How much noise can a guitar make

7 EQ tips for guitar signals

Edit electric and acoustic guitar tracks with the equalizer

Workshop / guide / tutorial: regulating the sound in the mix

Anyone who uses electric guitars and acoustic guitars in a song will almost always work with an equalizer when mixing to raise or lower certain frequencies. Songs from a wide variety of music genres that contain acoustic or electric guitars, i.e. blues, rock, funk, soul, metal, pop, jazz and many more, are known to be very different, as are the guitar sounds used. You can hear soft, loud, fast or shrill guitars that are sometimes plucked, sometimes pecked, sometimes hit, sometimes petted, sometimes maltreated.

So can it make sense to make standard recommendations for equalizer settings? Certainly not! And anyway, does an EQ always have to be used? Not either! It would be like some people spicing up their meals before trying it just once. This approach is rather difficult for me, because I always try the food first and only optimize it when necessary. The following principle should also apply when mixing guitars: Listen first, then optimize. Nevertheless, I will now introduce you to some “spices” that you can try to refine your soup if necessary.

1. The most important EQ tip right at the beginning

Before an audio track can be edited, it must first be recorded. We do not always have an influence on the intake and we often have to live with what we receive. But for all those who record an acoustic or electric guitar themselves, this tip is also the most important of the whole article: Record the guitar the way you want to hear it in the mix. Please make every effort here from the beginning. Because the better the quality of the recording - the better the end result and your options in the mix. Even if we don't want to deal with the recording of acoustic and electric guitars at this point, it is important to me to remember this point: The sound is created in front of the microphone. What influences the sound? For example the choice of the instrument, the strings, the pick, the amp or the recording room. The amp's tone control also contributes a lot. The next step is the selection and positioning of the microphone. Even if you don't have a huge pool of microphones, it's worth trying out all the options here.

Forget the old saying “We'll fit it in the mix”. Equalizers are called “equalizers” in German because they were originally developed to be able to set back a “distorted” sound (here: “changed in frequency response”). And the best equalizer is unnecessary if nothing is “distorted” beforehand, at least if we are talking about limiting the damage to the recording signal.

Toningeneur legend and multiple Grammy winner Al Schmitt says of his own productions that he doesn't use equalizers. For us, that doesn't mean that using an EQ is a bad thing in and of itself. In many cases it is the tool of choice to correct an unsuccessful or unfavorable recording afterwards. Nevertheless: If you start with an optimal recording, it will be much easier later in the mix.

2. Remove deep bass from guitar recordings with the low cut

The low cut filter is often activated on all instruments that are not called bass or kick drum. The purpose is to remove low-frequency components from the signal. For example, unwanted impact sound, which is why low cut filters are also called impact sound filters. It is often advisable to use it within a large song arrangement with many different instruments in order to keep the bass range free for lower instruments. But here, too, the motto is: do not always activate, but first listen carefully to how the whole thing affects the sound. It always depends on the musical purpose of the guitar. In a singer / songwriter piece, exclusively with acoustic guitar and vocals, a low cut filter that is set too high can take away a lot of fullness and warmth. In these cases it is often not necessary to use it. However, if you occasionally have interference in the bass range, you can also automate the EQ and activate the low-pass filter only at the appropriate points. How do you find out what the optimal cutoff frequency is?

Equalizer with activated high-pass filter.

For example, if you use an EQ plug-in and you can freely set the cut-off frequency of your low cut, then start at the lowest frequency and slowly go higher -. until you can hear that the guitar is missing something down below. Then you go back a few Hertz. Now the filter should actually only affect unwanted deep bass, but not rob the guitar of any further useful signal. Always listen to the whole thing in the mix. Sometimes it sounds good in the overall context if the cutoff frequency is set even higher. Even if the guitar sounds too thin when listened to solo. Always make sure you understand the range of the instrument you are currently working on. The low E-string of a guitar vibrates at a frequency of around 82 Hz. There are also tunings in which this string is tuned even lower.

