You are on page 1of 4



August 10, 2014

Tone Tips & Tricks

amp, amplifier, eq, equalization, guitar, tips, tone

David Szabados

We do get quite a lot of e-mails from folks asking about how they should set their tone controls on their amps and/or pedals. In fact, this "how should I set
things?" question is the number one question we get here.
As a result, I thought the time was right to discuss equalization in general and offer some EQ tips. Much of this information comes from my own years of
trial and error as well as from the valued insight of others. Even all these years later, I continue to learn from various people, mostly on the Internet these
days, and of course I still experiment. I hope you find this information useful!


Most rock guitarists that play through practice amps at low volume love the sound of a distorted guitar that is "full and smooth" meaning there are
deep lows and present highs that get emphasized while much of the "honking" mids are cut. This is known as a mid-scoop setting and when looking at a
graphic equalizer is represented by a "U" shape of the various frequencies.
This works great at low volume, but one of the big struggles I had personally was using this type of sound in context with a band. For years, I refused to
make changes to my "perfect setup" and thought that the problem was with the other players equipment, style, volume whatever. But it wasnt my
problem right?
Wrong. It was ALL my problem and heres why. Taken in the context as a musical instrument, the guitar is primarily a producer of mid-range frequencies
and is really a mid-range instrument. Boosting the 20Hz and 50Hz bass frequencies on an e.q. box does not change this fact!
So when a typical band that includes a bassist and a drummer and perhaps keyboards gets into the equation, youve got a primarily mid-range instrument
that is at the same time now trying to "compete" with those instruments when you do mid-scooping. Boosting the low end of the guitar isnt going to help
you win in terms of clarity over the bass. Any decent bass rig will smother your bass frequencies. Additionally, the high-end presence dialed into your
guitar is just going to get totally washed out and flattened in relationship to the drummers cymbals. Now what was done to the guitars mids? They were
scooped down meaning the levels on them are very low. Well now nothing can be heard and the guitar is sounding very thin as a result.
Whats the answer to retaining that killer mid-scoop tone while also putting your guitar higher in the mix? Is it more volume? Turn up the master or get a
more powerful amp then will all things will fit into place?
Not exactly as youve got some new issues to face. First off, with most amplifiers and speakers for guitar that are designed for guitar, there is a limit
before you get flubbing types of effects coming through when two much bass has been put into the mix. This can be caused by an overload of an amps
transformer, speaker/cone distortion or many other reasons.
Turning up a mid-scooped setup even louder with the high frequencies will of course bring out more highs, but its not going to sound smooth after a
certain point. High frequencies at louder volumes do just the opposite theyll sound harsh and brittle. Guys in the band will want you to turn down and
youll be thinking, "But Im not even that loud!!" Well, your highs are loud loud enough to be piercing to those sensitive eardrums of bandmates!
Guitarists (myself included) can sometimes be deaf to certain things and this is one of those areas.
The mid-scoop effect however CAN work on recordings with careful equalization and separation, but really turns into a nightmare of thinness for the
majority of guitarists playing in bands.
That being said, if the sound and tone you have is fine as is and youre happy, thats all that matters in the end. In my case though, I was very frustrated
until I learned to carefully bring in the mids and e.q. to the appropriate volume I was playing at.


