Getting into guitar pedals is probably the most exciting part of one’s electric guitar journey. Once you get into them, a huge portion of your income and savings will get invested into new pieces of gear, altering your tone in ways you never thought were possible. But among the countless effects that you see in your local stores or on the internet, there are some pedals that we tend to ignore or just look down upon and think of as another just another of those meaningless products that are created with the sole purpose of taking your money away. One of those effect pedals, that we also wrote about here, is the compressor. Another one that also comes to mind here is the EQ, or equalizer, pedal. We could easily say that these are some of the most underrated guitar products out there, so we’re here to bring them justice and find out more about the importance of EQ pedals.
Sure, they might not be as flashy and interesting as, let’s say, the new Boss SY-1 with its abundance of synth effects. But at the same time, they’re something that will help you highlight or just put a different twist to certain song sections, which is essential to making your music sound awesome.
So… What are EQ pedals?
Generally speaking, audio equalization is the process of adjusting different frequencies of a signal. The devices that do equalization are referred to as (you’ve guessed it) equalizers, or “EQ” for short. Using one of these, you can either amplify or reduce the level of a certain frequency range, or a frequency band, in the signal. In our case here, it makes an impact on our guitar tone.
You’ve seen an EQ on almost every guitar amp in existence today. Simpler ones have a 2-band EQ, or just “bass” and “high” knobs. In some cases you’ll even find an amp with just a “tone” knob which is essentially a simplified EQ that allows you to blend between more low end or high end oriented tone. Most of the amps today have a 3-band EQ with bass, mid, and high knobs and some have a separate control that adjusts the center frequency of the “mid” knob, essentially serving as a simplified parametric equalizer. But we’ll get to that a bit later.
A lot of distortion pedals, and even some other guitar effects like compressors, have EQs on them. However, these are usually simplified to 2-band or 3-band equalizers that do some minor tweaking.
An EQ pedal allows you to do more tone shaping with it and often controls more than just 3 bands. In most cases, an average EQ stompbox will have 5 to 10 frequency ranges.
Types of EQs
Things might not be that simple and if you start digging deeper, you’ll find how equalizers use different filters to cut or boost certain frequencies and frequency ranges. Without getting into too many different technical details here, as an enthusiastic guitar player, you should at least know about the graphic and the parametric EQ.
The graphic EQ has separate controls, usually sliders, for each frequency range. These sliders are aligned horizontally on the pedal’s front panel and move vertically. Dialing in the desired tone, you get sort of a representation of a graph, going from lower to higher frequencies. You’ll also find different graphic EQs as software plugins for digital audio workstations or rack-mounted studio EQs that feature 30 or more frequency ranges.
Then we have the parametric EQ, which is a bit more complicated but usually gives more options for musicians. As opposed to the graphic one, the parametric EQ doesn’t have a fixed set of exact frequency ranges. Instead, you have a set of non-fixed bands and there are three tweakable parameters: center frequency, amplitude, and bandwidth. Aside from changing the frequency range, you can alter the bandwidth by either narrowing or extending it. By tweaking the amplitude, you either boost or cut the selected frequency range.
A simplified version of a parametric EQ can be found on the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone where you can tweak the center frequency of the mids. As for the parametric EQ pedals, Boss had their PQ-4.
What does this mean for me as a guitar player?
Equalization does a lot to your tone. It completely changes the character and allows you to cut through the mix as a lead instrument without getting too loud. At the same time, it can shape it in such a way that lets you get that perfect rhythm tone that won’t get in the way of other lead instruments.
While it all depends on the amp and the distortion/overdrive pedal that you’re using, an EQ may help you replicate the tone of a more vintage or a modern amp. At the same time, EQ pedals can act as clean boosters, driving the clean channel of your tube amp over the limits and making that natural distortion. Just keep all the sliders in a straight line and push them forward. Or, in most cases, EQ pedals also have a separate volume or even both volume and gain knobs or sliders.
There are also a few different ways on how you can implement an EQ pedal in your signal chain. While there are no strict rules on the exact order of pedals, EQs usually go somewhere near the beginning of the signal chain, after filters and wah pedals and before compressors. Some prefer to use it after distortions and overdrive while, in some cases, you’ll also see guitarists placing them at the very end, after reverbs and delays. In this case, they serve as master EQs.
Bear in mind that EQs are not exaclty effects pedals, yet they are an essential part of your pedalboard if you play in a band where the dynamics are of great importance.
Examples of EQ pedals
These days, you have an abundance of different EQ pedals on the market, allowing you to shape tones in different ways. In case you’re new to them and don’t feel like spending too much time tweaking them, it’s best that you go with graphic EQs. If you want to have a more detailed EQ, go with a parametric one.
Standard graphic EQ pedals usually have 5 to 10 frequencies with +- 15dB for each frequency range. In addition, they usually feature a separate slider for volume control.
Below you can find some great EQ pedals.