Mix Smart Figure 3.8 – Frequency range of fundamentals and spectral landmarks (Guitar), pp. 63 (click for full sized image)

The fundamental frequencies in the playable range of the typical, in-tune electric guitar covers the range from about 80 Hz to about 1200 Hz (Figure 3.8). Of course, the harmonics of every note played represent energy at multiples of these frequencies. Any amp- or stomp-box-induced harmonic distortion adds yet more energy to the sound, from 80 Hz well up to 6 kHz and beyond.

The equalizer doesn’t empower the engineer to separate fundamentals from harmonics, only to access a specific frequency range. So the engineer should note that an EQ setting above 1200 Hz affects only the harmonics of the instrument. EQ processes below 1200 Hz are a bit messier to keep up with, adjusting the harmonic balance for some notes and changing the level of the fundamental for others. Shaping timbre above 1200 Hz is more straightforward than dipping into that 80-Hz to 1200-Hz range, where the engineer’s cuts and/or boosts will affect the very phrasing and note-to-note level of the guitarist’s performance. EQ changes in the 80–1200-Hz range aren’t forbidden. In fact, such settings are quite common. But expect to use more restrained gain settings (less than +/–6 dB) and lower Q settings (less than 2), and pay particular attention to single-note lines in the performance, if there are any.

Although the lowest sustained pitch for the instrument is that 80 Hz fundamental, this doesn’t mean that the instrument has no output below 80 Hz. As with all instruments, there can be audible broad band bursts of energy associated with the onset of every note or chord, creating instantaneous bursts of energy that include energy below the lowest fundamental frequency. Similarly, the ends of notes and chords can have broadband energy associated with them, very much influenced by the performance gestures invoked. This spectral interest at the beginning and end of notes is very important to the electric guitar sound, so pay particular attention below 80 Hz. Playing with a pick, playing with fingertips, playing with fingernails, hammering on and pulling off, palm mutes, and so on. The spectral subtleties of these techniques are most revealed in the upper midrange (2 to 6 kHz), and in the subharmonic range (below 80 Hz).


Wondering where to put the microphone?  Me too.


Distortion is an essential part of tone, especially for electric guitar.


It’s about as natural as pancakes and maple syprup.


Don’t miss the article by Alex Case in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society.