• How to use equalizers

    David Gilmour - how to use equalizers

    An equalizers can be a powerful tool for shaping your tone. A small nudge can do wonders but it’s easy to do more harm than good too. In this feature we’ll look at the importance of equalizers, how to use them and when.

    Equalizers (EQ) are commonly used to alter or balance frequencies by either cutting or boosting. Depending on the equalizer unit, this could either be a specific frequency, like studio EQs or EQ pedals, or a frequency range, like the EQ controls on your guitar amplifier.

    An EQ pedal, like the Boss GE-7 is active. This means that each filter or slider can both cut and boost the selected frequencies. In other words, each slider is a master volume for that specific frequency.

    Almost all guitar amplifiers, with a very few exceptions, have a passive EQ. This can be a bit confusing because we usually think of 5 or noon as flat or neutral but 10 is actually flat. So when you turn the bass, treble and middle all the way up on your amp, you got a flat frequency response. Anything lower than 10 is cutting that frequency.

    David Gilmour and equalizers

    David Gilmour has been using EQ pedals in his live rig since the 1984 About Face tour. The Boss GE-7 has been his favoured EQ and during the 80s, 90s and 2000s his rig has featured several GE-7s assigned to different gain pedals for tone shaping and alteration. During the 2016-17 Rattle That Lock tour, the GE-7s was replaced by Source Audio Programmable EQs.

    David Gilmour - How to use equalizers

    David’s three Boss GE-7s from the 2016-17 Rattle That Lock tour. Each of these was assigned to each of the Tube Drivers. The EQs are set with slight adjustments on the sliders.

    Obviously, all of his recorded guitars has been treated with some EQ for cutting and boosting certain frequencies to make the guitars sound just as he wants them and to make the guitar fit into the band mix. In addition to his amps, which also has the standard 3-band EQ, he’s also used different preamps, amps with active EQs and booster pedals.

    Still, the Boss GE-7s has been a big part of his rig and tone since the mid 80s. If you look closely at the settings of these pedals though you can see that there is really not much going on. The sliders are cutting or boosting just a hair and, when assigned to the Tube Drivers, like on the last tour, the EQs are basically just balancing some of that slight harshness known to those pedals.

    See the David Gilmour Album Gear Guide for more information on each album and tour.

    Record your guitar!

    The best way to learn how EQs work is to record your guitar. Doesn’t matter if its done with a fully mic’ed rig or with software. Use Garageband or whatever DAW you have available. There are tons of tutorials out there on how to do this but the important thing is that you spend some time getting the best tone possible from your guitar and record that.

    Now, select a graphic EQ in your DAW (I’m using the built in Channel EQ in Apple’s Logic X). Play the recorded guitar (preferably a clean track, overdrive track and distortion track) and select one of the sliders or points and start dragging it around in the EQ. You will now easily hear how the tone is altered.

    David Gilmour - How to use equalizers

    A typical EQ used for guitars in a studio mix. How the EQ eventually ends up, or if you want to use any at all, depends on the recorded track and how you want that track to sound and fit into a mix.

    Next step is to use the available sliders to create a usable EQ for your guitar tones. There are no rules but in a band mix you don’t really want too much low end that will take up the space of the bass drum and bass guitar (0-200Hz). You probably want to cut some low rumbling around 250-350Hz and, if you have a lot of mid range in your recorded guitar, you probably want to cut around 600-700Hz as well.

    Moving up, a guitar’s main frequency range or where you want to place the guitar in a mix, is around 1200-2500Hz. You might want to boost that a bit and, for a bit of high end sparkle and presence, boost around 4000-4500Hz and 7000Hz.

    Mind though that apart from the low end, which you often want to cut entirely, you should only perform minor cuts and boosts preferably no more than 6dB. Anything more will seriously alter your tone and you might want to change the settings on your amp or pedal or placement of your mic instead.

    The idea is that once you start recording your guitar and also mix that with other instruments, you’ll get an understanding of how to approach your amp, pedals and, if needed, your EQ pedal in a band situation. Which frequencies will make your guitar drown behind a bass or loud cymbals? What can you cut or boost to make your solo really stand out?

