We’ve probably all heard it before. The electric guitar is dialed in to a clean setting, and all you can really hear is the pick scraping the strings, with a little bit of actual melodious sound coming after it. Or the acoustic guitar that gets jacked straight into the PA system, and all of a sudden loses any warmth it once had.

The problem with this kind of sound is that it really can distract people from the music itself. I equate it to feedback always coming through a monitor when you are trying to sing.

The fastest solution to this problem is to really dive into whatever kind of equalizer you’ve got, and sit down with it until the problem gets fixed. Here are my tips from my experience of fixing this problem:

TREBLE: The treble isn’t something you need to roll back on a lot. In fact, more treble will help your clean tone STAY that way. Don’t goose it, but don’t roll it too far back either.

BASS: Bass will add to the warmth of your sound, but only by so much. Too much bass and you’ll begin to overdrive that sound…making it not clean as intended. Not enough and you’ll lose body and create an overly tinny sound.

MID-RANGE: This knob will be your primary focus, outside of effects (if you have any). Mid range boosts help you to cut through the mix and not necessarily be louder, but definitely heard more. Cut back on the midrange if you are having problems with harsh clean tones. This will eliminate some of the definition of the sound, so use just enough to be clear. Too low and you’ll end up muffling the sound behind everything else.

EFFECTS: I know if you add effects to a clean sound, it technically isn’t clean anymore, but with that side, these can help you shape your tone greatly. The two that I like to mess with the most are chorus and reverb effects.

CHORUS: For the uninitiated, chorus basically copies what you are doing, VERY slightly de-tunes it/delays the signal by fractions of a second, and then adds it to your playing. This makes it seem like there are more guitars than just yours playing, hence “chorus”. Increasing the modulation of the chorus will further pronounce those delays/tuning differences. Used in moderation, it can really soften up the sound and subract that abrasiveness.

REVERB: Reverb is an environmental effect, simulating different kinds of rooms. The bigger the room (like a hall or arena), the more reverb you are going to get. Because a hall is also built with different materials than a typical arena, the tonal differences in the reverb will also be apparent. Think of it like a very compact echo. You can’t generally hear individual reverberations (see: yelling down a canyon. “HELLO!” Hello….hello….ello…lo), but rather one elongated instance. Unlike yelling down a canyon, this copies your playing and replays it very quickly (slightly delayed and drawn out) as though the sound were travelling throughout the room. Very handy for filling up your sound and making it seem much less hollow and transparent. Experiment with the different ‘rooms’ and see what suits you the best.

Playing electric, your best EQ source is your amp. Make it as good as you can there, and give your sound guy some good input signals to work with. Same goes for the acoustic, though you’ll more likely be going directly through the PA via the sound board. If your acoustic guitar has an onboard EQ, tweak it as much as you can to give the sound guy an easier job.