Do you know where your electric guitar’s tone begins? I’ll give you a hint… It DOESN’T start with your favourite EQ plug-in. That’s why this article will be different from the rest.
We’re going to learn how to EQ electric guitar from START to finish.
If you’re looking for the most comprehensive knowledge on the subject, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll be focusing on the different EQ “modules” in our signal-chain to better understand how each step of the EQing process affects the final product.
Here’s what we’ll be covering:
- The EQing process begins with your electric guitar
- What about your guitar amplifier’s EQ?
- Microphones modify your electric guitar’s EQ profile
- Different types of EQs, but does it really matter?
- EQing electric guitar in post-production using plug-ins
- Some additional notes on EQing electric guitar
- Summary: How To EQ Electric Guitar
The EQing process begins with your electric guitar
To answer our previous question… Your electric guitar’s tone begins with the instrument itself. Each electric guitar has its “stock” sound, kind of like a preset.
In other words, you’ve already got something to work with right out of the box.
When we’re talking about EQing an electric guitar, we’re basically talking about modifying that instrument’s tonal characteristics. Think of it like sculpting; you’re removing matter to create a sculpture.
Although you could technically “boost” frequencies, the truth is you can’t really add something that wasn’t there before (not without distortion, anyway). We’ll talk more about additive/subtractive EQ later on, but it’s crucial that you understand this fundamental point about EQ…
You can always remove frequencies, but you can NEVER go back in time (further down your signal-chain) to get them back.
That being said, here are the elements that are responsible your electric guitar’s default EQ profile:
- Type of construction wood(s)
- Type of guitar strings
- Type of bridge/hardware
- Type of guitar pickup
- Pickup configuration
- Volume/Tone knobs
Type of construction wood(s)
Out of all the wooden parts of your electric guitar, it’s the FRETBOARD that affects tone the most.
Maple is one of the brightest. Rosewood is somewhere down the middle. Ebony is one of the darkest. Of course, there are plenty more, but you get the idea.
Even with EQ, you can’t make maple sound like ebony and vice-versa.
Type of guitar strings
Right from the start, I can already tell you that using certain strings (roundwounds) provides more treble/high-end from the get-go. The older they get, the darker sounding they’ll become.
Other strings (flatwounds) provide more bass/bottom-end, but it becomes much more difficult to brighten them up down the line if you realize it was too much.
The type of material your electric guitar strings are made of also affects its initial EQ curve.
Type of bridge/hardware
Floating-bridge electric guitars like Stratocasters have a particular sound. Similarly, you’ll hear the difference (without even plugging-in) when you compare that to a fixed-bridge instrument like a Les Paul-type guitar.
It’ll be more subtle than brighter/darker. I hear it as thinner vs thicker (respectively).
Make sure you know what you’re striving for BEFORE settling on one guitar.
Type of guitar pickup
This will make the BIGGEST difference.
No amount of EQ will ever compensate for improper pickup selection.
If you want something bright/thin, go with single-coils. If you want more darkness/fatness, go with P90s (bigger single-coils). If you want balance, then humbuckers are your best bet!
The neck position sounds darker and the bridge position sounds brighter. It’s as simple as that, but it gets more complicated with electric guitars like Stratocasters.
You’ll need to experiment, but make sure you know your options.
Position #5 on a Stratocaster will NEVER sound like position #2 regardless of the amount of EQ you use.
I don’t really recommend diving into your electric guitar’s electronics (unless you’re into that kind of thing), but it DOES make a difference.
For example, how your pickups are wired matters (parallel, in-series, etc…).
The amount/type of capacitors and potentiometers used also impacts your sound. Some guitar players bypass everything and connect their pickups straight to the output jack.
That results in MORE treble/high-end (typical of Telecaster country players).
In my opinion, this is the second most important set of parameters.
I personally recommend leaving everything at MAXIMUM because that’s as close as you’ll get to bypassing your volume/tone knobs. Remember, you can never recover what you remove.
You may think it sounds good in the moment, but you don’t know how much your electric guitar’s tone will change during the EQ process.
That’s just how I do things, but you can definitely get some different results if you experiment with the tone knob. The volume knob works best when used with some type of distortion/overdrive/fuzz pedal.
What about your guitar amplifier’s EQ?
Whether you’re using physical amplifiers or virtual amplifiers, you’ll most likely come face to face with yet another EQ “module” in your EQing process. Most electric guitar amplifiers include a 3-band EQ (bass, mid & treble), but there are variations.
So the question is… Should you use it? YES.
Do you even have a choice? KIND OF.
I don’t recommend setting everything to 12 o’clock because that’ll take away from your ability to sculpt your sound. Think of the amplifier’s EQ as a means to mix the sound of your electric guitar with the amp itself.