converted by

Now when I first started playing with Marshalls, my tone settings were typically as follows: Presence 8, Bass 10, Mid 0, Treble 6. Thats about as midscoopy as it gets for a typical Marshall amplifier. It worked o.k., though I did notice that as I had to turn up for louder drummers, Id often feel like I had a
thinner and thinner sound.
Now any amp Id play, Id basically set them the same way. The thing I didnt realize was that all amps are voiced differently and some are naturally
emphasized in key frequencies. Basically in a nutshell it means dial in your tone with your ears and not your eyes!
I didnt realize how thin my Marshall tone was until I brought in another amplifier to experiment with, my Hiwatt DR103 Custom 100. This amp has a
balanced tonal central, but does have emphasized mids, moreso than a Marshall. When setting the amp to a typical "quasi-mid scoop", even my drummer
at the time commented on my all of a sudden "ballsy" tone. I was running the same pedals, cabinets, and guitars I always did, but just using an amp that
naturally had more mids built in. The end result is that the amps naturally voiced mids came out and provided a livelier, punchier tone that really
brought out the tone of the guitar.
Continuing to talk to various tone veterans throughout the years, I learned that others that used vintage Marshalls had quite different settings than mine.
Try this one: Presence 0, Bass 3, Mid 8, Treble 5. To me, that sounds like it would be "midrange city" and would probably make any guitar sound like its
being playing through a telephone. However, I learned quite the opposite. The creamy, warm and rich characteristics of an old Marshall can be found
when the mids are brought up. In fact those settings are basically what I use to this day with my older Marshalls, with some variation to the newer models
I use.
Now lets take a typical Fender amp or a Mark series Mesa Boogie. Turning up the bass control too high makes the sound mushy and muddy. This is not
only because of the amps particular voicing center, but in this case the equalization controls are placed prior to, or in front of, the preamp. In this
instance, its very easy to overload the signal.
Again, and in other words, dont think of an amplifier like a home stereo system theyre not all the same and you shouldnt equalize them as such. Each
tone control voicing of each amp is very different in fact, the amplifier is very much its own unique instrument in this respect. The other staff editors
here at LegendaryTones probably find it more amusing that amplifiers are much more fascinating to me than guitars, but Ill admit it!
Based on all this discussion, two very simple suggestions can be mentioned 1) Dont be afraid to experiment and do something or set the controls to what
may seem to be "out of the norm". I would have NEVER thought of trying the settings I did with an old Marshall without the guidance of others. I should
have found the settings myself years ago I couldve really used the help. 2) Set your e.q. to the volume that youre playing at, meaning all that bass and
high-end may not sound so good if the controls are left as-is and you simply turn up the volume.


The last topic of consideration is with external equalization. Whether graphic or parametric, box or rack mount, external equalization can prove to be
beneficial for many players. The same concepts apply of course but now we have some other interesting benefits and uses from external equalization.
Im referring to the location of the equalization itself. Basically heres the idea. If you put equalization in front of or before the distortion signal, it will
provide a much different effect than when placed after the distortion signal. This has to do with the fact that distortion and compression are two in the
Examples of equalization before distortion are either placing an equalization device before and overdrive/distortion box, or using the amps built-in
distortion and putting the equalizer simply in line between the guitar and amp. In either case, the net effect is that changes in the equalization are
somewhat limited because the overdrive/compression affect is "squeezing" the frequencies together. What does happen is that boosting any of the
frequencies or the master level control on the equalization device can lead to adding quite a bit of distortion or gain into the signal.
It is quite popular these days to apply what is known as a "clean boost" effect and this refers to this same concept. Similarly, you can clean boost the
overdrive of an amp by taking an overdrive pedal and using the controls in reverse meaning the drive/gain controls are set to a minimum level and the
volume control is set to maximum. Moving the bands on an equalizer in this fashion will also increase gain for this clean boost effect, plus you still do
retain some of the effect of the tonal changes of the equalizer, there just not as dramatic.
This is the best way Ive found to take an amp that has "not quite enough" distortion and push it to new levels of contemporary sustain and rock
Now, examples of equalization place after distortion could mean putting an equalization device in a chain after the distortion, or it could also mean
running the equalizer through an effects loop. Do note however that an effects loop is a place to patch affects that is setup in the system to be right after
the preamp stage and just prior to the power amp stage. In this regard, amps that utilize mostly preamp distortion will result in a more extreme effect.
When the power stage begins to clip, the compression effect starts to come in as well and then makes the equalization closer to the original described
So what is the effect of an equalizer put after a distortion device? Well, easy, simple as a tone and level booster. Basically this is what the equalization
device was "made" to do. Equalization bands can be varied widely in tone and the level control will boost the volume. The distortion amount coming from
the distortion box or amp doesnt change in amount of the distortion effect.
This sounds like the most versatile use of an equalizer, but in fact Ill admit that through years of trial and error with guitars, amps, pickups, etc. Ive found
wonderful tones by just plugging straight into an amp. Because of that, my most common use of an equalizer is strictly for its clean boost capabilities that
I find useful during solos for example.
I have to thank all the site visitors that have e-mailed their thoughts and questions to us. It is because of you that many of the ideas
for these articles come about in the first place. Keep the thoughts and questions coming and take care!

