EQ Part 3: Going Fishing

Jared Taylor —  March 18, 2013 — 2 Comments
Part 3 of 3 in the series EQ


Grandpa Taylor was a handy guy to have around. He was as strong as an ox, loyal to the bone and knew the value of good tools. Although he never got into mixing audio, he possessed at least one related skill …

In our first post in this series we established that EQ is a volume control for a specific frequency. Last time I recommended an approach based on cutting frequencies before boosting. But how do you choose which frequency to adjust? How do you identify what you’re hearing in order to make a change?

Training your ears for mixing is a lifelong process. Our series on critical listening is a great overview of what to listen for on most common instruments. If you’re not sure where to start with a particular instrument, go back and read it! If you identify what you’re hearing but can’t quite find it on the console, you can learn to dial in the exact frequency with a process called fishing.

Fishing is like a “try-before-you-buy” for parametric EQ settings. Whether you’re looking to squash a particular sound (cut) or highlight it (boost), you can follow the same simple process:

Step 1 – choose your pond. In most cases, you’ll be fishing in the high-mid or low-mid bands. Remember, you can only fish where you can sweep (sounds a bit like ice fishing doesn’t it?) so high and low shelf filters are not an option on most analog desks.

Step 2 – bait with boost. I know – if you read my last post this will sound like heresy. Don’t worry, it’s only a temporary measure. When fishing for frequencies, the proper bait is a sizeable boost of 9 dB or more (feedback permitting).

Step 3 – sweep it around. Adjust the frequency control until the sound you’re looking for pops out. The big boost makes it easier to hear when you’ve found it. (An analogous fishing term for this would be doodlesocking. I think I’ve said enough)

Step 4 – reel it in. With the target sound dialed in, adjust the gain until the frequency is cut or boosted to your satisfaction.

Remember that fishing sounds pretty strange coming through the speakers. This isn’t a concern during soundcheck, but if you make adjustments during a performance you should go about it in a more subtle way. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to identify frequencies and make tweaks without having to go fishing every time.

Series Navigation<< EQ Part 2: May I Cut In?

Jared Taylor

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2 responses to EQ Part 3: Going Fishing

  1. Thanks Jared. As an amateur audio tech with limited playtime, I gleaned my public library for help on this very subject. I tried the author’s recommendations below to be quite helpful in starting my ear training…

    EQ Mixing tips (from the live sound manual)
    Vocals – benefit from slight boost at 1kHz (for projection) and 10kHz (for sparkle). If there’s a lot of popping on explosive ‘p’ and ‘b’, try trimming down at 50Hz. Female vocals, if thin sounding, give slight mid boost at 500Hz.
    Guitar – touch of boost at 3-4kHz adds some extra bite. A cut at 300-400Hz has similar effect (may then need to boost channel gain/level).
    Bass – depending if you want it to sit above or below the frequency of the kick drum. Most cases it’ll be above – so a good boost is between 120 and 200Hz. For deep dub-style bass sitting below kick drum may boost 50-60Hz. If bass sound needs extra ‘presence’, or sounds a little muddy, can add some boost at 1.5-2kHz, and/or make a slight cut at 350Hz. If using a DI’d bass guitar signal, and it sounds waffly or flabby in the low end, try rolling off some bass (which seems odd) and add low0mid around 600Hz making it sound like a close-miked bass amp.
    Drums – kick or bass drum, try the ‘top and bottom with a hollowed-out middle’: a 5dB cut at 300Hz scoops out some low mid (which might otherwise clash with the bass guitar); an 80Hz boost adds a bottom end thump; a toppy ‘click’ can be added for penetrating by pushing 2&6Hz a bit. For snare, can lose low frequencies below 150Hz (or high pass filter this). For snappier snare, add 4kHz; for fatter fuller sound, add 250Hz. For toms, same as snare. Can stagger the EQ over them at stepped freqs, one at 800Hz, next at 1.5kHz, next at 2kHz. For cymbals, cut 1kHz takes out clanky mid, boost 8-10kHz adds shimmery top (and hiss if too much boost). Take out the below 250Hz or use HPF for cymbals really don’t need this range.
    Keys – beware extra low and high frequencies at loud levels, can damage tweeters and basses. Try set low-pass filter at 16-18kHz. Set high pass filter at 40Hz. Or get high quality speakers.
    Brass – to prevent overloud blasts, use PAD switches, commpression.
    Hiss & Hum: conflict with AC frequency hum (50-60Hz) may increase at these wavebands. To rid hums, try cutting harmonic fq at 60, 180, 300, 520Hz. For PC monitor noise, drop 8kHz, 16kHz, and 32kHz….

    • Jared Taylor May 2, 2013 at 8:10 am

      Thanks for sharing, Ray! That’s a good overview. Lots of useful frequencies identified there. It seems the author assumes most instruments need one or two frequencies boosted, which isn’t quite my taste.

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