In other words, every guitar you play through it will “react” differently, so each guitar requires its own preset.
I recommend jotting these down in a notebook or using digital presets (why amp sims ROCK). I keep folders for EACH one of my instruments.
So, I can’t tell you how to EQ your specific electric guitar/amp, but I can suggest some basic manoeuvres that can be applied universally…
- Don’t cut your bass, you may even want to boost it (thickens up your sound)
- I usually boost my mids, but that’s personal preference (it cuts through the mix more)
- I usually leave the treble at 12 o’clock, except when I use high-gain channels (then I boost for more pick-attack)
You might be thinking… “But wait, you said you can’t add anything that wasn’t there before”.
That’s right! I’m not adding anything by boosting, I’m actually distorting those frequencies.
The guitar amp’s EQ behaves differently (especially with tube-amps) because it controls HOW your guitar tone is being saturated by the amp’s gain-stage. Put differently, you’re controlling how the guitar tone is being distorted (or NOT being distorted).
The thing is NO guitar amp is completely “transparent”, so there’ll always be some form of colouration/distortion.
If you really want to bypass this EQ “module”, just track straight into your mixing console Minneapolis-style (like Prince). If you go this route, I recommend using an ACTIVE DI BOX to ensure maximum (if not complete) transparency.
You can even use a combination of BOTH (amp + direct box). That’s what I usually do!
It gives you more options to choose from for the mixing-stage and allows you to have “parallel universe” versions of the same track. Pretty cool, right?
Microphones modify your electric guitar’s EQ profile
As an instrument, the microphone also has its own default tonal characteristics. Even if you’re recording using virtual amplifiers, it’s most likely got an emulation of the impulse response of multiple different microphones/guitar cabinets.
Don’t be scared, microphones can actually enhance your guitar tone!
They can completely ruin it.
Selecting the appropriate microphone for the job is crucial and it’s not as difficult as you might think. Of course, the possibilities are ENDLESS, but you can NEVER go wrong with the Shure SM57 dynamic cardioid microphone.
It’s used on 99.9% of guitar tracks (not an actual statistic, but it’s pretty close).
One of the things this microphone does is cut ABOVE 15 kHz which is something you’d do in post-production either way. I actually cut above 10 kHz, but more on that later.
In essence, the microphone can actually do most of the work for you if you choose wisely.
You can also combine different microphones together to have more options down the road.
That’s typically the way I would do things, but you still want every microphone to serve a purpose. It’s also why I recommend having one “DI track” before the amp/microphone stages just as a backup plan.
Most DI boxes have a throughput you can use to split your signal.
When you do this professionally, you make sure to cover all your bases!
Different types of EQs, but does it really matter?
So, the only EQ we’ve dealt with up to this point is the multi-band (most likely 3-band) EQ on your electric guitar amplifier, but there are MANY different types of EQ.
Before getting into that, NO. It doesn’t really matter which one you use.
They’re all just different “processes”, but you can attain similar (if not identical) results using ANY type of EQ module/plug-in. However, the analog/tube EQs will behave differently than the solid-state/digital models.
Just think of an EQ as an amplifier (that’s basically what it is, although being specialized in frequencies).
If you’re starting to understand the concept, the EQ “process” is basically your electric guitar going through one OR many different amplifiers (also known as gain-stages).
This kind of stuff matters much more with analog technology though.
The transparency of virtual technology makes it less important, but you should still know!
Either way, if you’ll be using Logic Pro X (or any other DAW) to EQ your electric guitar track, you’ll most likely be using the stock plug-ins. That being said, the default EQ in Logic Pro X is the parametric EQ.
They’ve even got a “linear” parametric EQ which is even more transparent (but requires more processing power).
Parametric EQs are the easiest to work with since they provide the most freedom. It may seem intimidating at first, but the advantage is that you get many “bands” to work with and you can move them around the frequency spectrum freely.
I also prefer the visual representation of what’s going on.
Multi-band EQs (like the one your guitar amp) are fixed in place.
There are also graphic EQs which can provide more freedom, but I place these somewhere in between multi-band and parametric EQs.
Basically, the only difference is the amount of flexibility you’ll have.
EQing electric guitar in post-production using plug-ins
Finally, we’re here! This is the part of the EQing process everyone usually wants to know about (and talks about), but I hope you read everything prior to this to get the FULL picture.
If not, maybe you’ll come back one day and realize why I wrote it…
When it comes to EQing in Logic Pro X (or any other DAW), I usually work in 2 stages (3 stages if you count mastering which we WON’T get into here).
The first stage is EQing the actual track.
