How an Out-of-Phase Tone Uncovered Something Cooler

Lately, I’ve been getting into clean guitar sounds.
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Fig. 2—Changing a boost to a cut alters the sound substantially.

Lately, I’ve been getting into clean guitar sounds. Sure, I like a wall of sludge as much as anyone else, but for rhythm parts, a clean guitar can fill up some sonic space very nicely—especially with this trick.

I’ve always liked the sound of throwing pickups out of phase, except for the volume drop and not being able to vary the tone beyond that single, fixed sound. I also like how it can give a humbucker’s darker character more presence. So, I started researching ways to create the out-of-phase sound, but using EQ for greater tonal flexibility.

With out-of-phase pickups, the sonic elements the pickups have in common cancel, while what they don’t have in common remains. This creates a very complex EQ curve that is difficult to match precisely with only a few stages of EQ. Six bands of parametric EQ, and a couple of bands of shelving will get you close, but that seems like re-inventing the wheel. You might as well just get out a soldering iron and flick a switch.

However, trying to come up with a more universal EQ structure led to some interesting results. Creating four fairly substantial midrange and upper midrange peaks didn’t necessarily duplicate the out-of- phase pickup sound, but did a fine tribute to its mojo. The four peaks, by definition, also create dips, which is what happens when sound cancels. And because they’re midrange peaks, the lows become less prominent, which tightens up the sound.

Figure 1 shows a good starting point. The peaks are at 750Hz, 1.5kHz, 3kHz, and 6kHz with about 6dB to 9dB of gain, and a Q factor of around 4.0. But you don’t have to be picky. Changing any frequency, gain, or Q setting produces a wide range of variations. You can also “weight” the gain toward the high or low frequencies. For example, the response in Fig. 1 emphasizes the 6kHz band to give a little extra brightness. Generally, as you go lower in frequency you don’t want as much gain—then again, perhaps you do, if you prefer a beefier sound with some honk when driving distortion.

Another option is cutting a band instead of boosting it. Figure 2 resembles Fig. 1, but drops the level at 1.5kHz. This thins out the guitar somewhat so it can sit better in the background of a performance or mix, while the boost in the upper bands retains articulation.

Next time you want a more distinctive clean sound out of your guitar, give this technique a try. You just might agree it provides the coolness you’d normally want from an outof- phase sound, but without some of the drawbacks.

Craig Anderton has played on or produced more than 20 major label releases, mastered hundreds of tracks, and written dozens of books. Check out some of his latest music at