- Channeling your inner Hendrix but ending up with a muddy mix in recording?
- Guitars have a wide frequency range that can quickly become problematic if not attended to
- We dive deep into all things guitar EQ and crucial areas to consider when mixing guitar
- While you’re here, also grab our highly popular Vocal EQ Chart & Vocal Compression Cheat Sheet
Understanding how to EQ guitars correctly can seriously improve the quality of your overall mixes. Guitars can take up a considerable portion of a mix, frequency-wise, especially in music styles like rock, funk, jazz, or pop.
Both acoustic and electric guitars have distinct sweet spots and problem areas in their frequency response. We’ve put together an EQ cheat sheet discussing these areas, along with some basic user tips for using EQ on guitar. We’ll also discuss the difference between clean and distorted electric guitars.
This guide aims to help you achieve the following goals while using EQ on guitar:
- Removing any unnecessary or redundant frequencies to create space for other mixed elements.
- Boosting or reducing certain frequencies to improve the presence and clarity of guitars.
- Removing or reducing any harsh frequencies to create a smoother sound for guitars.
- Boosting certain frequencies to enhance the tone, dynamic, or color of a guitar.
A Brief Guide To Guitar EQ
We’ve laid out some basic considerations to use as a guide when making EQ decisions with your guitar. It’s important to consider these guidelines as the foundation for your guitar EQ.
Acoustic guitars sound different from electric guitars, and their frequency response will further change if you introduce any additional effects like chorus or reverb. Also, different guitar models have different sonic behaviors, and the nature of your recording methods will also affect your overall guitar tone.
You will still need to use your ear to seek out the best and worst parts of your guitar’s EQ after using the steps listed below, as each guitar has a unique character.
Acoustic Guitar EQ Chart
Areas To Pay Attention To
The acoustic guitar generally has a weighty, organic sound. The EQ for most acoustic guitars should prioritize enhancing the natural resonance that the acoustic guitar’s body provides, as well as the presence of the strings over the soundhole. Below are a few basic guidelines for acoustic guitar EQ.
- Lows (0 – 200HZ) – Acoustic guitars generally don’t have much frequency response below 200 Hz. You can use a high-pass filter to sweep out most of this region to create space for other instruments. If the song has minimal instrumentation (eg, acoustic guitar and vocals only), the low end can be left open to add depth and room to the overall mix
- Lower Mids (200 Hz – 1kHz) – Most of the acoustic guitar’s body and resonance sit in this frequency area. It’s best to notch out certain areas in this region that create muddiness. Certain smaller or lighter acoustic guitars may need enhancements in this region to give them more weight. Overcutting in this area can reduce the overall dynamic of an acoustic guitar.
- Upper Mids (1 – 5kHz) – Most of the acoustic guitar’s presence and clarity starts in this region between 2 and 5 kHz. If an acoustic guitar sounds dull, you can search for areas in this region that enhance its tonal presence. You can also reduce certain areas in this region to help the blend better with mid-heavy instruments like synths, vocals, or brass.
- Highs (5 kHz and above) – Acoustic guitars that sound overlay bright or sharp can be smoothed out by reducing areas anywhere over 5 Khz. There are some areas between 5 and 7 kHz that can be raised to add air or sparkle to an acoustic guitar. You can also use a low-pass filter to sweep out any redundant high-end frequency response, making room for mix elements like cymbals, percussions, and other sounds.
Electric Guitar EQ Chart
Areas To Pay Attention To (Clean Guitars)
Clean electric guitars have a much brighter overall tone than acoustic guitars and generally have less body, depending on the tuning and composition. The EQ for clean electric guitars should be used to bring out the dynamic in the strings.
Electric guitars contain a lot of mid-frequency responses. and special caution should be taken to blend these guitars with other mid-heavy instruments like brass, synths, or vocals.
- Lows (0 – 200HZ) – Most clean electric guitars can have their low-end swept out up to about 150 Hz. There is a valuable amount of body and fullness between 150 and 250 Hz, so try not to sweep too much of the low-end.
