CAN’T GET A GUITAR to sit right in the mix? Here is how EQ can be your best friend, problem solver, and mix master.
NUKE THE LOWS
Every instrument should stake its own claim in the frequency spectrum. For example, bass and kick drum own the low end. So if the guitar has lots of low end, the bass and kick will mask the guitar sound, and the guitar’s low-frequency energy will “blur” the kick and bass. There’s an easy fix—add a low-cut filter. Many EQ plug-ins now offer steep low-cut slopes— like 48dB/octave—so cut mercilessly below 90Hz. The bass and kick will acquire more clarity, and the guitar sound will tighten.
ALWAYS TWEAK EQ IN CONTEXT
Anyone can solo a guitar and make it sound good, with warm lows, sizzling highs, and a beefy midrange. But bring in the other instruments, and, like the bass and kick example above, the guitar will become less distinct because the frequency ranges of other instruments will mask the guitar tone. You need to be selective in where you cut and boost, based on what the other instruments are doing.
This EQ setting (using the Waves PuigTec EQP1A) attenuates the low frequencies, and adds a slight boost at 4kHz for extra definition. It’s being set up in Cakewalk’s Sonar X2a for automated control over the amount of 4kHz boost, so the guitar can sound a little brighter in some parts, and duller in others.
Consider guitar, piano, and voice—all of which overlap in several ranges. To make a voice stand out, boost the highs somewhat (try a high-frequency shelving filter boost starting around 2kHz) so it rides above the more “midrange-y” piano and guitar. Now, decide whether the guitar or piano will own the lower midrange, and let the other instrument own the upper midrange. For example, cut the piano a bit at 500Hz and boost around 1.5kHz to emphasize the upper mids, while boosting guitar around 400Hz and cutting at around 2kHz to emphasize the lower mids. Now the three instruments will sit in their own distinct ranges.
PANNING COMES LAST
Separating instruments by panning is the easy way out. In the example above, piano left, guitar right, voice center— problem solved, right? No. While they don’t overlap spatially, their frequencies still do. If you can EQ instruments into their own space when mixed in mono, when you create a stereo spread they’ll be even more distinct.
AUTOMATION LOVES EQ
EQ needn’t be “set and forget.” If the guitar needs to be mixed more prominently in particular places, don’t just increase the level. Think of EQ as a frequency-selective volume control. Find frequencies where the other instruments aren’t represented, and boost the guitar in only those ranges. The guitar will become more prominent, but without smearing the other instruments.
MORE IS NOT ALWAYS MORE
Layering can help smooth out a guitar so it sits back more in the mix, but for maximum prominence, a single mono guitar track can be the best choice.
IF ALL ELSE FAILS . . .
The ear is very sensitive in the 3kHz-4kHz range, so you can make any instrument stand out in the mix by boosting in this range. Careful, though—too much of a boost will make the tone harsh, strident, and fatiguing. A little goes a long way.