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A Master Guide to Electric Guitar EQ Part 2: The Mixing Phase

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Shape The Tone After You Record

In part one of this series, I showed you how to shape a guitar tone before you start recording.

Now that you’ve put in the leg work to get a good sound before recording, you can use subtle EQ to make guitars sound even better. Great job, treat yourself to a self-indulgent solo.

Start by cutting out any unpleasant elements of the sound. If you're using a microphone that was positioned further back from the amp, there are likely some irritating room resonances. Use the Altitude Technique to find any ugly resonances and cut them away with a narrow cut.

Cutting out unpleasant elements
Cutting out unpleasant elements

Trim away some of the low end flab. Everything below 80Hz will be rumble and noise. Apply a high pass filter at 80Hz. Listen to the guitar in the context of the entire mix and try bringing the filter up higher.

Don’t be afraid to go all the way up to 200Hz here if it works in the context of the mix. This will often help get rid of some of the low end muddiness.

Adding a high pass filter to remove low end noise
Adding a high pass filter to remove low end noise

Listen to the guitar in the context of the song and think about what elements of the sound work. There might be a particular tonal quality that really compliments the song.

Perhaps the warmth of the guitar really brings out the clarity of the vocals. You could try a subtle, wide 3dB boost around 200Hz to emphasise this warmth.

Perhaps the crunch of the guitar really brings out the energy of the chorus. Try adding more bite around 3kHz.

Use the Altitude Mixing technique again to sweep around the frequency spectrum if you can’t already hear what’s working.

Enhancing pleasing elements of the tone
Enhancing pleasing elements of the tone

The key here is to use your ears. I could give you a list of frequencies to cut or boost; but every guitar is different.

There are some frequency ranges that are often problematic, more on that in a second. But apart from those you must learn to trust your ears. Apply EQ that works with the tone of the guitar and the song.

It’s not always easy when you start out, so here are some tips to get you going:

Cut the Muddiness Around 300-500Hz

Muddiness is a common issue, especially when several guitar tracks are recorded. Most of the instruments in a typical band setup have a lot of energy around 300-500Hz. This quickly builds up and makes your mix sound muddy.

Try a wide cut across this whole frequency range. Then try a more surgical narrow cut at different frequencies. Listen to what works, use your ears.

Cutting muddiness
Cutting muddiness

Create separation with EQ

Use EQ to create separation in your mix. Give each instrument it’s own section of the frequency spectrum to breathe in.

One way to do this is to cut the guitars around 3-4kHz to give the vocals more presence.

If you have two guitars playing in a similar range, try cutting one where you boost the other. On one guitar apply a boost at 4kHz and a cut at 500Hz. On the other do the complete opposite.

Creating separation between two guitars
Creating separation between two guitars

Add a Low Pass Filter to Make the Guitar Sit Further Back in the Mix

Electric guitars have very little frequency content above 5kHz. Above that there is some airiness and noise that adds to the character of the recorded sound. But it’s not always needed.

Adding a low pass filter at 5kHz will make little difference to the guitar tone in the context of the full mix. The guitar will blend in better with the track, if that’s what you want to achieve.

Adding a low pass filter
Adding a low pass filter

Don’t apply EQ in solo mode

It’s okay to go into solo mode to find any problematic frequencies and room resonances—as discussed earlier—in order to apply surgical EQ.

After that, though, you should mix the guitar in the context of the entire track. You don’t want the guitar to sound good on it’s own - you want it to sound good in the mix.

Start Mixing and Applying EQ in Mono

It’s common practice to pan guitars hard left and hard right. Especially for double tracked parts. This is great, but don’t do it as your first move.

It’s a bit of a get out of jail free card. The guitars won’t clash and step on each others toes if they are panned completely away from each other. But in a lot of situations listeners will be hearing your recording in mono.

Starting your mix in mono forces you to create separation with EQ and balancing rather than panning. When you pan everything at the very end of the mixing process you will be amazed with the space in your mix.

Conclusion

Make sure you’re approaching EQ with the right mindset.

Too many people ruin good recordings with drastic EQ because they didn’t spend enough time on finding their sound in the recording phase.

Think about how you can equalize and shape the tone of your guitar before you start recording. Use EQ in your DAW as a final touch to make your already awesome guitar recording even better.

I'm interested to hear your experiences with applying EQ to a guitar. You may have found something that works every time. If you found this tutorial interesting, or wish to discuss something I have said, please leave a comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

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