Guitars are a mid-ranged instrument (mostly) and tend to occupy the same spaces as the Drum Toms, Vocals, Saxophones, and even other guitars in the same band. This can make the guitar sound get lost in the mix, or worse, begin sounding intrusive. The guitar EQ pedal is there to help you avoid either scenario by shaping your tune and giving it its own space, sometimes working to expand your guitar’s sonic territory.
Unfortunately, this highly creative sound engineering tool is often relegated to an after-thought by many guitarists. Many guitarists hardly consider it beyond its usefulness in correcting tone anomalies. Even then, if you are one of those who has come to appreciate the vast possibilities the EQ pedal brings to you, you might struggle with getting your hands on the ‘right’ one.
Selecting an EQ pedal can often feel like going in at the deep end. There are so many good models, and just as many bad models, out there that makes it difficult to select the best. Your search might also bring you in contact with some fancy looking models (with very funky names too), which might be tempting. Ultimately, it is the sound they produce that determines whether one product is good or not. This review is here to help you sift through the noise and make your hunt for the best that much easier.
What is a Guitar EQ Pedal?
The EQ pedal goes a long way in shaping the tone of your guitar, going so far as to define your guitar sound. It refines the sound of your guitar in every sonic space. This is especially important when playing within a band mix. With many different instruments coming to play in a single song (forming a sonic footprint), each instrument must be able to occupy its own “space” in the spectrum so it doesn’t overshadow – or isn’t overshadowed by – another instrument.
With guitars occupying the same spaces as other mid-ranged instruments (mentioned above), keeping them from being overshadowed or intrusive can be a tricky ask. The EQ pedal serves to regulate the sound, adjusting the properties of the guitar tone. While the effect pedals on most guitars may be enough, the EQ pedals (which are generally little stompboxes) give you even more control over the tone, improve tonal flexibility, and allows you boost or cut certain frequencies as needed. At its most basic, it helps you adjust and fine tune the bass, midrange, and treble tones.
What are the Major Buying Considerations when Purchasing an EQ Pedal?
There is absolutely no doubt that an EQ pedal can give your guitar tone an extra touch of class that takes it to the next level. Don’t get this wrong, amps, reverbs, and overdrives all play a key role in getting your tune there, but they are sometimes not enough and an EQ pedal can take it over the line – from average to great. However, it is very easy to find yourself lost in the maze of instruments out there. So, here are some key considerations to keep in mind before making your purchase.
If you are using a modern guitar, there’s every likelihood it comes equipped with a multi-effects section(s) that allow for some level of experimentation. Before buying an equalizing/effects pedal, you want to make sure that it is one that offers you more than your regular guitar effects section. Be sure your choice allows you tweak your sound for radio effects or for distance effects if that is something you hope to explore. A multi-effects pedal should be able to open up a whole new world of effects and filters for your musical pleasure.
- Your Sound
With a vast array of available effects to select from, you do not want to select a pedal that offers you some interesting effects, but none of which match the sound you are looking to create. One good way to start is to talk with fellow artists that play a compatible music style (similar to your dream sound) to determine which pedals provide them with the effects and filters they require. A quick one on sound: While some EQ pedals offer just 10db in sound boost, others offer as much as 30db; ensure the boost is just enough for your needs.
Regardless of just how awesome your tone sounds indoors, turning your guitar up to stage volumes regularly produces high end spikey frequencies and some sharp high-mids. One of the more important roles of an EQ is giving your tone clarity and tightness, while making it much more pleasurable to the ears. A rule of thumb is that the higher the bands, the more laser targeted precision on offer (3-band EQs provide a more general sound than the more precise 10-band). However, beginners might find a 3-band EQ much simpler to handle.
- Graphic / Non-graphic
You might not consider this a major source of concern, and that’s okay. However, graphic EQs make your equalizing task that much easier. By giving you a visual perspective of your EQ, they allow you boost or cut particular frequencies easily, all the time seeing what your entire EQ looks like. Graphic EQs are great if you desire to maintain as much control as possible (Hi control freaks). It is also great if you simply want to be certain of the effects of your every action.