3. Control sludge and warmth in the guitar signal with the equalizer

In the range between 200 and 400 Hz there is often a need for action with guitars. In the case of bad recordings, it is not uncommon for unsightly resonance frequencies to occur in this area, which "maul" the guitar signal. These resonances mostly come from the room in which the recording was made, sometimes also from the instrument itself. A narrow-band lowering (with a high Q-factor) of the affected resonance frequency often works wonders. To find the right frequency, it is best to first amplify the band and then slowly move down the frequency range. The overemphasized frequency will clearly stand out. Now you can lower the exposed area until it sounds more homogeneous. This approach is always best when the resonance frequency can be heard all the time. If you only hear the resonance occasionally, you will often achieve nicer results with a dynamic equalizer.

In addition to the classic functions of an EQ, a dynamic equalizer also offers a freely adjustable operating point (threshold) and a ratio that determines the degree of increase or decrease when the operating point is exceeded. You already know the principle from a compressor. The advantage is that it is only rectified here when it is necessary. This means: If the resonance frequency exceeds the set operating point, the EQ works - at other points it does nothing. Give it a try!

Otherwise, you can raise the lower mid-range a little if you want to give the guitar more "warmth". Or you lower it a little to make the guitar slimmer and to create more space, for example for vocals.

A narrow-band lowering of the affected resonance frequency sometimes works wonders.

4. Nasal and hollow sound of the guitar signal?

If guitars somehow sound too "hollow", you can try in the range from 500 Hz to 1.5 kHz whether a little increase in the guitar can give it more substance. If it sounds more “wooden” or “nasal”, it may be this frequency range that you should lower a little. By the way: The fundamental range of a guitar usually ends in the region around 1.3 kHz with the three-stroke E - of course this varies from instrument to instrument. Nevertheless, this is far from over, because the sound of a guitar does not consist of pure basic frequencies, but is very complex and also consists of many overtones and noise components.

This is the area that should be worked on if the sound is nasal or hollow.

5. Does the guitar sound shrill or slack?

Let us dedicate ourselves to the range between 2 and 4 kHz. This is where the signal component lies, which is known as “presence” and which is very much responsible for assertiveness. Electric guitars in particular often bring a lot of this with them. If it sounds too “shrill” or “sharp”, you can try to defuse the guitars a little here. Or do you want your guitars to bite through the mix even more because they somehow still sound too slack? Then try to pick up something here. It should also be said that many inexpensive AD / DA converters often have problems in this frequency range. It can help to look for interfering resonances here and to remove them, as I described under point 3.

Another little extra tip for everyone who wants to get more presences from the guitar signal: Try an exciter instead of the equalizer. This generates additional overtones from the signal. The Aphex Aural Exciter is a popular classic that is available in various emulations for your own plug-in collection. Compressors also color the sound and the overtone structure in different ways. Listen!

6. Adjust the striking and string noises with the EQ

If you want to work out more details of the guitar playing, you can take a closer look at the range between 4 kHz and 8 kHz. This is where the noisy components are hidden, such as string and strike noises. Rhythm guitars, which by strumming take on the function of a tambourine rather than a harmony instrument, contain important information here. In the higher frequency ranges, try more broadband boosts or cuts (smaller Q-factor), because that sounds more natural.

Important noise components of the guitar signal lie between 4 and 8 kHz.

7. Shimmer and Shine of the electric guitar signal

Last but not least, a tip for the frequency range from 10 kHz upwards: Acoustic guitars in particular can look more elegant and refined, especially with smaller band line-ups or solo performances. A slight increase in the high shelf sometimes brings more shine and “hi-fi sound”. Electric guitars, on the other hand, especially those that are more distorted, usually don't have much to offer in this area. Try to cut the highs a bit with a high cut filter and thus create space for other, more detailed instruments. In principle, this is the opposite approach to tip 1!

Boost or cut with the high shelf gives control over the "Shimmer and Shine" of the recorded guitar.