An Essential Guide to Guitar EQ Pedals

Fender Stratocaster
(Image credit: Future)

An EQ (equalizer/equalization) pedal could be one of the most genuinely useful stompboxes you don’t own.

When it comes to shaping tone and improving the audibility of guitar parts, it's often the most helpful tool in the box.

Rather than just kicking up your entire volume, a good EQ pedal used well almost always proves to be a more effective and agreeable method of bringing your sound sharply into focus.

Whether on stage or in the studio, having the ability to quickly fine tune a sound that works well for everyone makes all the difference.

It can also be an efficient way of controlling feedback – from combating problems with acoustic guitar to coaxing something musical out of an electric guitar.

Boss GE-7 Equalizer and MXR Six Band EQ

Boss GE-7 Equalizer and MXR Six Band EQ graphic EQ pedals (Image credit: Boss/Roland/Dunlop/MXR)

Graphic EQ vs. Parametric EQ

Traditionally, EQ units come in two formats: graphic and parametric. Both are able to cut and/or boost certain areas of the frequency spectrum.

A graphic EQ can offer quick, easy solutions by boosting or cutting gain at fixed frequencies using multiple band sliders that also act as a handy visual aid.

A parametric EQ tends to provide more detailed choice and control while allowing continuous sweep across ranges of the audio spectrum, normally using knobs.

Having centered in on the chosen frequency (measured in hertz/Hz) users can then boost or cut gain as required.

On some units it is also possible to adjust how surrounding frequencies are filtered by widening and narrowing the Q curve.

WMD Utility Parametric EQ and Sine Effect MegaPara

WMD Utility Parametric EQ and Sine Effect MegaPara parametric EQ pedals (Image credit: WMD/Sine Effect)

What Makes a Good EQ Pedal?

It depends on your objectives. While some guitar players think of equalization as an indispensable utility, others approach it more like an overt filter effect (think AM radio sounds or fixed wah lead tones, for example.)

If all you need is a basic mid-boost for solos, then a complex studio-style unit is likely to be overkill. In this case, a simple booster pedal or low-gain overdrive with some midrange emphasis could do the job nicely.

However, if you’re trying to surgically carve out your space in a mix that contains other guitars and similarly midrange-focused sounds like vocals and saxophone, then you may be better off choosing an EQ pedal that allows for more precise adjustment.

If you have a good set of ears, parametric EQs let you really zero in on things, though many find they also get successful results from the visually intuitive graphic EQs.

Mesa Boogie Five-Band Graphic and Boss EQ-200 Graphic Equalizer

Mesa Boogie Five-Band Graphic and Boss EQ-200 Graphic Equalizer graphic EQ pedals (Image credit: Mesa Engineering/Boss/Roland)

Keep It Clean

Ultimately, a good EQ pedal is one that helps you achieve your musical goals, but there are a number of other things you may wish to consider when trying to make the best choice.

Good signal-to-noise ratio and signal clarity are of great importance to some – particularly when using an EQ pedal for recording because strengths and weaknesses are far more likely to show up under close scrutiny in the studio.

Headroom and the amount of available boost (usually expressed in decibels/dB) are also high on the agenda, as this will provide a greater range to work within before the signal clips.

Unwanted distortion and noise may not appear obvious during a gig or even in the rehearsal room. But it can come over loud and (un)clear through studio monitors.

Empress Effects ParaEq MKII adn ParaEq MKII Deluxe

Speaking of Empress Effects' ParaEq MKII pedals, Nashville session ace Tom Bukovac says, "This EQ is a total game changer." (Image credit: Empress Effects)

Expanding Creative Options

Experimenting with EQ is one of the best ways to explore your instrument's capabilities, and an equalization pedal provides an easy, hands-on approach to discovering new and interesting sounds.

We were making a guitar sound that I would not have worked with before

Adrian Utley

While expanding your creative options, understanding EQ can change the way you think about guitar tone forever.

Portishead’s Adrian Utley told us about his eureka moment when recording with Jeff Beck in the early '90s. “We were working together in the studio all the time,” said the guitarist. “I’d play something, and he would immediately EQ it and take all the low-end out of it.

“So we were making a guitar sound that I would not have worked with before. Previously, I would’ve gone, ‘Don’t fuck with my guitar sound, man! I know better – don’t touch my amp!’ Y’know, in another studio – in another world. 

"Now, I totally get it.”

Adrian Utley performs with Portishead

Adrian Utley performing with Portishead. He features on Jeff Beck's 1993 Cliff Gallup/Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps tribute album, Crazy Legs (Image credit: Andrew Benge/Redferns via Getty Image)
Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as GuitaristTotal Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.