- Guitar Type
No, this is not the same as considering your sound, but it does come close. It has been noted that different EQ pedals work best with different guitar types. Your bass guitar, for instance, will benefit from an EQ that can improve the huge bass signals from your guitar, by allowing you to eliminate woofy signals, take off the mids, and increase the treble. For acoustic guitars, you need an EQ to cut off (or limit) unnecessary bass signals, signals from the higher mids, and those from the lower mids, while also adding clarity and excitement to your tune.
- Ease of Use
If you are a beginner guitarist, your major concern at this stage is likely limited to functionality and ease of use. As earlier noted, the fewer the bands of any EQ, the easier it is to handle. With that in mind, you can set off on your EQ journey with a 3-band EQ, gradually improving from there on as you gain mastery. Non-graphic EQs are also easier to handle for beginners, offering up simple dials (as little as 4 dials) for control, as against graphic EQs that offer multiple and more specific EQ controls.
Benefits/Advantages of EQ Pedals
At their most basic, EQ pedals provide you an extra amp channel that helps you tighten (or loosen) your tone rhythms. But they do more than just that. Indeed, there are a slew of reasons for which you should consider using these beautiful tools. Some of these include,
- Correction: The basic usage of any EQ involves correcting your guitar’s tone to give it a little more punch, or that extra pristine feel. This generally involves cleaning up clutter sounds.
- Flexibility: A pedal allows you engage tonal effects that are rather impossible with your simple guitar amps, giving your tone a flexibility that belies your instrument.
- Boost: Give your solos a major boost (not just in volume) by cutting off low end sounds or pushing up some midrange sounds to keep your solo above the rest of the mix.
- Precision: Turning up your guitar to stage volumes brings in a lot of mud and dirt, spoiling your great studio tune. An EQ pedal gives you the kind of unerring precision that gives clarity to your sounds, while delivering the needed tightness and punch to make your tune more pleasurable.
- Instrument switch: With your preset amps and cabs in place, switching instruments live on stage often brings tonal changes that may not fit in properly. Rather than messing with your perfect amp settings, EQs let you tweak your new instrument into perfection in little time.
Top 5 Rated EQ Pedals
Identifying the best EQs is almost always a difficult task due to the multiplicity of really good ones out there. However, after carefully considering a variety of options, these are our top 5 picks.
This graphic ten band EQ pedal from MRX is a beauty that can quickly become an essential part of your live band. It boasts a double output system that allows you run two distinct signal chains. With ten valuable frequency bands, controls for both input and output, and a true bypass, it gives you the opportunity to sculpt your tone as you please, restoring punch and clarity to your play.
You will also be able to cut or boost your frequencies (up to 10 of them) by as much as 12dB if needed. Physically, the MXR M108S is also gem. Bright LEDs ensure that you see clearly what’s going on in the full glare of daylight, although it may be a little tricky at night. It is also encased in a lightweight, bullet-proof aluminum casing that allows it come out standing even after taking a beating.
UpThelrons, one of many guitarists who doubted the role of an EQ pedal in the art, talks up the M108S which has successfully improved the level of play on his Peavy 6505MH. Lance, who seems to know his way around EQ pedals, gives it top score for “giving you all you’d expect from an EQ pedal”.
While many will agree that the LEDs are too bright for a dark stage, it is a great deal if you will be playing more in daytime than at night, allowing you see your controls despite the sun.
Yet another graphic EQ pedal, the Boss GE-7 is a 7 band EQ that allows you shape your tune so that it is really clean and pleasurable. A truly classic pedal, it is one of the most used by guitarists who consider it the best there is. Strong and reliable, it is one pedal that can continue to deliver crisp, clear treble notes, and deep, rich low-rumble bass notes for about half a lifetime. It just keeps delivering.