- Lower Mids (200 Hz – 1kHz) – Clean electric guitars carry a large portion of the character in this region, particularly between 300 and 800 Hz. Much like the acoustic guitar, frequencies in this area need to be carefully attenuated to remove any mud and preserve tonal definition.
- Upper Mids (1 – 5kHz) – Electric guitars can often carry a fair amount of clutter in this region, especially between 1 and 2.5 kHz. This clutter can give electric guitars an unpleasant honky overtone. Search around in this region for any harsh frequencies and reduce them accordingly.
- Highs (5 kHz and above) – Certain areas in this region can be raised to add brilliance or sparkle to your electric guitar. However, guitars can also become overly shrill and harsh in the high-end, so be sure not to boost too much in this area.
Looking to spice up your mixes with EQ? Check out Mid-Side EQ Ultimate Guide (Tips, Strategies & Applications)
Areas To Pay Attention To (Distorted Guitars)
Once electric guitars have distortion, they can become much more dynamic and volatile in their overall frequency response. You can use EQ to reduce many of the harsh frequencies that come with distorted guitars. You can also use EQ to bring out any presence or clarity that distortion may place on your guitar’s frequency response.
- Lows (0 – 200HZ) – Most of the low-end in this region can be swept off to create room for other instruments like a bass guitar. A lot of the fundamental thickness of distorted electric guitars sits between 150 and 250 kHz, so shape this area with a close and caring ear.
- Lower Mids (200 Hz – 1kHz) – Distortion can introduce a considerable amount of mud in the lower mids. Be sure to search for areas in this region that can be reduced to clean up this mud so that your low-end is clear and defined.
- Upper Mids (1 – 5kHz) – Much like a clean electric guitar, it’s healthy to search for areas in this region that generate too much harshness or honk on your guitar tone. This usually resides between 1 and 3 kHz with distorted electric guitar.
- Highs (5 kHz and above) – You can use a low-pass filter to sweep out a lot of redundant noise down to around 20 kHz, which should help add some presence to your electric guitar. Search for areas between 3 and 5-kHz that may need enhancing to add some clarity to your high-end.
Over 30 full-color pages of EQ tips, tricks and secrets. Includes breakdowns of when to use certain types of EQs, and why. Plus handy EQ cheat sheets for loads of different instruments.
Purchase our Ultimate Compression Handbook along with our Ultimate EQ Handbook and save an extra 20%!
Do all guitars have the same frequency response?
No, they don’t. Much like the human voice or a synthesizer, guitars come with a wide degree of dynamic expression, and you can generate a range of sounds from a single instrument.
For example, a sustained strum on an acoustic guitar will need a slightly different treatment than a pluck on an electric guitar. Keep this in mind before deciding to slap on the same EQ for all your guitar parts, as in most cases — separate treatment is advised.
Do bass guitar and electric guitar need the same EQ?
No, while they may seem like similar instruments and may even share compositional parts in certain arrangements) guitar and bass have distinctly different frequency responses. Bass guitars need an EQ that gives them a strong, clear low-end, while the priority with guitar EQ sits more in the mids and highs
Should I EQ my guitar before adding additional effects?
It’s generally a good idea to use EQ before adding additional effects to your guitar when mixing. Using EQ for clarity on the guitar can enhance the overall effectiveness of any effects placed further down the signal chain.
Next up, check out Subtractive Vs Additive EQ (When To Use Each & Why)
Guitars can be some of the most expressively dynamic instruments, and knowing how to EQ them appropriately can truly make or break your overall mix. The above-listed guidelines can be used as stepping stones to creating a reliable foundational mix for electric or acoustic guitars.
However, it’s also incredibly important to learn to trust and rely on your ear to achieve the best overall mix for guitars when using EQ. Much like the voice, every guitar has a unique sonic footprint, and EQ is one of the most effective mixing tools to make that footprint stand out.
- If you’re looking to get stuck into EQ’ing further, check out our Ultimate EQ Handbook.
- And don’t forget to grab our highly popular Vocal EQ Chart & Vocal Compression Cheat Sheets