When you’re EQ’ing your guitar at home you’re most likely turned lower in volume than onstage. You’re also most likely directly in front of your amplifier with the amp within arms reach so you can tweak the controls. So you work and tweak your amp until it sounds perfect and you’re happy with your tone. So why does it sound so horrible when you get to the gig?
There are a couple factors that will cause the “Sounds great at home and crappy at the gig” phenomenon. The biggest being that you are listening to your amp at a low volume within arms reach when you’re at home. To replicate your stage EQ you need to get about 15 feet away from your amp with your amp turned up to stage volume. It’s amazing how much an amp’s sound will change with distance and volume. This will give you a good starting point to begin EQ’ing your amplifier.
The next thing you have to watch out for is the fact that you’re listening to your amplifier without the added benefit of having the other instruments playing at the same time. When you get your amp to the gig and the bass and drums kick in, how often have you had a hard time hearing yourself? Part of the problem is that when setting the equalization on your amp while listening to it alone you’ll fall into the problem of trying to get a bass heavy sound. When your amp is alone, a lot of bass in it will sound really good because there’s nothing on the low end competing with it. But when you get your amp to the show and your amp is EQ’d heavily in the bass frequencies, you’ll turn up to stage volume and start competing directly with the bass guitar, bass drum and low tom-tom’s. The thing to do when you’re EQ’ing your amp alone at home before the gig is to try turning the bass down a bit and boost the high-mid’s and the high frequencies.
The best way to EQ your amp would be to do it at the gig during soundcheck. This would allow you to EQ your amp with all the instruments playing. If you have an amplifier with multiple patches and custom EQ’s on each patch like I use on my Fender Cyber-Twin SE, then you’ll still have to try rolling down some bass in advance and make mental notes at the gig about which patches to tweak when you get home. That method has worked very well for me.
Finally, if you’re on a wireless system, you’ll want to take a walk out front during the soundcheck or even during the show and listen to your guitar sound. This will give you a good feel for how your EQ sounds in the overall live mix. Most guitar amps are very directional and sound the best about 10-15 feet in front of the amp. Tweaking the EQ properly will allow your sound to spread out a bit more. You should also listen carefully to how your amp sounds coming through the main P.A. system. You want to EQ your P.A. channel so it sounds like your amp sounds onstage. Again, the tendency is to mix in even more bass on your P.A. channel. Be objective because if you add mids and highs your guitar will cut through a lot better and people will be able to hear your guitar more clearly.
So there you have it, a few words on amplifier equalization.