Easy Mixing Cheatsheet - An EQ Guide for Most Common Instruments



Equalization is arguably the single most important aspect of making a full band mix sound complete and lively. It is absolutely essential for not only giving each instrument its own sonic space within a mix, but for making each instrument sound defined and rich.

Unless you’ve been lucky enough to study sound engineering academically, most beginners learn to EQ through a lot of trial and error. While experimentation is important for finding your own sound, having a general reference is a great way to get your mixes in the right ballpark.

For that reason, this EQ guide should not be seen as gospel, but used as a handy starting point in your own mixes. Each instrument stem you mix will be different, for example the effects, amp and cabinet used for a guitar take can make a huge difference to the way it sounds and each drum kit will have its own sonic characteristics.

All of these variables will affect how you should EQ any particular recording or instrument capture, which means that no EQ cheatsheet will be appropriate for every recording.

Therefore, always trust your own ears and use this EQ guide as a starting point, before refining your mix to make it the best for each individual recording.

EQ Guide for Drums

Kick Drum

    • 40 - 60hz: Anything below this frequency range will be muddy. Within this frequency range will be the reverberation of the drum shell itself. It can sometimes be a little too boomy and undefined depending on mic placement and the capture itself.
    • 60 - 100hz: These are the frequencies that give the kick physical presence - that thump in the chest you feel when watching music live.
    • 100 - 200hz: These are the essential kick drum frequencies, low enough to give the recording depth and weight but defined enough to be clearly audible through headphones.
    • 500 - 2000hz: Higher pitched reverberation from the shell. Can add some presence and definition to a recording, but can also interfere with guitars, vocals and other instruments.
    • 2000 - 5000hz: This is the sound of the beater itself, essential for giving the kick clarity. Particularly important for modern metal and rock mixes.

Snare Drum

    • Under 200hz: Most choose to cut these frequencies, there will be a lot of mic bleed from the rest of the kit.
    • 200 - 400hz: This is the body of the snare, where the most essential frequencies sit.
    • 400 - 800hz: Gives the snare its ring and resonance. Can be a little too intrusive on guitars and vocals, but a little presence here will bring the snare to life.
    • 2000 - 3500hz: This frequency range gives the snare its “snap”, a good area to accent to give the snare more presence and clarity in the mix.

Toms

    • 100 - 300hz: This range gives the toms their boom sound. Can be difficult to find a good middle ground between excessive boom and the toms sounding thin.
    • 3000 - 4000hz: Upper frequencies that give the toms their attack, providing clarity and mix cutting presence.

Cymbals

200 - 400hz: The body and clank sound of the cymbals reside here. Gives the hi-hats and ride cymbals body and defines chinas and splash cymbals
6000 - 8000hz: This range gives cymbals their wash and fills the upper range of the full band mix. Can sound a little to piercing if accented too much.

Guitars

Bass Guitar

Nailing the bass guitar EQ can be challenging as it sits between the frequencies of the kick and the lower mids of the guitar.

    • 40 - 80hz: These are the lowest meaningful frequencies of the bass. Gives the bass resonance and thickness.
    • 80 - 300hz: These are the core of the bass sound. Some basses can sound a little too boomy on the upper edges, so cut around 200 - 300hz if the bass needs to be cleaned up.
    • 300 - 600hz: The upper harmonics of the bass, a great range to boost to give the bass a little more presence in a mix.
    • 800 - 1,600hz: These are the frequencies that give basses their percussive, growly sound.

Electric Guitar

Guitars primarily occupy the mid-range frequencies, which are the most apparent to the human ear. For this reason, over EQing a guitar can easily make it sound artificial. Less is more when EQing a guitar post recording, which is why getting a good tone out of the guitar and amp before recording is so important. This can be achieved with the use of an EQ pedal.

    • Sub 90hz: For most recordings this will be very muddy and will interfere with the bass and kick drum, so cut it.
    • 100 - 200hz: These frequencies give the guitar thickness, but can also encroach on the bass guitar and snare.
    • 300 - 800hz: These are the essential frequencies of the electric guitar. That growl of a distorted guitar is typically around 500 - 750hz.
    • 1000 - 2000hz: These frequencies give the guitar some clarity and richness, but can also sound harsh and ear piercing.
    • 3000 - 8000hz: These frequencies give the guitar shimmer and presence in the mix, but can also encroach on the vocal.

Keys

Piano

The kind of piano used can have implications on how to EQ the capture. For example, a grand piano will occupy different frequencies than a small upright piano. The kind of hammers used and how hard the player hits the keys will also change the sonic character.

    • 100 - 200hz: Depending on the other instruments in the mix, this range can be cut to give the bass, snare and guitar a little more room. In a more piano driven mix, this range gives warmth and body to the piano.
    • 2000hz and up: Gives the piano air, ideal for brightening up a darker sounding piano and giving it more presence in the mix.

Hammond Organ

Like with the guitar, nailing a hammond mix comes down to making such the pre-capture sound is good. The sound can be radically changed with different drawbar settings.

As a very wide ranging instrument from a frequency point of view, the organ can intrude on the bass, guitar and vocals, so a reductive EQ approach is usually best.

    • 80hz: Gives the organ fullness and body, but can overwhelm the bass.
    • 240hz: The primary organ frequencies, concentrate on these while cutting 350 - 1000hz to give guitar more room.
    • 2000 - 5000hz: Gives the organ presence and clarity, but too much can intrude on the vocals.

Vocals

The human voice can be tricky to nail. They are usually the focal point of any song, which means that they need to be clear and defined, but still feel like they are sitting within the music.

    • 100hz and below: This will be mostly background noise picked up by the mic. Cut it.
    • 200hz: Can give the vocal warmth and fullness, but too much can make it sound boomy and nasal.
    • 700 - 1000hz: This range gives the vocals most of its clarity and body. This is the main range for vocals, which is very similar to the guitar, which can lead to clashes between them.
    • 3000hz: This range gives the vocals some sizzle and life. Too much can be ear piercing, but not enough can make the vocal sound dull and flat.
    • 4000 - 8000hz: This frequency range is responsible for a lot of sibilance. If the vocals sound too “snakey”, a cut here can do the trick.
    • 10,000hz and up: Subtle boot here can open up the vocal and make it sound airy, too much however can make the vocal sound harsh and thin.

How to Use the EQ Cheatsheet

Armed with these EQ guides, your mixes should already start to sound more cohesive and alive. However, it is important that you use your own ears and taste to fine tune the mix to really make it pop.

Experiment with both reduction and addition, often an instrument can sound much better with select frequency ranges cut, rather than ranges being boosted.

Also mix with a variety of monitors. While your flat response studio monitors may be the most accurate, ultimately you’re mixing for the cheap headphones and phone speakers that most listeners will use, so much sure your mixes translate across all speaker types.
About the Author

Scott Ronald has been a professional multi-instrumentalist for over 7 years. As well as actively touring, he has spent a lot of time in the studio, both as a performer and as an engineer.

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