An EQ allows you to sculpt the sound of any instrument so that it stands out in the mix. So how do you find the best and worst each instrument has to offer and adjust them accordingly?

Here is a great starting place:

First, solo just the instrument with which you are working. Most engineers start building their mix with the drums and work from the bottom up (kick, snare, toms, high hat, overheads). Each instrument resonates the most in a specific frequency bandwidth, so if you are working on your kick drum mic, start with the lowest band of the EQ. Tune in the best-sounding low end and move on to the attack. It is not uncommon to hear an annoying ringing or a ‘“twang’” somewhere mixed in with your amazing-sounding low end and perfect attack, so your next task will be to find that offending frequency and notch it out. Once you are satisfied with your kick drum, mute it, and move on to the next instrument.

Taking your time with equalization is well worth the effort. Your mix will have better separation and more clarity when each instrument’s EQ is set so that it shines through the mix.

A few general words of wisdom:

  • You can only do so much. Not every instrument can or should have a full, rich low end and a sharp attack. If every instrument is EQ’d to have the same effect, it will lose its identity in the mix. Your goal is not individual perfection, it is collective perfection in the mix.
  • Step away from the mix. Your ears get fatigued just like the rest of you. If you are working particularly hard on one instrument, your ears will be quite literally numbed to that frequency range.
  • Your memory is not what you think it is. Comparing a flat EQ and the curve that you’ve created allows you to see exactly what you’ve done. So be honest with yourself. Sometimes that EQ setting you’ve been working on for 15 minutes is not the right choice, so move on.
  • Never be afraid to take a risk. The best EQ tricks were found by mad scientists of sound. “Playing” applies to engineers as well as musicians.

EQ Frequency Guide

You can add clarity and fullness to any instrument in a mix by attenuating (cutting) or boosting certain frequencies. And of course, adjusting the wrong frequencies can make an instrument shrill, muddy, or just downright annoying. The following table offers suggestions for frequency ranges that should be boosted or cut when shaping the sound of commonly used instruments. Remember, these are just suggestions; these frequencies may need to be adjusted up or down depending on the instrument, room, and microphone.

Frequency Ranges

The diagram below can be used as a quick reference for where various tonalities of different instruments fall within the range of human hearing:

Suggested EQ Settings

Here are suggested EQ settings for several different instruments to help you get started. These settings are for the four-band semi-parametric equalizers found in the PreSonus Studio Channel, Eureka, and StudioLive 16.4.2, but you can adapt them to other multiband semi-parametric EQs.

If you are using a fully parametric EQ, such as the PreSonus Pro EQ plug-in, we suggest that you play with the Q setting when a high or a low Q is suggested, in order to find the right width for the instrument or mix. This will also give you a better understanding of how the Q affects the sound.

Of course, the right EQ setting for any given instrument will depend upon the overall mix and the tonality of the instrument.

Pop Female Vocals

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 130 Hz -2 dB ON LOW 4.1 kHz -2 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 2.4 kHz +2 dB ON PEAK 6 kHz +8 dB

Rock Female Vocals

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON SHELF 155 Hz +4 dB ON LOW 4.1 kHz +6 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 1.4 kHz +6 dB ON PEAK 4.2 kHz +2 dB

Pop Male Vocals

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 225 Hz -2 dB ON HI 960 Hz -1 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 2 kHz +2 dB ON PEAK 7.2 kHz +4 dB

Rock Male Vocals

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 155 Hz +2 dB ON HI 2.1 kHz -6 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON HI 2.4 kHz -2 dB ON SHELF 7.2 kHz +4 dB

Snare Drum

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 130 Hz -4 dB ON LOW 6.1 kHz +4 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 1.6 kHz +4 dB ON SHELF 4.2 kHz +4 dB

Left/Right (Stereo) Drum Overheads

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 130 Hz -2 dB ON LOW 4.1 kHz -2 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 2.4 kHz +2 dB ON PEAK 6 kHz +8 dB

Left/Right (Stereo) Drum Overheads

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 130 Hz -2 dB ON LOW 4.1 kHz -2 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 2.4 kHz +2 dB ON PEAK 6 kHz +8 dB

Kick Drum

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 108 Hz +4 dB ON HI 290 Hz -4 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 1.6 kHz 0 dB ON SHELF 6 kHz +4 dB

Electric Bass Guitar

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON SHELF 36 Hz -8 DB ON HI 130 Hz +4 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 2.0 kHz +4 dB ON SHELF 4.2 kHz 0 dB

Acoustic Guitar

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 155 Hz +4 dB ON LOW 690 Hz +2 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 2.0 kHz 0 dB ON SHELF 6 kHz +4 dB

Distorted Electric Guitar

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON PEAK 320 Hz +6 dB ON LOW 960 Hz 0 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON HI 3.5 kHz +4 dB ON SHELF 12 kHz 0 dB

Piano

LOW ON/OFF LOW PEAK/SHELF LOW FREQ LOW GAIN LOW MID ON/OFF LOW MID HI/LOW Q LOW MID FREQ LOW MID GAIN
ON SHELF 108 Hz -2 dB ON LOW 690 Hz +2 dB

HI MID ON/OFF HI MID HI/LOW Q HI MID FREQ HI MID GAIN HI ON/OFF HI PEAK/SHELF HI FREQ HI GAIN
ON LOW 2.9 kHz +2 dB ON PEAK 7.2 kHz +4 dB