    Amp settings

    My approach is that I always make sure I have the best possible tone coming from the amp before I start fiddling with any pedals. Amps change depending on where you play. A small rehearsal studio can make any amp sound huge and you might even struggle with some low end but on a bigger stage, your amp can sound thin and struggle with cutting through the band mix.

    Don’t be afraid to boost the mid range. It might sound a bit overwhelming if you listen to the guitar alone but that’s really where you want the guitar in the mix.

    The bass and mids should be adjusted before you start tweaking the treble. We often boost treble when we feel that the guitar lack presence or sparkle but cutting the bass and boosting the mids, while keeping the treble fairly moderate, will solve the problem. Increasing the treble alone will only place it right behind the cymbals and keyboards, which is not what you want.

    The EQs on your amp should be enough to make the big changes and provide the platform you need for your tones. The right amp settings will make your guitar and pedals sound more natural too. However, an EQ pedal allows you to make those small changes and adjust specific frequencies.

    EQ on the pedalboard

    In most cases you want the EQ after your fuzz, distortion, overdrive and boost. Most of these pedals are often just equipped with a single tone control or maybe controls for bass and treble. Some pedals needs more bass, while others can do with a bit of high end roll off for getting rid of unwanted sizzle. This, as explained above, is also how David uses his EQs.

    If space is an issue then combine a high gain overdrive, like the Fulltone OCD, with an EQ and add a bit of mid range and boost for your solos. That should eliminate a couple of pedals. Likewise, an EQ is also an excellent tool for adding a bit of boost and sparkle to your clean sounds. Or, for a bit of that red Stat EMG SPC humbuckerish tone, boost the 400Hz and 800Hz 4-5dBs.

    A different approach is to have the EQ last on your pedalboard after all the modulations and delays. It will act as a master EQ that can either assist the amp with those difficult frequencies or, for sculpting the whole signal coming from your board. This goes back to the studio situation where you often roll off some lows and highs on the delays and reverbs to make space in the mix.

    I rarely have EQ pedals in my rig. I feel that I can get the tones I need from my pickups, amps and pedals and whenever I do need more or less of anything, I often combine pedals, like stacking two overdrives or leaving a booster on as a basis for several tones.

    EQ pedals should be used with care otherwise you can end up ruining a perfectly good tone or messing up an issue that easily could have been solved with the right amp settings. However, I do recommend having an EQ in the chain if you have several different sounding gain pedals or swap guitars frequently. That way you can have a more consistent set up and avoid having too many pedals in your chain.

    Please comment below and share your thoughts and experience on the subject!

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33 Responsesso far.

  1. Frank Bizzoco says:

    Out of all of the articles on Gilmourish, I found this one to be the most useful. Well this one and how to use volume to your advantage. You could have the most expensive equipment in the world, but if you dont EQ and set volume correctly between everything, it will sound like shit and not cut through. My biggest problem was the highs and lows were all over the place. I would bend a note, and in the beginning it would sound clear, then get muddy in the end. Nothing was uniform, until I started equalizing correctly. All I wanted was to make nice, smooth uniform sounding notes, and understanding volume and EQ helped me with that, so thanks alot Bjorn.

    • Bjorn says:

      Cheers Frank! I think EQs are important and they can solve a lot of issues but equally important, I think, is to use the right pedals for the guitar and amp. I think a lot of guitarists make that mistake and use EQs to fix that problem but if you use similar sounding overdrives and disortion pedals, you will get more even sounds. Compression is also important to get even notes and tones. Cheers!

  2. Andrea says:

    I use The source audio eq, like more for a fantastic 4 preset, i use a different preset eq for muff, and more distortion

  3. Israel says:

    Hey Bjorn!
    More Tone Guides please!
    I love this!

  4. Luis Sutil says:

    I use the Source Audio Programable EQ as well! Awesome EQ!!! I have a setting for my strat, one for my Les Paul, a clean boost and a mid scooped preset… it’s sooo awesome! I also use an mXR 10 band in the beggining, but it’s kind of unnecessary in my setup! The SA Programable EQ really trabsforms my tone exactly how I want it too… the best EQ I’ve used, by far.

