The Best EQ Pedals

The EQ pedal is one of the most criminally underutilized guitar effects. It has a reputation as being something of a gilder of turds, or at best, just a tool used now and then to correct periodic tone anomalies. Many guitarists don't really consider its possibilities beyond that. This is unfortunate, as an equalizer pedal can not only be a utilitarian device or temporary tonal Band-Aid, it can also be an inspiring engine of tone just like an overdrive, fuzz, delay, or any other effect that might inhabit one's pedalboard.

An EQ can partner with a dirt pedal, expanding its voice and taking it to previously unimagined sonic territory. It can do the same for the rest of the rig as well, acting as an instantly accessible alternate tone, as if the player had switched guitars or amps mid-song.

Equalizers have traditionally been used as solo boosters, set for several decibels of boost and a strong mid-range emphasis for making sure leads poke out nicely in a dense mix. These are just a few of the possible used for a good EQ. Suffice it to say that a high-quality EQ is a wonderfully creative tool, and recent years have seen a bevy of new EQ boxes hitting the market from builders both small and large. Let’s take a look at a few of these and explore what can be done with them.

Empress Effects ParaEq w/ Boost

This pedal is basically a proper recording studio equalizer, except it's in a small pedal enclosure instead of a rack, and it's 249 dollars instead of 4000. The "Para" in its name is to indicate that, like a good studio EQ, it is a parametric design, meaning that it gives the user control over gain, center frequency, and bandwidth (often referred to as "Q"). The Empress ParaEq can be as surgical or as broad in its effect as one might desire, and its active circuit can cut or boost 15dB, giving it a lot more tonal sculpting power than most guitarists are accustomed to.

Its tremendous headroom (especially when operating at 18v), input pad, and quiet operation mean that it can be used with just about any instrument, and it can go either in front of the amp or in the effects loop, if you're that type. The ParaEq also boasts a whopping 30dB of output boost for driving long signal chains or battering the front end of a tube amp. This pedal is an extraordinarily well-made, thoughtfully designed creative tool that should do a lot to turn guitar players onto the power of EQ.

JHS Colour Box

The Colour Box is a sweet and musical sounding equalizer, but it's also much more. It is a multifaceted guitar, bass, keyboard, and even microphone preamplifier, with all-analog circuitry based on a vintage Neve console preamp. The stated purpose of the Colour Box is to simulate the signal chain used to record guitar on so many classic records, from The Beatles to Motown, which essentially involved plugging the guitar directly into the Neve console, using its gain controls, EQ, and beefy output transformers to shape the tone that went to tape. The Colour Box recreates this with two gain stages that can produce shimmering, rich clean tones, or a screaming fuzz inferno with 39dB of gain available.

Its Lundahl transformer adds a pleasing overall harmonic complexity, as well as that robust low-end heft one associates with vintage Neve pres. Moving on to the powerful EQ section, the Colour Box features a three-band modified Baxandall circuit with fixed frequencies at 10kHz for treble, 1kHz for mids, and 120Hz bass, with 17dB of boost or cut capability. In addition, it features a switchable high-pass filter for molding the bass and low-mid frequencies, excellent for adding punch and clarity.

The Colour Box is aimed mostly at guitar players, but it also sports an independent, balanced XLR input and output for using it as a mic preamp, or for sending a parallel output to a console or recorder, making it a valuable tone-creating tool for any recording musician.

Source Audio Programmable EQ

Graphic equalizers, which typically have little sliders to boost or cut specific, pre-set frequency bands, have long been the dominant guitar pedal EQ, with Boss and MXR making the industry standard models that most players are familiar with. Source Audio has just changed the game, however, with their very compact Programmable EQ, a seven-band graphic EQ that offers 18dB of boost or cut at each frequency, with four fully programmable presets that can be recalled with a tap of the footswitch.

The frequency bands are optimized for guitar, but Source Audio has added an "Octave Extend" function that adds an extra band at 62Hz for bass players. This pedal is ideal for the player that switches between several different instruments during live shows, allowing them to have an instantly accessible preset set up for each. In addition, the Programmable EQ has 12dB of squeaky clean boost, perfect for getting a little extra juice for solos, or for bullying the power tubes in your amp into sweet, sweet saturation.

One interesting facet of this pedal that's sure to spark your creative combustion engine is its Auto-scroll function, which scrolls through the user-programmed presets at an adjustable speed, resulting in a very unique effect that lies somewhere between tremolo and an undulating Uni-Vibe-like sound, depending on the presets, of course. The Source Audio Programmable EQ is MIDI compatible, features true bypass switching, and can run either on a nine-volt power supply or a battery. At 149 bucks, it's also a stupid bargain.

EarthQuaker Devices Tone Job

The Tone Job is perfect for the guitarist that doesn't want to spend too much time mulling over frequency bandwidth and Q, and just wants to grab a knob or two and twist 'em around until it sounds good. It features an all-analog active circuit with treble, bass, and middle controls, each with 20dB of boost or cut. Its powerful mid control focuses itself in the 1kHz area, and even small adjustments here can have a drastic effect on the voice of the pedal, and any other dirt pedals you use in tandem with it.

Whether you're scooping out your distortion for a chunky metal tone, pushing the mids for a honky sounding solo, or something entirely different, the Tone Job has got a whole lot of juice to make it happen. With its high headroom transparent design and active circuitry, it will work with any instrument that is plugged into it, and its tremendously powerful level control can boost output up to five times greater than the input signal.

WMD Effects Utility Parametric EQ

For players interested in total surgical slash-and-burn, this may be the pedal for the job. The Utility Parametric EQ gives the user complete control over the full swath of frequencies from the nearly sub-sonic 31Hz all the way up to 16kHz, where only teenagers will hear it. The user can select a center frequency, Q, and level of boost or cut for the low, mid, and hi bands, and an overall level control for cutting output, or even better, for boosting it to get some extra gain and wallop out of the amplifier.

An equalizer with the power and wide frequency range of the Utility Parametric EQ can be used to great effect on just about anything, but it practically begs to be used aggressively, for creating massive, seismic low-end rumble and punishing sonic mayhem.

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