The second stage involves bussing all the guitar tracks (if there are many) and EQing them as one.
We won’t really get into the second stage either because it’s more of a mixing technique. For the purposes of this article, we’re just focusing on EQing the individual guitar track.
In other words, we’re just going to “prepare” it for the mixing stage.
Step #1: High-Pass Filter
Ironically, the high-pass filter cuts out the bass. I usually go to 80 Hz, but that’s my personal preference. The typical range goes from 60 – 100 Hz but honestly, you most likely won’t be hearing anything below 100 Hz in the mix either way.
We’re simple “cleaning up” the bottom-end.
Step #2: Low-Pass Filter
We talked about this briefly in the section on microphones, but you’ll want your low-pass filter to cut at around 10 kHz. There’s nothing above that range that’ll be heard in the mix and that’s just the way electric guitars are.
We’re using this to “focus” the energy in our frequency spectrum.
Step #3: Tweaking (optional)
As you get more experience with the ENTIRE EQing process, you may start skipping this step altogether. My electric guitar tones usually don’t require much sculpting after everything else I put them through, but things weren’t always that way.
Just create some “notches” and sweep through the frequencies that irritate your ears and bring ‘em down (not more than 5 dB or you’ll create phase issues). We’ll be talking about “troublesome” frequencies in the next section.
I wish I had more “rules” to give you, but it’s really not as complicated as everyone makes it out to be. The only other thing I can suggest is booking a 1-on-1 consultation with me if you want me to guide you through the EQing process.
We can use one of my tracks or one of yours. I’m also thinking of creating an online course on the subject of mixing and mastering, so let me know in the comments if you’d be interested!
Some additional notes on EQing electric guitar
The one thing you need to understand is that you’ll need an entire mix to accurately EQ your electric guitar(s). It’s difficult to know what that’ll sound like before the mixing stage.
That’s why we’re only covering the preparation for mixing in this article.
However, I will share some “key” areas that you may want to watch out for when mixing.
- 1 – 1.5 kHz: If you need more pick-attack, boost here
- 3 – 5 kHz: You may want to cut around here, it usually sounds cluttered/messy
Of course, I don’t recommend doing any of this out of context. You need to hear what it sounds like with ALL the other instruments to make accurate judgments.
I also mentioned combining all your electric guitar tracks (if you’ve got more than one) into a bus which we refer to as a “sub-mix”.
That’s where you’ll apply general EQ manoeuvres that apply to ALL electric guitars.
You can copy the same steps as the previous section and tweak even more.
Other than that, keep in mind that mastering (the third stage I referred to) will also alter how your electric guitars behave in the context of the mix.
Once you get more experience, you’ll be able to anticipate these changes but until then…
The only way to learn is to make mistakes. Sorry, but that’s the hard truth!
Summary: How To EQ Electric Guitar
If you didn’t have the time to read through all that, I understand. We’ll finish off this post by summarizing everything we’ve covered with some convenient bullet points.
It all starts with the electric guitar…
- Choose your electric guitar wisely
- The type of guitar strings affects the amount of “natural” treble
- The type of guitar pickup affects the EQ spectrum the most
- Pickup configuration matters, know your instrument
- Keep your volume/tone knobs bypassed (at max level)
Then we need to consider the amp…
- Don’t avoid your amp’s EQ, use it to your advantage
- Don’t cut the bass, if anything, boost it a little
- I personally boost my mids
- Boosting the treble can compensate for darker-sounding pickups
- If you want to preserve your “pure” guitar tone, skip the amp and plug straight into your mixing console/audio interface (using a DI box)
Don’t forget about the microphone (or impulse response)…
- Be aware of the microphone’s EQ curve, it can assist or ruin your guitar tone
- The Shure SM57 is the “no-brainer” when it comes to recording electric guitar
Finally, the post-production EQing (which should be minimal if you did your job right)…
- High-pass filter around 80 Hz
- Low-pass filter Around 10 kHz
- Filter out any undesirable frequencies
- Don’t make any drastic changes before hearing your electric guitar(s) in the context of a full mix (i.e. with other instruments)
- Use “sub-mixes” to combine all your electric guitar tracks into one
Lastly, if you really want to improve your mixing and mastering skills quickly, you’ll want to work with an industry-professional. I’m not saying I’m the only one out there, but I’d be thrilled to work with you 1-on-1 to assist you in developing this skill set.
If you’d rather not invest in your career though, that’s okay!
I’m planning to create some FREE tutorials on the subject, but I want to know which genres/styles you’d like to learn about most. You can even listen to some of my tracks and let me know which one(s) you’d like me to use as an example.
Leave a comment and let me know how I can assist you in achieving your musical goals! Thanks for reading.