  5. Arya Boustani says:

    I’m thinking the amp needs taming. Try an NOS 12ay7 instead of 12AX7 for V1. 12AX7 has too much overtones (too hot) for many amps that has a lot of V2 juice for their tone stack. I haven’t seen the schematic but you can dig in.

  6. StoneFree says:

    Hi Bjorn, i recently bought a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe iii that i play with my Standard Strat and a SunFace bc109 Fuzz.

    I’m having serious problems to find the right settings of this amp, everything sounds harsh, too bright and without body.

    I’ve tried all sorts of combination, including finding the right balance between the bright switch, the mids and the presence, but all i got was a gaunt and dull sound.

    Can you help me to find the right settings of this amp?

    All the best

  7. Quiksilver says:

    Where do you put the EQ pedal? in front of the amp or FX Loop? :D

    • Bjorn says:

      Depends on what you want to equalize, as explained in the article. You can place it in the loop as well, either as a master EQ or for tweaking the pre-amp. Usually though, the EQ is placed after the gain pedals.

  8. Tom says:

    A lot of good information there, but I feel compelled to point out that “everything on 10″ is not necessarily flat on guitar amps!

    The tonestacks in guitar amps are very funny things – if you set Bass and Treble to “0” on a Fender amp for example, that will be as close to flat as it gets, and the Mid knob becomes a secondary volume control with no effect on the EQ!

    Marshall and Vox have their own quirky EQ designs, and Hiwatt yet another (though those are most similar to Fender from what I remember).

    Anyone who wants to see how various EQs “look” (the frequency response curves) could do worse than downloading the “Duncan Tone Stack Calculator” from http://www.duncanamps.com/tsc/ and having a play with the settings.

  9. crimson says:

    http://www.davidgilmour.com/pompeii/standard_dvd

    First time I will NOT buy a release from Gilmour/Pink Floyd.

    I really don”t care about the songs from RTL.
    And songs like “wish you were here”, “money”, “run like hell” I was listening too much in the past years – don`t want to hear them again.
    And when I hear “Comfortably Numb” my ears start to bleed – I think I was listening to it for a 1000 times and played it for 100 times – that was much too much! Can`t stand it anymore.

    • Francis Berthiaume says:

      Then what are you doing on a Gilmour based website then? Just sayin’.

      • KEITH says:

        I agree with him, and will explain why I’m on a Gilmour site. A long time ago, there was a band called Pink Floyd that played psychedelia, and very ethereal sounding music. While this band had a handful of hits that were played TO DEATH, their best work was ignored by radio, but still sold millions of records. In 1977 they created a dark, sociopolitical album called Animals, but had major infighting in the band, at which points Roger Waters took over? the band for their most radio friendly album, THE WALL, and after hearing every song on it at least 5 times a day, it got very old, and just was missing that certain something Pink Floyd was all about. Since then, nothing they’ve produced has sounded like Pink Floyd to me, and I don’t care for it at all. However, I still find everything from Arthur Layne, to Pigs on the Wing as fascinating, and wonderful as the first time I heard it. So, due to my absolute love of their! early material, and wanting to capture the tone of Gilmours playing on those albums, I have been a daily reader, commenter, and friend to many on this site, including Bjorn. I am of course aware that many, especially the younger audience love the newer stuff, and I don’t disparage them for doing so. So, why question anyone’s reason for participating in this forum? I am lucky enough to have seen Pink Floyd on the Animals tour in 1977 at Tampa, and again in 1989, and 1994, both at RFK stadium in DC, and there is no comparison between the band with Roger, and with either too much Roger, or no Roger at all. DG is still one of the finest guitarists on Earth, but Pink Floyd, as a band, died in 1977 IMO, and has been basically Gilmour and friends ever since. They put on a great show, but Gilmour is not the writer Waters was, and either is Waters. Without the Four members that made up the post Syd era Pink Floyd, all working,and writing as a unit, the magic that was Pink Floyd is dead to me. Richard Wright’s death also plays a huge part in the lack of interest on my part. As a unit, they stood atop the apex of musical history, but apart, the music made since The Wall will only be a footnote to their early accomplishments!
        Peace, and Love to all, KEITH

