How To EQ: Get Your Guitar Sounding Great In A Mix

Production and mixing EQ guide for guitarists and sound engineers   16-Dec-13

So we've covered how to get EQ right before the final mixing stage by dialing in a sound on your amp, auditioning it in the room and recording a brief snippet, and then listening to it through your monitors for the frequencies you don't like, adjusting EQ on the amp, changing pickup selections and mic placement, and then recording again - repeating this until you have nailed the sound you're after (that was a long sentence - apologies).

To repeat myself from part one:

"There are two main parameters you need to think about here - volume, and frequency. The frequency is basically the pitch of the note you're hearing, higher frequencies are higher pitches. No frequency sounds inherently awful on it's own, until it's too loud. So the key here is not identifying 'nasty' frequencies, as is the common misconception, it's simply identifying frequencies which are too prominent, too loud or have too much volume in the mix."

Well in part two, we're going to focus on how to EQ a guitar using an EQ plugin on a piece of DAW software such as Pro Tools or Logic.

This will be really handy for rescuing a poorly recorded guitar sound, or for getting rid of a niggling gnarly frequency in an otherwise beautiful guitar tone.

So, as we learnt to do earlier on, the first thing I want you to do is create a high and low shelf, get rid of the extreme highs (with the slope starting at 10kHz) and the extreme lows (with the slope starting at around 100Hz).

High shelf and low shelf

Most EQ plugins have a high and low shelf as a preset, so this shouldn't be too difficult to do! The reason I want you to do this is because guitarists very often think that the key to big guitar tone is to take up every available frequency. But you just don't need to be occupying the extreme highs and lows, these will just show up unwanted harmonic overtones generated by your guitar and amp.

Now, we're going to first of learn how to identify a nasty frequency in a guitar tone. Sometimes you record a great guitar sound, but there's a piercing frequency, or a scratchy frequency.

VERY often, these are located somewhere in the mid range (500Hz to 5kHz). But I can already hear you say "but I thought the guitar mainly sits in the mid range frequencies?", and you'd be absolutely right in thinking that.

The mid range is where battle is won and lost ladies and gentlemen. There is no such thing as a 'horrible frequency', but there is such thing as a horrible sound produced by having too much of a certain frequency.

So you know that you have recorded a decent guitar sound, and you know that there are some frequencies which are just standing out far too much. How do you find them?

It's easy, and it's the oldest trick in the book... well, one of the oldest anyway. Guitarists, if there is one thing you learn about recording, mixing and producing guitars, then this should be it. This trick is called 'notching'.

Open up your EQ plugin on your guitar track, it doesn't matter if it's a 4-band, 7-band or 10-band (or whatever). Pick a band in the mid-range, if you don't know what I mean, I've circled this in red on the screenshot below.

Mid range frequency notching for guitars

Make sure the band is active, and then go to the knob/slider that says 'Q', or 'Q factor' or 'bandwidth' (it is usually labelled as any one of these three things), and twist/slide the knob/slider counter-clockwise (on most plug-ins, sometimes it's clockwise), this will make the band width thinner. You want a thing bandwidth!

There should be a little dot representing this band on the EQ graph, grab it with your cursor and drag it upwards (on the Y-axis), therefore boosting this frequency in terms of decibels and creating a spike on the graph.

Eq notching for guitars

This should create a fairly unsavoury sound. But you ain't heard nothing yet! Drag the dot/spike left and right, very slowly, along the EQ graph until, eventually, you'll hear the offending frequency that you wanted to remove from the mix just boost up in volume massively, you've just stumbled over the frequency that's ruining your mix, and it will sound horrendous (pictured at 3.5kHz below)!

EQ notching 3500Hz

The frequency that you wanted to get rid of should now be popping out and making you want to run to cover. Now drag the cursor downwards therefore 'cutting' this frequency out of the mix.

You don't want to drag it all the way down (unless it's an extreme case), but this will reduce the apparency of the offending frequency in the wider mix.

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2 Comments... Comments are closed while we transition to Disqus

none more black    Said...

"So the key here is not identifying 'nasty' frequencies, as is the common misconception"

but also

"Now, we're going to first of learn how to identify a nasty frequency in a guitar tone."


17-Dec-13 07:02 PM

none more whack    Said...

A frequency sounds nasty to the human ear when it's too loud.

Spend more time reading the advice and less time picking out semantics and you'll stand a chance of becoming a decent engineer.

18-Dec-13 03:28 PM

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