Being musicians, we all know how important finding your tone is. Any guitarists’ tone can make or break their performance. That being said, a lot of guitarists will know what they want out of their sound, but never quite be able to find that particular setting. Most of them stumble upon something they don’t mind and just learn to deal with the flaws. In these situations there’s a few things we can do, such as experimenting with different amps and pedals, but I like to do something to add that extra quality, and that’s called surgical equalizing.
To start with surgical EQing we’re going to need the proper tools, by which I mean a parametric equalizer. If you can’t get a hold of a parametric EQ, then you can substitute a graphic equalizer, but for the purposes of this article we’ll assume you can get one. Figure 1 shows a visualization of parametric EQ:
With a parametric equalizer we can do many things to shape the sound, such as adding high pass and low pass filters to completely cut certain frequencies, or “shelving” which is the same function most typical 3-band equalizers have, such as the ones on your amp. But what we’re mostly interested in is “Peak” equalization, which is only available on parametric equalizers.
Peak equalization (Figure 2) makes a parabola or “bell” in the EQ line. This makes it possible to lower and raise certain frequencies along the middle of the equalizer. There are three important variables in peak equalization, and those are “Frequency”, “Gain” and “Q”. Frequency is the part of the signal being affected, Gain is either an increase or decrease in the selected range. Q determines the shape of the bell, and is one of the most important parts of surgical equalizing.
Basically, surgical equalizing allows us to locate specific frequencies and modify them to our ears liking. The method is simple: first, we simply turn the Q way up. This will make the frequencies we’re trying to find very specific. Second, apply a significant amount of gain so we can hear what we’re trying to find. Lastly, search for the tone by fiddling with the frequency until you find a particularly offensive tone, then lower the gain until it’s more pleasing. You may need to do this a couple of times with separate frequencies to get the sound you want. And that’s it, you’ve successfully surgically equalized! You can also use this method to make certain frequencies that are more appealing stand out. Be careful not to over do the gain, or it might end up sounding worse then when you began.
If you plan on using distortion or overdrive, I personally prefer having the EQ after the distortion in the signal chain, in order to clean up some of the messiness that occurs. This means the guitar is plugged into the distortion, then the equalizer. Also be sure to place it before your effects, such as reverb, as not to affect the sound of the effect itself.