    • Luis sutil says:

      Me too man, the setlust is soooo weak… I saw this tour love and lacked a lot of energy and just better song selection.,, his excuse to not play Echoes because apparently that was a convo between him and Rick.,. C’mon. Like Comfortably Numb is bot a convo between you and Waters? Who cares! That would have pleased the fans and be more appropiate than rattle that lock tracks at pompeii… that was a weak decision… The selection of the On an island tour was impecable… this is the same songs as always with some rtl tracks… mmm no thank you, and I heard the RTL si gle they released… doesn’t aoubd good at all! His voice is the weakest link now and it’s moxed in so hot it’s distracting… still we are all Gilmour lovers here… but I really wish he had the balls Waters has to play rougher stuff like Welcomes to the Machine, something from animals, meddle, obscured by clouds… the wall! Besides comfortably numb which I too can listen too maybe a few more times before it comometaly burns me out…
      I rather watch “Remember that night” dvd again… hahah also, I had no idea how much post they did to make Dave sound so freaking good… I was surprised since he doesn’t sound so good on pulse or adsot, but remember that night sounds perfect! Then I saw him love… hahahaha No way he can play like in that dvd … he’s a sloppy dude to say the least… love him to death… but I recorded some tracks like The Blue and others, but I couldn’t post them because he fucks up so much, it sounds horrible :/ … it was a bad gig… no energy, and he screwed up almost inevery song… most people don’t notice, but fans like us do.
      I got tickets to watch this in the theater… I’ll wstch it there… but I wont buy it… I can’t imagibe myself listening to this songs many times…

  10. Jae says:

    A great subject that needs discussion Bjorn, I started experimenting with EQ about 20 years ago after reading that Tom Morrello(sp?) Used a GE-7 in his rig as a signal boost. I quickly learned that the GE-7 is one noisy pedal. It hisses like a tire with a nail in it. I tried the Ibanez GE 9 and that Monster was worse! Maybe I need to look into these Source Audio pedals.

  11. KEITH says:

    Excellent subject Bjorn, too few people really understand EQ, and the difference between Passive, Active, Graphic, and parametric. EQ is one of the most important tools in every musicians tool bag when used correctly, and sparingly. From your initial passive parametric settings on your amp, to the active, multiband graphic EQ used in mixdown, and everywhere in between, EQ can be the difference between nasty, unwanted booming lows, hairaising highs, or a slight boost around 3, 4, and 6 Khz, ( unfortunately the frequencies I’m losing in my right ear), as they are where the guitar cuts through in the mix. Tis is a subject I think you should, when time allows, that you should go further into. I have some EQ charts that show the frequency range of almost every instrument, and they are absolutely invaluable for recording. But thank you for touching on EQ basics, one cannot stress enough how important proper use, in very small increments can make a huge difference in your final tone. From the tone knob on your guitar, through all of your effects, and finally your amp, EQ can breathe life into your overall sound.
    Thanks for this article, Peace, and happiness to you, and all who read this site, KEITH 🤡

    • Bjorn says:

      Thank you Keith! I wanted just wanted to cover the basics but yes, it’s a huge subject and I think that once you start to understand the nature of EQs and tone controls, a lot of issues you’ve struggled with will get solved. I’ve always tried to stress the importance of knowing your gear and that means that you should tweak the hell out of everything and listen to how every change changes the tone and character of your setup.

      • KEITH says:

        I was recently given the opportunity to get a DBX 4 rack space dual 32 band graphic eq with type 3 noise reduction. It is a front of house EQ, made for PA use, but I’m wondering if it could come in handy for the tiniest of tweaks to my rig, or as an added analog EQ for recording? I know that the plugins available for free, or a cheap price are great, but I like having little touches of analog circuitry in the chain every so often. Wonder if it’s worth some experimentation. It’s a DBX 2231 EQ/ Limiter, with type III NR. If you have time, take a look at it, and see what you think.

