Let's dig into some discussion about EQ’ing guitar, both acoustic and electric. Each one, of course, would have its own approach, based upon the instrument, mic, amp head, cabinet and type of amp simulator. Over the years, I’ve narrowed down the plugins I turn to in order to get the job done, no matter how different each above mentioned parameter is.
I break this category down into two separate areas—plugin simulators and real amps. Most plugin simulator amps have their own subset of EQ options built in, usually directly on the amps face itself. Aside from the standard Bass, Mid and Treble, some amps (like certain Marshalls and Fenders) have a Presence knob as well, which can be bright if turned too high. Then there is the ability to often change not only the cabinets, but sometimes the microphones and placements. They are undoubtedly easier to change than that on a real amp in a room, so use them to get the sound rocking right out of the gate. Interestingly enough, I have found myself turning to the same types EQ regardless if it’s a plug in or an amp.
TIME TO PLUG IN
While the standard amp controls will get you to a certain place, in order to dig deeper, you’ll often need a separate plugin EQ to better fit the overall sound into the mix—where it really matters. That's where I turn to two different software EQs, the Neve 1073 or API 560. I just happen to use Universal Audios version, because I have them, but there are other options out there as well. There’s a reason why both of these have been used on countless hit records, because they have that ‘magic’ sound.
The 1073 models the full 1073 circuit path, which includes the preamp, output amp, clip characteristics and, of course, the famous 3 band EQ. For electric guitar parts, I have found 2 frequencies are especially useful. The first is the 4.8kHz setting on the mid-frequency knob. You first press the EQL button to enable the EQ (of you won’t hear anything), and then click the outer ring until you get to the 4.8kHz frequency. You then click on the inner gray knob and turn it clockwise, up towards the + side. This frequency on the 1073 seems to just lift up the upper mids of almost any electric guitar track, and cut them right through without sounding harsh.
The second setting I turn to typically is the low shelf frequency knob. I’ll set it anywhere between 60 and 120 Hz and turn it counter clockwise, towards the - side. This cuts the underbelly of the guitar, which can cloud up the bass and kick. You’ll be surprised how the guitar track can still sound thick by cutting down on those lows down.
Another go-to EQ for this application is the API 560, which is a ten-band graphic EQ modeled after the early '70s unit that includes their custom 2520 op-amp.
Once again, I turn to the 4 kHz slider and simply push it to the right, which can deliver up to 12 dB of gain. If the track needs a bit more top air, I will push up the 8 kHz slider. Then I will take the same approach as with the 1073 and pull down some of the bottom—in this case the 63 Hz slider and 31 Hz as well. No need to have all that mud down there!
Acoustic guitars, in my opinion, need a different approach, which is ‘cleaner’ than the electric approach. My go-to acoustic guitar EQ’s are the Sonnox Oxford EQ or the Massenburg DesignWorks MDWEQ5.
SONNOX OXFORD EQ
The Sonnox EQ is a 5-band EQ that includes selectable LF and HF shelves. It’s very clean in character, which is why I turn to it on acoustic instruments, especially guitar. It has four different types of EQ curves (selectable in the EQ curve type window) that have wider or narrower bandwidths.
For most acoustic applications, I select EQ type 3 and start with a frequency range around 10 kHz. This lifts up the picking and air range of the guitar, and increases its clarity in the mix. It’s easy to grab the yellow band marker, and sweep it around with your mouse, to find what frequency area works best for that instrument. Experiment with the Q, which is how wide or narrow that selected band is. The wider the Q, the more frequencies around your ‘point’ will be. When you narrow the Q, you affect less frequencies around it, making it more surgical.
Then I will enable the LF filter and cut the bottom end out anywhere in the 100–150 Hz range. Once again, this helps clean up the bottom of the track to make room for other instruments.
MASSENBERG DESIGNWORKS MDWEQ5
Massenberg DesignWorks MDWEQ5, which is also a UAD release, is a 5-band Parametric EQ that’s clean and precise. It has little to no coloration, and they spent years focusing on just how the filters work in the digital domain.
Since it is quite subtle, one of the first things I do is push up the highs with a shelf EQ around 4 kHz, which adds air to the top spectrum of the strings. Note I would not normally do that with most EQ’s, only with very precise clean ones such as this. It’s almost shocking how high you can turn this band up while still retaining a pure sound.
Next I will cut down some of the lows around 120 Hz, and possibly even sweep around and scoop down some of the low mids in the 300 Hz–500 Hz range, depending on how the guitar was recorded, etc.
As you might imagine, every track will have its own sonic needs as far as guitar EQ goes. Overall, I find EQs that have coloration, such as those from Neve and API work great on electric guitars. Those that are ultra clean and pristine, such as Sonnox and Massenberg, work great on acoustic guitars. Use your ears and go for it.
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