RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
Whether you’re a budding recording engineer or a guitar player who wants to take even more control over your sound, you’ve probably wondered how to EQ an electric guitar.
The EQ settings you choose for an electric guitar will be dictated by the song, the other instruments and personal taste. Broadly, you want to reduce the lowest frequencies, increase the frequencies between about 100 Hz and 400 Hz to fill out the body sound, and carefully adjust the higher frequencies to impart sparkle.
The exact settings you should use are going to vary depending on whether you’re EQing a live performance or a previous recording, as well as the specifics of the instrument, it’s place in the song, and a lot more.
Let’s examine why EQ is so important, what it can and can’t do, and then look at how you might want to change EQ settings based on the whole range of things you’re trying to balance.
What Is EQ?
EQ, short for equalization, is the term used in sound to refer to adjusting the levels of various frequency ranges. Sound is measured in vibrations per second, with one vibration per second called 1 Hertz, usually abbreviated 1 Hz.
Humans can generally hear between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz — a very wide range of pitches! The exact range varies by person, and often decreases with age.
Humans are more sensitive to some frequencies than others — that is some appear louder or dominate when stacked up against others. Part of what adjusting EQ settings does is exactly what the name implies: shaping the various frequencies until the sound is more even and pleasant sounding.
You can, of course, push well past “pleasant sounding,” and you might have good reasons to do so, but in general, you want to make small changes to a lot of frequencies to get the best possible sound for your application.
How To Adjust EQ
One of the most common and most versatile ways to adjust EQ is with what’s known as a graphic equalizer. These can be physical pieces of gear or computer plugins, and they generally work the same way.
A row of sliders lets you adjust different frequency ranges, either boosting their volume or decreasing it. Those changes affect the overall tone of the mix.
Most graphic EQs have between 7 and 31 sliders, with more sliders offering more fine-grained control over the frequency ranges you can adjust. When there are 31 bands, you have the range of 16 Hz to 16,000 Hz divided into thirds of an octave, so three adjacent sliders would control a full octave of frequencies.
You can also adjust EQ in other ways. A fully parametric EQ lets you select as narrow a range of frequencies to adjust, meaning you can increase or decrease the sound of particular frequencies to achieve different effects.
The tone control knobs you’ll find on mixers and some guitar amps, especially the kind divided into multiple different frequency ranges, are semi-parametric. That means you can adjust the gain of various frequencies, but you can’t adjust the different ranges or how narrow or broad they are.
A final type of EQ adjustment uses filters. A high-pass filter allows frequencies above a certain amount to be heard while eliminating those below that frequency. A low-pass filter does the opposite.
We’ll look at why you might use each of these later, as well as how to adjust their settings. This video also gives a rundown of the different types and why you might pick each one.
Most EQs, whether graphic, parametric or something else, have multiple frequency ranges they can adjust. While the specific ranges will vary from EQ to EQ, there are some larger groupings it’s worth knowing.
- Super Lows, 16 Hz to 60 Hz: The very very lowest frequencies in any mix, they’re what you feel rather than hear, especially during a live show. If you’ve ever appreciated the way some songs can feel to almost thump inside your chest like another heartbeat, you have this frequency range to thank.
- Lows, 60 Hz to 250 Hz: Also called Bass, these frequencies are the lowest actual notes produced, and they’re the foundation of the rhythm section.
- Low Mids, 250 Hz to 2 kHz: This area is really critical to guitar in particular, because guitar is primarily a midrange instrument. The range between about 500 Hz and 2 kHz is critical for a cohesive mix of sounds.
- High Mids, 2 kHz to 4 kHz: This is where the attack and higher percussion frequencies are most prevalent. You can also use this range to help things like guitar stand out.
- Highs, 4 kHz to 6 kHz: This range is sometime called “presence” because it has a lot to do with how clear the instruments sound and how far away they seem to be. This is also a range that gives drums more punch.
- Super Highs, 6 kHz to 16 kHz: This part of the frequency spectrum is sometimes called “brilliance” and the name is apt. It affects how clear and direct an instrument sounds.
What EQ Can’t Do
Before we get too much further, it’s worth making mention of the limits of EQ adjustment. First, EQ changes can increase or decrease frequencies, but they can’t create new ones.
That means if the guitar part isn’t good, you can’t EQ it so it sounds good. That’s true whether you’re doing a live show with a band or mixing a song — EQ can’t save a bad performance or recording.
EQ can fix small problems with tone and can take a good recording and make it great. But you can’t rely on it to save something that probably should just be done better in the first place.
How Do You EQ Electric Guitar?
The good news and the bad news about EQing electric guitar is the same: There isn’t a single answer.
It makes sense when you think about. Two guitars can sound vastly different even when played without distortion through the same amplifier. When you add in more pickup combinations, different guitar amps and the almost dizzying array of possibilities for guitar pedal and effects choices, it becomes clear why there isn’t just one answer. When you add in virtual pedals, you can see that there is an endless amount of options.
You have to think about what the guitar is doing in the song and what the environment you’re adjusting EQ for is going to be like.
You need to adjust different frequencies to make a guitar sound good in a small club as opposed to an open-air venue, and both of those are different from the frequencies you’d adjust for a pair of home speakers or headphones.
EQ Settings For Electric Guitar
Using the categories we looked at earlier, let’s examine what settings might be appropriate for each category.
