3 Creative Ways You Can Use An EQ Pedal

An EQ pedal may not be considered as the most exciting addition to your pedalboard, but if used well, it can transform your tone for the better.

In this article, we’re going to highlight some super-effective ways to use an EQ stompbox, to ensure that you’re getting the most out of yours. We’re also going to provide some crucial context, so that players unfamiliar with them can understand exactly what they are and how they work!

Elliot Stent

Elliot Stent

What will I learn?

  • What an EQ pedal is and how it works.
  • The purpose of an EQ pedal.
  • 3 effective and creative ways to use an EQ pedal in your guitar rig.

What is an EQ pedal?

An EQ is considered by many as a ‘utility’ pedal. Similar to a noise gate or an ABY unit, an EQ pedal isn’t used to generate an effect like a modulation or time-based pedal, but instead serves a more practical purpose.

Starting with the basics, ‘EQ’ is an abbreviation of ‘equalizer’. Representing the universal spectrum of sound, an equalizer defines where certain frequencies sit on this spectrum and is used to boost or cut them via linear filters. This process allows you to therefore manipulate the audible qualities of a sound or instrument, and in this case – a guitar.

Essentially, an EQ pedal is employed as a tone-shaping tool to improve the sound of your rig. But as you’ll find out later in this article, the functionality of an EQ stompbox is broader than you might expect, and it can be used in creative and unconventional ways too.

How does an EQ pedal work?

A compact equalizer pedal will let you affect guitar-centric frequencies only. Generally, the human ear can identify frequencies between 20Hz and 20kHz, but a guitar will typically occupy an area between 80Hz and 10kHz. Although that is a narrower window, it is still a fairly wide range, and many EQ pedals will give you control of frequencies between that specific bandwidth.

The majority of examples will sport a number of filtering sliders, with each one providing you with direct control of a certain set frequency. Sliders between 80Hz-250Hz will affect the lows, while 250Hz-800Hz is considered the mid-range, arguably the most vital area of your guitar sound. You’ll reach top-end territory beyond 800Hz, with 5kHz -10kHz the most present part of your tone.

Depending on how dramatically you move these sliders, the input signal running into an EQ pedal is subject to significant manipulation. There aren’t many other types of guitar pedals that can change your sound quite as drastically as an EQ can, making it a very powerful device.

Graphic vs. Parametric EQ

An EQ pedal with sliders is known as a ‘graphic’ EQ, and they can vary from between 5-band (5 sliders) to super-precise 10-band models. Boss’ infamous 7-band GE-7 Graphic Equalizer stompbox is a popular choice, striking the perfect balance between simple and sophisticated.

However, you can also find ‘parametric’ EQ stompboxes on the market too, which derive more closely from traditional mixing desks. Featuring knobs as opposed to sliders, a parametric EQ is more suitable for the fastidious tone-chasers. Letting you sweep the centre frequency to find particular sweet spots, parametric EQs offer greater control and aren’t quite as limited as their graphic counterparts can sometimes be. The Empress ParaEQ is a favoured choice, with multiple controls that allow for excellent signal manipulation.

EQ Pedal

3 Creative Ways to use an EQ Pedal:

Now that we’ve explained what EQ pedals are and how they work, let’s get to the fun part. In this next section, we’ll provide you with some clever methods that you can employ to get the most out of your EQ pedal!

1. To Discover New Sounds

We’ve already stated that an EQ pedal is fundamentally a tone-shaping tool. When the modest 3 or 4-band EQ section on your amplifier isn’t quite enough, an EQ pedal can give you almost surgical control over your sound.

While tone-enhancing is fantastic, especially in a studio environment, instead of refining your sound you can play around with some extreme settings to attain more unique textures.

Dimebag Darrell’s ‘Scooped’ Tone

For example, the late Dimebag Darrell (Pantera) popularised the ‘scooped’ guitar tone, whereby he removed practically all of the mid-range frequencies from his signal. Using high-gain Randall amps in conjunction with an old-school MXR 6-band EQ pedal, Dimebag pioneered a completely game-changing sound that many of his metal contemporaries took inspiration from in later years.

Apart from removing mid frequencies at 400Hz and 800Hz, Darrell would also boost at around 150Hz-200Hz to give his signature down-tuned riffs a fat and chunky quality. He was also notorious for raising the upper frequencies, to offer his solos lots of crisp articulation.

