Home Recording EQ Frequency Guidelines - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Although some instruments call for specific EQ (equalization) guidelines, you should consider some general issues when EQing, regardless of the instrument involved. When it comes to the audible frequency spectrum (which is generally about 20 Hz to 20 kHz), certain frequencies always have certain characteristics. The following describes these frequencies.

EQ Frequency Sound Characteristics
Frequency Sound Characteristic
20–100 Hz Warms an instrument or adds boominess to it
100–200 Hz Is muddy for some instruments but adds fullness to others
350–450 Hz Sounds boxy
750–850 Hz Adds depth or body
1–2 kHz Adds attack or punch to some instruments and creates a nasally
sound in others
2–5 kHz Increases the presence of instruments
5–8 kHz Sounds harsh in some instruments
8 kHz and above Adds airiness or brightness to an instrument

You’re generally better off cutting a frequency than boosting one. This thinking goes back to the early days of analog EQs, which often added noise when boosting a signal. This can still be a factor with some digital EQs, but it is much less of an issue.

The exact frequencies that you end up cutting or boosting depend on the sound you want, the tonal characteristic of the instrument, and the relationship between all the instruments in the song. The following table shows an overview of frequencies to cut or boost for each instrument. You may not want to follow all the suggestions. Just choose the ones that help you meet your goals.

EQ Recommendations per Instrument
Frequency Adjustment (dB) Purpose
Vocals
150 Hz +2–3 Adds fullness
200–250 Hz –2–3 Reduces muddiness
3 kHz +2–4 Adds clarity
5 kHz +1–2 Adds presence
7.5–10 kHz –2–3 Cuts sibilance
10 kHz +2–3 Adds air or brightness
Electric guitar
100 Hz –2–3 Reduces muddiness
150–250 Hz +2 Adds warmth
2.5–4 kHz +2–3 Adds attack or punch
5 kHz +2–3 Adds bite
Acoustic guitar
80 Hz –3 Reduces muddiness
150–250 Hz +2–3 Adds warmth
800–1000 Hz –2–3 Reduces boxiness
3–5 kHz +2–3 Adds attack or punch
7 kHz +2–3 Adds brightness
Bass guitar
100–200 Hz +1–2 Adds fullness
200–300 Hz –3–4 Reduces muddiness
500–1000 Hz +2–3 Adds punch
2.5–5 kHz +2–3 Adds attack
Kick drum
80–100 Hz +1–2 Adds body or depth
400–600 Hz –3–4 Reduces boxiness
2.5–5 kHz +1–2 Adds attack
Snare drum
100–150 Hz +1–2 Adds warmth
250 Hz +1–2 Adds depth or body
800–1000 Hz –2–3 Reduces boxiness
3–5 kHz +1–3 Adds attack
8–10 kHz +1–3 Adds crispness
Tom-toms
200–250 Hz +1–2 Adds depth
600–1000 Hz –2–3 Reduces boxiness
3–5 kHz +1–2 Adds attack
5–8 kHz +1–2 Adds presence
Large tom-toms
40–125 Hz +1–2 Adds richness
400–800 Hz –2–3 Reduces boxiness
2.5–5 kHz +2–3 Adds punch or attack
Hit-hat
10+ kHz +3–4 Adds brightness or sheen
Cymbals
150–200 Hz –1–2 Reduces rumbling
1–2 kHz –3–4 Reduces trashiness
10+ kHz +3–4 Adds brightness or sheen
Drum overheads
100–200 Hz –2–3 Reduces muddiness
400–1000 Hz –2–3 Reduces boxiness
High percussion
500– Hz –6–12 Cuts boxiness
10+ kHz +3–4 Adds brightness or sheen
Low percussion
250Hz and below –3–4 Reduces muddiness
2.5–5 kHz +2–3 Adds attack
8–10 kHz +2–3 Adds brightness
Piano
80–150 Hz +2–3 Adds warmth
200–400 Hz –2–3 Reduces muddiness
2.5–5 kHz +2–3 Adds punch or attack
Horns
100–200 Hz +1–2 Adds warmth
200–800 Hz –2–3 Reduces muddiness
2.5–5 kHz +2–3 Adds punch or attack
7–9 kHz +1–2 Adds breath