- Super Lows and Lows, 16 Hz to between 60 and 80 Hz: Guitars produce some frequencies this low, but they’re rarely very helpful. Using a high-pass filter that eliminates frequencies below about 80 or 100 Hz will cut out unwanted rumble.
- Lows and Low Mids, 100 Hz to 2 kHz: This is the primary frequency range for guitars, so there is a lot of tweaking that can be done here. We’ll examine more of that later.
- High Mids and Highs, 2 kHz to 6 khZ: The top range of the usable sounds from a guitar, you can use this category to adjust clarity and presence.
- Super Highs, 6 kHz to 16 kHz: If you use a frequency analyzer, you’ll see guitars produce plenty of sound in these upper frequencies, but they often hurt the mix more than help them, especially when using distortion. A low-pass filter set to between 7 kHz and 10 kHz can help with fizzy, harsh high tones.
EQing Live Vs. On A Recording
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, where the guitar is being heard matters a lot when deciding what EQ settings are best.
That’s especially true when comparing EQ settings for live shows versus recordings. In a lot of ways, EQing a recorded part is much simpler than dealing with a live performance.
For one thing, you only need to make the song sound good on a pair of studio reference monitors to make sure you get a good, consistent sound.
A live show, on the other hand, has a ton of variables, from speaker placement and type to crowd size to whether the venue is indoors or outdoors. In each of those cases, you’ll need to adjust the EQ settings differently depending on the guitar sound, the song itself and the many other factors that can affect the overall sound.
If you’ve ever wondered why a soundcheck is a big deal, that’s why — it’s at the soundcheck that the engineers can dial in the right settings.
Because unlike with a recording, any changes you make during the show will have an immediate impact on what the audience hears. It can feel like walking a tightrope without a net.
When EQing electric guitar in a live setting you often don’t have as much control as you would mixing a recording. You’ll usually have a good graphic EQ to work with, but it will be affecting the entire mix.
You can work on guitar using the mixer’s EQ controls.
The best way to EQ a live performance is to start by cutting unwanted frequencies. That gives you a good baseline to start boosting individual instruments and even frequencies with your subsequent EQ settings.
One frequency range to focus on when EQing electric guitar live is between 250 Hz and 350 Hz. These are in the Low Mids and can make a guitar — and the entire mix — sound muddy.
Don’t cut out too much from this range, though, or you risk making your guitar parts sound lifeless and hollow.
If you have a really complex mix and you want the guitar to have some presence but not be the dominant instrument, you can try cutting frequencies between 300 Hz and 500 Hz to radically reduce the midrange.
How Do You EQ Rhythm Guitar?
When you’re trying to get the right sound on a rhythm guitar part, consider boosting around 500 Hz, which is the so-called “body” sound of the guitar. It makes a part sound fuller without increasing volume.
If it’s a clean sound, increasing the fullness and possibly adding warmth by boosting slightly around 200 Hz — watch to not make things sound muddy — might be all you need. That adjustment, along with a few other techniques, can really bring out the warmth in any guitar but especially the acoustic.
If your guitar sound is overdriven, though, consider boosting between 400 Hz and 1000 Hz for more of a crunchy sound — perfect for classic or hard rock style power chords to move the song forward.
How Do You EQ Lead Guitar?
A perfect lead guitar riff can make any song into a classic, but the way that riff sits in the mix depends a lot on the EQ. If you’re using a clean tone, you might consider boosting around 150 Hz to 300 Hz to improve warmth, but you could also try to cut those and instead boost the highs — around 2 kHz to 5 kHz — to give it more bite.
Likewise, if the tone is distorted, you could boost between 400 Hz and 1000 Hz to give a crunchy tone, or you could boost the Super Highs, say as high as 6 kHz, to make the part have a sizzling, almost fizzy sound.
Your best bet is to use multiple kinds of EQ if that’s available, so you can try multiple adjustments to make sure boosting one area doesn’t create problems in another.
How Do You EQ Electric Guitar Solos?
You have the same range of options as a lead guitar line for solos, but you can go a different route, as well. Giving a small boost to some of the Highs, particularly between 3 kHz and 4 kHz, can boost the percussive attack of the guitar pick on the strings, as well as highlight any harmonics produced.
Too much boosting to that range can make things sound shrill, and humans are very sensitive to that range, so small boosts can also make the volume seem much louder.
You can even boost a bit higher than that, around 5 kHz, to add a glossy sound to solos played on humbucker equipped guitars.
Electric Guitar EQ Cheat Sheet
- Muddy sounds: The very lowest frequencies, between 16 and about 80 Hz, can be cut, which will eliminate a potentially “muddy” sound.
- Bring the boom: Giving a boost around 100 Hz can make the guitar sound a bit bassier and give the low end more boom.
- Honk like a horn: If you want to make a solo sound punchier, try boosting between 1 kHz and 2 Khz, which can give the guitar a horn-like honk. Go too far and it’ll sound like you’re playing an out-of-tune duck, though.
- Be present: Giving a boost around 5 kHz gives the guitar more presence, and can make it stand out in the mix without having to adjust the volume or gain as much.
You could spend decades mixing guitar and still not unlock every secret it has to offer, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempts at getting the right EQ settings don’t go as planned. It can also be difficult if you’re used to EQ’ing an acoustic guitar which is an entirely different animal.
Keep trying, keep some of the tips here in mind, and above everything else, keep listening, and you’ll find the sound you’re looking for.
I’ve been a musician, particularly a guitarist, for more than 25 years. I love writing about guitars, gear, recording, music in general and more.