Distorted guitar is a lot more difficult to EQ over clean guitar because the addition of so many harmonics via said distortion makes the frequency spectrum a lot more complicated. Overtones can sound bright to the point of harshness in some cases which quickly leads to ear fatigue when you listen back to it. As always, the better the tone going in, the better it will be coming out. Still, there’s plenty we can do with distorted guitar EQ to enhance or even salvage a recording, so let’s get into it.
Distorted Guitar EQ
High Pass at 100Hz
As always, clean up your low end by high passing at 100Hz. Sweep around to make sure you’re not removing anything you don’t want to, but generally the tone down here either messy and rumbly or nonexistent. High passing cleans it up to let the bass and kick have full reign of this section.
Boost at 150-200Hz
You can put in a little more low body with a slight boost around 150-200Hz if you need it. We’re very close to the muddy frequencies here, so conservative is key.
Cut at 250-350Hz
Speaking of those muddy frequencies, cut around 250-350Hz if your distorted guitar is too muddy to achieve more clarity.
This often works better than boosting higher up where you have a greater chance of adding or breaking out a harshness you didn’t anticipate.
Boost at 500Hz
The body of the guitar is around 500Hz, so a boost here can bring out more of the warmth in your distorted guitar.
Boost Around 800Hz
This is one of those magic frequencies on distorted guitar. It’s a safe place to boost without bringing out anything grating to get a little more clarity. Try a small boost here and A/B it before and after to check the clarity.
Cut at 2k
This is where the percussiveness of the picking comes through. Sometimes we want this, othertimes it’s too much. A lot of it depends on play style and the tone you had going in.
More than that, this is where distorted guitar can begin to grate in the ears. If you listen to the track and find that you quickly feel fatigued listening, try a wide but subtle cut here.
High Shelf Cut at 4-5k
Similar to the 2k section, the 4-5k range on distorted guitar can quickly sound grating. This goes back to the fact that distortion adds energy to the waveform which causes it to literally distort. Too much of this and the overtones can produce a constant harsh white noise. If you solo this area, you might hear a wall of it just pounding your ears.
Whereas I recommended low passing on the high end in my electric guitar EQ guide, with distorted guitar the aim isn’t to cut this out completely.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a good spot or slope which sounds natural while addressing this problem.
Instead, we can soften a grating distortion with a high shelf around 4-5k. The more harsh the tone here, the more aggressive the slope should be.
That high end will still be present, just attenuated to a fine balance with the rest of the distorted guitar via EQ.
If you want to low pass at 20k on your distorted guitar at the end of the high shelf, that works.
Make sure to check out my complete EQ cheat sheet for EVERY instrument in your mix, as well.
Distorted Guitar EQ Tips
- Distorted guitar produces a lot of overtones at high frequencies, so distorted guitar EQ can help you bring out warmth or control that high end.
- High pass at 100Hz to remove rumbling and unwanted tones, cleaning up the low end for other instruments.
- You can boost at 150-200Hz to bring out a bit more low end body.
- Cut at 250-350Hz to clean up some mud and add clarity.
- Boost at 500Hz to add warmth bring out the natural and fundamental body range of the guitar.
- Boost around 800Hz to add a bit of clarity without adding any harshness.
- Cut at 2k to attenuate pick sounds and the start of the grating frequencies.
- A high shelf attenuation at 4-5k works better than a low pass filter to preserve tone while softening grating overtone noise produced by the distortion.