The GE-7 comes equipped with a 15dB cut or boost level for every band, enhancing your musical experience without getting too loud. It is particularly excellent when used to cut off unwanted signals that may make your sound muddy or harsh, while mildly adding a bit of punch to other frequencies you hope to boost. Its excellent sound quality belies its rather ordinary design, making it an exceptional tool for beginners and pros alike.
PC42 identifies it as a great investment, one that has been “able to make the Les Paul neck pickup incredibly Strat-like” for him. Similarly, Coulter identifies it as a “great, little equalizer…. with a tremendous amount of range to shape my tone.”
On a high gain channel, the GE-7 tends to produce a certain amount of hiss (background noise) that may clutter your sound, but this can be prevented by remaining moderate with your above average gains.
If you are searching for a more rugged ten band EQ with all of the bells and whistles that you may require, the KFK1 from MRX is an ideal choice. Similar to the more sleek-looking M108S in functionality, this ten band EQ boasts a 12dB cut or boost and separate output and input gain sliders, along with dual outputs. This allows you cut or boost your tone until you get the refinement you are after.
This is a signature EQ from Kerry King, making it a great fit for you if you are a huge Kerry King fan, a Slayer fan, or a huge fan of metal music. The tattoos on its external skin is in keeping with the hardcore exterior you’d love to project as a true fan.
One Amazon user describes it as “quiet, effective, and transparent”. Mclntyre, a major Slayer fan considers the pedal a “must have”, but also notes that it is the “best addition to my gear” in terms of functionality. While it is slightly more expensive than what MXR describes as its evil twin – the M108S – it is worth every penny for any Slayer fan.
A non-graphic EQ pedal, the Q-Strip from Tech 21 is a sophisticated lightweight mobile console that allow for extensive tone shaping. The Q-Strip engages the HPF to cut out noise and low unmusical sounds, while engaging the LPF to cut off unpleasant frequencies. It allows you recreate your favorite distortions and tunes and harkens back to the mythical vintage of the 60’s both in appearance and functionality.
The Q-Strip is every purist’s dream, thanks to its ability to effectively accommodate high pitched sounds – without letting them become noise, while handling low sound signals too. Its highly sophisticated features allows you use this 5-band EQ as a speaker simulator or amplifier, as needed, with up to 20dB of tone cutting or boosting. It is also simple to use for beginners given its non-graphic nature.
Amazon user Nexy summarizes his experience thus, great sound quality, versatility, and adjustments… This unit offers everything I need for overall tone control. While its high end pricing may be a source of discouragement for some, its physical and functional elegance makes it worth the outlay.
- L.R. Baggs Align Series Equalizer Acoustic Preamp Pedal
The fusion of LR Baggs and the Align Series is one to get you excited at any time, and this acoustic EQ pedal lives up to that excitement. A 6-band EQ, it offers painstaking control features that improve the value of any acoustic setup. A clean, distortion free output, allows it produce pure, authentic sounds, while its multiple effect options allow for a range of customization.
Acoustic guitar players looking to amplify their sound and presence in the band will find this to be the perfect addition to the setup. Designed specifically for acoustic players, its 6 bands are carefully selected to aid your acoustic refinement – with HPF to cut off unnecessary low end noise and a Notch to remove any extra resonance, amongst others.
An EQ pedal is the ultimate companion when you need to take your guitar game from the studio to the stage. Even if most of your playing will be in-house (not requiring any loud volume plays), an EQ pedal expands your range of sounds and tunes, taking you to stratospheres otherwise unattainable. As you climb through the ranks as a guitarists, this is a very important addition to your set.
If you have made the decision to add a pedal to your setup, you cannot go wrong with any of the options on our list. MXR continues to break ground with its top of the line products, while Boss has made a name for its durability and functionality. Whichever one you may pick, you will be getting your hands on one of the best guitar EQ pedals out there.