        Thanks, KEITH 🎵😎🎵

        • KEITH says:

          Forgot to mention that the mint condition EQ is free, and also got a Behringer 24/4/2 board, also in new condition, and has USB in/out, and built in compression, effects, and lots of goodies for such an inexpensive board, and because it’s made for recording, it will fit in well, as I didn’t have an external mixer, but realized how much one would come in handy! I love free stuff, and the fact that a simple USB cord, and it becomes an integral part of my studio! Certainly will help with tracking drums!
          Peace, KEITH

        • KEITH says:

          There was a question inn there somewhere, hahaha!
          I know you’re very busy. 😁
          Peace Bjorn, KEITH 🎸🎤🔊🎵🎵

          • Bjorn says:

            Oh, sorry about that :) I have very little experience with using outboard studio EQs. I use different plugins when recording and mixing and for the final mix, we either use plugins or the EQs on the SSL board. I’m sure it will do a nice job in a mixing process but again, I have very little experience with outboard gear other than compressors.

  12. DefJef says:

    As ever, a thoroughly helpful article Bjorn. I love to read your equipment advice. You might just want to proof read through it again as there are a couple of errors that may have crept in as you edited. Best of luck with all that you do.

    By the way, I would love to point members on the Harley Benton forum at your website. Is that OK?

  13. Bruce says:

    Thanks for the best article about electric guitar EQ’s I’ve ever read, Bjorn! My experience with electric guitar is still new, about 3 years although I played acoustic on & off forever. Whenever I came across a system with an EQ in the rack I knew immediately that I was In for serious challenges, usually something is very wrong with the (home stereo/theater) system if there’s an EQ present. The most consistent error I saw was the lack of signal attenuation, the users mostly applied boost instead of what was really needed. The fixes were usually room treatments and speaker placement These mid to high end systems were compromised by noise and other signal degeneration issues further degraded by the EQ itself.

    This is definitely NOT the case with electric guitars and the associated equipment. The parametric EQ’s I’ve so far worked with have been nothing like what I encountered in consumer audio, and a pleasure to tweak, fiddle and screw things up with (how else do we learn?). I never realized or remotely thought about “flat” being at 5 o’clock on the amps. Is this true with both tube and solid state amps? Have you encountered exceptions that stand out in some way? If nothing else, I have a whole new set of “audio toys” to screw up and learn about the hard but fun way.

    Thanks for all your dedication to our common love of Gilmour’s tone and techniques, you rock!

    • Bjorn says:

      Thank you Bruce! Almost all guitar amps, tube and solid state, has a passive tone circuit or EQ. These are flat at 10. Not 5. So, with the treble, mids and bass up at 10 you have a flat signal. Anything lower is cutting that frequency.

  14. Arya Boustani says:

    Great topic! Huge topic! It’s hard to fit it in one article perhaps. Thanks for making this entry.
    As you pointed overdoing messes up the tone. I found out that if I don’t adjust the master volume of GE-7 properly it either kills the liveliness (at low setting) or make it harsh (at high settings). Many times I resort to it as an act of desparation when my overdrive or distortion is too harsh or the tone is not present in the mix (another act of quick fix rather than adjusting the EQ of the other instruments on the mixing board simultaneously). At the end of the tweaking phase I bypass GE-7 and do a tiny more adjustments on the overdrive EQ and I can get all the liveliness and lack of harshness at the same time. Yet to find an EQ that actually contributes to richness rather than taking it away, mind you I haven’t tried high end parametric EQs out there, like Empress ParaEQ. The other subject is the effect of compression as a result of a gain stage following an EQ. Sometimes the EQ is to remove some frequencies (like comb effect) before it hits the next gain stage to avoid mushing things up. Thanks again. Cheers 👍🏼

    • Muscy says:

      I everybody, I use two EQ (GE7) in my rig with a soft curve starting from 0 dB at lower frequencies, boosting the middle range and return back to 0 dB at the higher. One of them with the master at 0 dB and the other at 3 dB. The first one is used for the riffs that must have more volume then the rythm parts. The second one for the solos.

Hey! How about a comment on this post?