This would ensure that pinched harmonics (a common technique he used) could sing loud and clear, but it also prevented his sound from being muddy, considering the significant absence of mid-range. Listen to Pantera’s “Walk” (1993) for a perfect demonstration of Dimebag’s distinctive guitar tone:

Josh Homme’s Mid-Boosted Tone

The scooped sound is fairly notorious, but others have used EQ pedals to achieve almost the complete opposite effect. For example, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age invented a very original sound by boosting the lower-mid frequencies of his vintage Ampeg head with an EQ pedal.

Heard in all of its glory on QOTSA’s Rated R (2000) and Songs for the Deaf (2002) albums, this guitar tone has a very punchy character that is fairly boxy. Almost bordering on fuzz, the sound is akin to rolling down the tone pot of your guitar’s bridge pickup, giving a nasally and broken-up tone.

Boosting at around 250Hz and 500Hz, the dramatic increase of frequencies in this area would push more distortion from his amplifier to give it an amazing growl. For a very in depth look at the process that was undertaken to accomplish this unique sound, check out the video below.

Featuring producer Eric Valentine, who worked on Songs for the Deaf, he dissects the QOTSA sound and attempts to recapture it using similar gear:

Finding Your Own Voice

From the famous examples highlighted above, we’d encourage you to try and experiment with an EQ pedal to conceive some new sounds. You may be thinking “it’s all be done before, what’s the point?”, but both Dimebag Darrell and Josh Homme may have thought the same thing!

Try and partner an equalizer with unconventional pieces of gear. You may get more interesting results than simply maxing out certain frequencies randomly into your usual rig. Maybe pair an EQ with other pedals, in a similar method to David Gilmour. He controls the sounds of his overdrive and fuzz units by placing each of them before a dedicated EQ stompbox, so that he can tailor their tones.

2. To Save Your Performance

In the previous section, we looked at the benefits of an EQ when it comes to shaping new sounds. However, in that part we had more of a focus on recording, when in fact an EQ can also be incredibly practical for live performance too.

For example, have you ever spent hours perfecting your ideal guitar tone at home, but when you turned up at band practice you found yourself completely inaudible? That’s because when you’re in a live situation, you’re competing with other mid-range and top-end frequencies, especially those emitted by your singer’s voice, your other guitarist’s amplifier and your drummer’s cymbals.

With so many strong frequencies flying around in a space, your tone can easily get buried amongst them. In this scenario, it can be easy to think that you just need to turn your amp up, but an EQ pedal is actually a far more effective (and potentially ear-saving!) solution.

As a Boost

With an equaliser, you can pump up your upper mids and top-end to ensure that you cut through far better in a mix. On its own, your guitar sound could sound terribly brittle like this, but in a band context you’ll be heard much clearer. However, if your base tone is already present enough, or you’re the only guitar player in your band, this may not be necessary. Instead, you could use an EQ as an alternative to a boost pedal.

One top player that uses an equaliser for this purpose is Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. With his DOD FX40B 7-band EQ a mainstay on his pedalboard for over 25 years, Morello practically maxes out the lows and mids to give his lead sound more girth. This is particularly potent if you don’t have a rhythm guitarist backing you up.

You’ll also find that many EQ pedals feature gain controls too, letting you raise the overall output of your signal for a volume increase. This includes popular MXR’s 6-band and 10-band EQ units, and while we suggest sticking to boosting frequencies for a lead kick, volume can still be king in certain situations.

MXR EQ Pedals

To Imitate Other Guitar Sounds

If you play in a function band, you’ll already know that a highly-versatile rig is necessary. To ensure that your covers sound convincing, closely capturing the guitar sounds from original recordings is essential for engaging your audience.

This usually means taking several guitars to a gig, as well as a couple of amplifiers for producing various tonalities. However, as modern players seek ways to make their rigs more portable and manageable, an EQ pedal can be a great solution for minimising your setup.

For example, the Les Paul and Stratocaster pairing is capable of attaining most common guitar sounds. However, sometimes taking even two guitars to a gig can be cumbersome, especially if you’re using public transport.

This is where an EQ pedal can come in handy. A Les Paul is notorious for projecting a strong low-end with a lively mid-range character, mostly due to its thick-sounding humbuckers. Also boasting smooth and balanced highs thanks in part to its Mahogany construction, the Les Paul is a ballsy-sounding rock machine.

