You’ve got your sound close – but it’s just not quite right. Or you want a scooped-mid sound for your rhythm and fat, chunky, solo sound. Or maybe you have a great sound but have near-constant feedback when you turn everything up to stage volumes. While these are all different problems, they all have one solution in common – you need an EQ!
What is an EQ Pedal?
An EQ pedal is essentially a more-powerful version of the tone controls that are present on your amp and guitar. On your amplifier, these controls allow you to subtly shape your tone – in an EQ pedal, they allow an even greater amount of control and tonal variation.
EQ pedals are great for both studio and live guitar rigs – their purpose is so basic that they can be used in a variety of ways, depending upon what you need. EQ pedals can be used as a general tone-shaping tool (always left on), they can be used as a simple boost pedal with minimal tone shaping, they can be used to get a different sound for rhythm and solo distortion sounds, and they can even be used to help encourage (or reduce) feedback by accentuating (or cutting) certain frequencies.
Basically, if you don’t have an EQ pedal, your rig may be reaching only part of its potential.
What to look for in an EQ pedal
Unlike many other types of guitar pedals, EQ pedals are relatively simple to pick out. There aren’t hundreds of different circuit types or subtle tonal variations. Your first (and really only) step is to decide on either a graphic EQ or a parametric EQ.
Graphic EQ pedals generally feature many (6-10) sliders. While these pedals look complicated, it is easy to visualize and adjust graphic EQ pedals, since the sliders show a graphic (hence the name) representation of your EQ curve. If you have a very tight pedal board (or large fingers) the sliders can be difficult to adjust (or accidently moved), so make sure to take this into consideration when you’re placing your pedals. Despite the number of controls, these are generally easier to use and can provide both subtle tone shaping and powerful boosts.
Parametric EQ pedals generally only have three knobs to adjust the frequencies (High, Mid, and Low), but often feature additional, more advanced controls, such as an adjustable Q and frequency selection knobs (these are discussed below). These pedals, while they look simpler (due to the fewer number of knobs) are a bit more difficult to adjust, since it can be more difficult to visualize the EQ curve (plus the selectable Q and frequencies require more knowledge and forethought to adjust). However, they are exceptionally powerful, and not only shape your tone but also can be used to remove (or encourage) feedback.
Some pedals (primarily parametric EQs) feature some advanced controls. Here are some of the most common:
- Adjustable Q: The Q is the “width” that a specific knob(or slider) controls. Although frequency sliders and knobs are usually labeled in Hertz (800 Hz, 1.2kHz, etc.) they don’t only control that specific frequency. An EQ with a “narrow Q” would control only a few notes around the given frequency, while a “wide Q” could affect almost one octave lower and higher than the given frequency. Narrow Q is useful for eliminating (or encouraging) feedback on a specific note, while wide Q allows a much subtler EQ shaping. Adjustable Q is usually only found on parametric EQ pedals.
- Selectable Frequencies: While graphic EQs generally have many preset frequency bands, some parametric EQ pedals let you adjust the specific frequencies that you can boost or cut. This kind of feature makes a parametric EQ much more versatile (as opposed to a non-selectable frequency parametric EQ), but it is a bit more difficult to use and can be harder to dial in than a graphic EQ. Often, a pedal will feature both selectable frequencies and adjustable Q, allowing a wide range of adjustments.
- Programmable Functionality: Some more advanced digital graphic EQ pedals allow you to set multiple EQ settings, and scroll through them – either automatically or manually – to create a quasi-tremolo effect.
- Separate Boost function: While all EQ pedals can be used as a boost pedal by simply turning up the level of individual bands or the overall output, some pedals have a separate boost function that is activated by a separate footswitch
True Bypass vs. Buffered Bypass
Many boutique pedals feature true bypass construction, but what does that mean? It’s worth taking a minute to explain the differences between a “standard” buffered bypass and true bypass.
True bypass means that the pedal’s on/off switch physically connects the input jack to the output jack. This should make the input signal and output signal essentially the same, but it does have one drawback. If you have long cable runs (or a lot of pedals) remember that each pedal and cable introduces a bit of resistance into the original signal. In this case, you may want a buffered bypass pedal to keep the signal clean and strong. Some true bypass pedals also have significant noise when turned on or off, due to the physical on/off switch. If you have a true-bypass reverb or delay, you also won’t get a natural decay of sound, since the effect will stop as soon as the circuit is disconnected.
Most standard pedals (like Boss) use a buffered bypass. While cheap pedals with poorly-designed buffers can degrade your tone, most buffered pedals have a negligible effect. Additionally, buffered pedals can help maintain signal level over long cable runs (or through true bypass pedals), and can have completely silent switching. For reverb and delay pedals, buffers also allow the reverb or delay “tails” to hold over after the pedal is switched off.
In the end, like most guitar effects, there is no one right answer. In fact, most guitarists use a mix of true bypass and buffered bypass pedals, depending on their specific needs.