converted by

Magus Innovations The Ultimate Attenuator


Marshall JTM-45 Reissue Modification Part II

Legendary Tones

1 Login


Sort by Best

Recommend 2

Join the discussion

micropterus79 9 months ago

That was incredibly informative. Been having trouble with a "wet blanket on my amp" tone and I believe that it was because of cutting out
too much mid. I have found the mid knob very useful now. Thank you!

Reply Share

David Szabados

Moderator > micropterus79

7 months ago

Thank you for the kind words and for stopping by to check out the site!
Reply Share

eljodon 4 months ago

I've been using EQ's in from of my amps and post distortion for years. For some reason I prefer having an eq in the effects loops or while
slaving my NMV amps like my Plexis.It gets rid go the nasty mids and "boxy" tone. I use either a Boss GE 10 or a TC Electronics 2240
which is a stereo parametric eq using both sides so I can have 8 bands of parametric eq, I use subtractive eq and the frequencies that I
go for is 125kHz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, 4kHz, and 8 kHz, with a mid narrow q. That leaves my one band which I use to boost some
bass when I need to which is the only frequency I boost.When using the Boss GE 10 i use a mild "smily" eq curve. The eq's that I use in
front of my amps is either an MXR 10 band or a Furman PQ3. The frequencies that I boost with the MXR are 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz,
4kHz and 8kHz. For the Furman I boost 400 to 500Hz, 800 to 1kHz and 4kHz and 8 kHz depending on the tone I want I narrow the q half
way or narrower . You have tobe careful not to over do it because the tone of the amp will sound to"scooped" When I slave my amps
which I prefer doing it 50% of the time I use an Aracom dual Rox or a custom made on as dummy load and for power amps I use either
my PT100 or a Mesa Boogie 2 90. The key of making it sound good is removing the low pass filter and usig a reactive dummy load.
Between the amp I'm salving and the power amp I use a passive DI into a passive re amp box to reduce hum and and the "squeal" which
is a high pitch noise. Then I use an eq and a RJM mixer to boost the signal. The great thing about slaving is that you can crank the amp
all the way and get the power tubes to work harder, plus you have more control over the tone.
I recently purchased the Fryette Power Station which is an Attenuator with a 50 watt amp that also has an Fx loop. I returned it because it
uses a low pass filter which makes the guitar sounds darker so they're going to remove it. They're also modding the precense to be
narrower like a Plexi. I'm hoping that it will sound better after the mod so I can simplify my set up!

see more
Reply Share


Hughes & Kettner Replex Tape Delay Simulator

Fuzz Feast Part 2 An Assortment of Todays Fuzzes

1 comment a year ago

1 comment a year ago

beebo this article does not give me the feeling that the author
has much experience with real tape delays

Interview with Marshall VP Mitch Colby on Marshall HW

2 comments a year ago

joe the grinder Love my Russian green bubble-font Big Muff.

They always claim the big muff isn't a fuzz (at least

Celestion Heritage Series G12M and G12H Greenbacks

3 comments a year ago

Keith Rhinehart it should say. But my guess is an "H"

Paul Laviolette I just want to know if I hook up a 45 watt tube

head at 8 ohms to a 16 ohm cabinet 4x12 if there would


Add Disqus to your site




converted by

Vintage Jensen Speaker Rebuild Project

Part 2
Wading Through the Sea of Opinions
Vintage Jensen Speaker Rebuild Project
Part 1
Reverb Pedal Buying Guide for Various


George Lynch Official Web Site


Robert Keeley Electronics

RSS Feed

Astride the Line

Zerobudget Records
Skull Smasher

Sonus Pedals Fuzz Face 1966 Replica


converted by