    • Hanging Baffles: These are suspended from the ceiling using chains or cables. Ensure the ceiling anchors are secure, especially for heavier baffles.

Tips for Installation:

  • Surface Preparation: Clean the surface thoroughly to ensure adhesives bond correctly. Remove any dust, grease, or loose paint.
  • Measurement: Before installation, measure and mark where each panel or tile will go. This ensures even spacing and alignment.
  • Safety: Always wear protective gloves and eyewear, especially when using adhesives or drilling.

Proper installation not only ensures the effectiveness of your acoustic treatment but also contributes to the room's aesthetics. Taking the time to install materials correctly will pay off in the long run, both in sound quality and appearance.


The journey of sound has been a fascinating one, from the raw, unfiltered recordings of the past to the meticulously treated studios of today. Acoustic treatment, while technical, is also deeply personal. It's about understanding the science behind sound and marrying it with individual preferences to create the perfect auditory experience.

Whether you're a professional musician, a budding artist, or simply someone who appreciates good sound, investing time and effort into understanding and implementing acoustic treatment can transform your space.

As we've seen, it's not just about the materials you use, but where and how you use them. So, as you embark on your acoustic treatment journey, remember to listen, experiment, and most importantly, enjoy the process. After all, at the heart of it all is the love for sound.

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