EQ Pedal Buyer’s Guide
While we have lots of EQ pedal recommendations, here are our top three, depending on what you are looking for in an EQ pedal!
Possibly the smallest and most affordable EQ pedal that you can find anywhere.
If you’re not sure about your EQ needs, you can’t go wrong with this EQ by Danelectro.
Although the shape is a bit unusual, and the 8 sliders are small and quite close together, this may be the most functional EQ you can buy for the money. Featuring 8 sliders that allow adjustment from 100 Hertz up to 6.4 kHz as well as a slider to control the overall output level, this pedal provides great EQ control in a package that fits easily on almost any pedalboard.
The biggest downside to this pedal is that it is not as rugged as the other pedals on this list, and so this may be better as an always-on, tone shaping, EQ pedal. The plastic housing isn’t super strong (and has a bit of flex if pushed hard), the pedal switch can be a bit finicky (you need to hit it pretty much dead-center to turn the pedal on or off), and the small size of the pedal means that if you miss the footswitch you may accidentally knock some or all of your sliders out of position.
Despite those negatives, this is a great way to get into EQ and figure out just what you want (and need) out of an EQ pedal. Every guitarist should have an EQ, so if you’re looking for something simple or the cost is an issue, the Fish & Chips is where you should go!
Key Features: 7-band EQ and a level control, buffered bypass, powered by battery or AC adapter
Pros: Very affordable. Small enough to fit on just about any pedalboard.
Cons: Not especially durable, small size can be a disadvantage if you use the footswitch a lot.
Two flavors of graphic EQ for any studio or touring musician!
MXR has a great reputation for making quality guitar effects pedals, and their EQ pedal is no different. The nice thing about the MXR EQ pedal is that you can choose either 6 or 10 bands of graphic EQ – depending on your needs and the size of your pedalboard.
If you have the budget and space on your pedalboard, though, the 10-band EQ is the better overall pedal. In addition to the 10 EQ sliders, you also get a gain slider (to control the overall distortion level) and a volume slider (to control the overall effect volume). These two sliders, plus the available boost or cut of 12dB for each frequency band, provide a lot of tonal variety in one pedal. If you’re using this for acoustic guitar or bass, the 10-band is highly recommended, since you get adjustments from 31.25 Hz all the way up to 16 kHz (the 6-band EQ goes from 100 Hz to 3.2 kHz). This extended frequency really helps give bass and acoustic guitar a lively, characteristic sound.
Aside from these slightly different controls, the rest of the pedal’s features are the same. Both feature a heavy-duty metal housing with a footswitch that can take a beating and both feature true bypass when they are off.
Key Features: A large frequency range and additional volume/gain sliders (for 10-band model), heavy-duty construction, true bypass, and powered by either battery or AC power (for both models).
Pros: Wide frequency range (even better on the 10-band model), true bypass, heavy duty construction.
Cons: A bit of hiss if the gain sliders are maxed out.
Bring a studio-quality parametric EQ with you wherever you go for the ultimate in EQ flexibility and functionality.
If you’re looking for the ultimate in EQ guitar pedals, you won’t find much more capable than the Empress ParaEQ. While this pedal only features three bands of adjustment (as opposed to the 6-10 bands in other pedals), the tonal options in this pedal are almost limitless – thanks to the advanced controls.
To get the most out of your three EQ bands, the ParaEQ allows you to adjust the width of the band (narrow, medium, or wide) as well as the center frequency (35-500 Hz for low, 250-5k Hz for mid, and 1k-20k Hz for high) for each band. This means you can use this pedal to both subtly sculpt and shape your tone as well as eliminate feedback with laser-like focus (very useful for acoustic guitar/bass).
In addition to the advanced EQ functions, this pedal also offers a separate boost function. The boost level is set by a separate knob and activated by its own footswitch. This boost stage can provide up to 30 dB of clean boost, and can either drive a tube amp into breakup or help to regain lost volume after cutting unwanted frequencies from your sound. It goes without saying, of course, that this pedal is very well-made, with true bypass and very little extraneous noise added (even when the gain is turned up!).
While this pedal isn’t cheap, if you’re looking for one EQ pedal that can work in just about any environment and with any instrument, the ParaEQ is tough to beat!
Key Features: Full-featured parametric EQ with selectable Q and center frequency, separate boost functionality, true bypass, powered by battery or AC power.
Pros: This pedal may take a while to learn (like all parametric EQs), but if you’re willing to put in the time then this pedal will reward you as being incredibly flexible and powerful. Lots of features and a totally transparent EQ pedal.
Cons: For an EQ pedal, this is relatively expensive – it’s worth every penny, though.
Although EQ pedals aren’t nearly as sexy as distortion or delay pedals, they are among the most important pedals for any guitarist to own. Whether it’s getting rid of unwanted feedback, getting that solo sound “just right” in the studio, or getting your sound to stand out of the mix, an EQ pedal can make all the difference!
If you’re looking for additional EQ pedal reviews, check out our in-depth reviews, where we take deep dives into even more of these pedals to find which one is right for you!
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