A Stratocaster is a completely different animal, however. With a trio of spanky-sounding single-coils that sound fantastic when used in conjunction with clean settings, these particular pickups deliver sparkly highs and shelved lows. With a bolt-on construction and Maple neck, Strats tend to also have a snappy response, giving a more immediate bite to notes.

So for example, if a Les Paul is the only guitar you want to use live, you can utilise an EQ pedal to imitate the tonal qualities of a Stratocaster. In this instance, raising the upper mid-range frequencies (around 800Hz-1kHz) and highs (2kHz – 5kHz) will get you close to achieving the cut that a Strat is famous for. Decreasing the lows will also help in securing that well-known snap, and it’s fair to say that the majority of your audience will be easy to fool!

3. To Create Unique Effects

We’ve already mentioned how an EQ can be used to discover new timbres. However, in that particular section we tried to highlight how you can use EQ to establish your own “sound” and “voice”. In this segment though, we’ll give you some tips for attaining unique, idiosyncratic effects.

Lo-Fi Sounds

Used often in rap and hip-hop styles, ‘lo-fi’ describes sounds that have been deliberately manipulated to convey a low quality, which in most cases is achieved by using drastic EQ settings. The opposite of ‘hi-fi’, lo-fi sounds have poor audio fidelity and will lack a broad range of frequencies.

EQ pedals can therefore be used to produce these lo-fi tones, and a common sound that some try to imitate is that of a vintage radio. An old-school radio would typically lack a lot of low-end frequencies, due to the poor signal quality of decades past and the tiny speakers installed in portable devices.

To recreate this peculiar sound, taking the frequencies sub-600Hz down to zero on your pedal will get you in the ballpark. With these settings, your EQ pedal works like a high-pass filter, only letting the top-end frequencies through. You’d be surprised, but this type of sound is actually used in music production quite often, usually in the introduction of a song.

An example of this can be heard in the song “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” (2003) by The Darkness, where the opening guitar riff has a lo-fi, radio-style sound. This is used to create tension, giving more impact to the main hook/riff when the rest of the band joins. As a dynamic tool, lo-fi sounds can be used to great effect when arranging songs:

Filter Sweep Sounds

Apart from lo-fi, you can also attain synth-like filter sweep sounds with an EQ pedal. An effect used often in electronic music, a filter sweep is generally used for marking the transition between verse and chorus sections.

Although not necessarily used in a guitar-centric music, this type of effect can be used in more experimental contexts if you’re a player looking for unconventional sounds. In terms of producing this effect with an EQ pedal, it is quite dependent on what type of EQ you’re using. With a graphic EQ, a filter sweep would be harder to achieve as you can only move the slider(s) at one frequency area, not giving you the expansive sound of a typical filter sweep.

That’s why a parametric EQ pedal would be much more suited to accomplishing a convincing sweep. As you can move the centre-frequency with a dedicated control, you can boost the amount of decibels you’re adding to that moveable frequency and turn the control from its lowest to highest point – producing the effect.

However, if you’d rather avoid controlling your stompbox with your hands, an EQ pedal with an expression pedal input would let you focus more on your playing. The Electro Harmonix Cock Fight  is a great option, with a powerful sound that can be influenced by an expression pedal. Producing a wah-like effect rather than an immersive filter sweep, this is still a great tool for attaining unusual sounds.

The Eventide H9 is an all-encompassing multi-effects unit that features EQ algorithms/patches, which can be controlled via an expression pedal too. With the ability to assign the expression pedal to any parameter, the super-modern H9 is a very impressive unit. But if you want a cheaper alternative to the H9, Line 6’s M5 is a solid choice, costing a fraction of the price yet boasting similar functionality.

Want to learn more?

If you want a definitive guide on EQ pedals, check out our ‘Ultimate Guide to EQ Pedals!‘ To view the entire range of EQ pedals currently available at Andertons Music Co, click here.

Interested in finding out more about music gear and expanding your knowledge? Click here to view all of our Learn articles!

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Elliot Stent
Elliot Stent
Elliot is a Senior Digital Product Marketer at Andertons, and at least the 7th best guitarist in the company's Web Team. He's exactly one day younger than Harry Styles, and believes that this "head start" is the only reason why Harry's more successful than him.

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