Pedal Steel Guitars are commonly known for their shimmering-clear high frequency notes. A lot of great pedal steel playing contains harmonics played by the player: these chimes can often extend very high into the sonic spectrum, a range occupied by fewer instruments, which can be full of presence and air. This should definitely be kept in mind when EQing the amp you’re using. Another thing to keep in mind is that the C6 neck has a frequency range much like a piano’s, but even broader. So playing this neck through an amp, is like playing a keyboard through an amp!
What should also be considered when equalizing an amplifier for pedal steel is the acoustical environment (room) you’re playing in, as well as the instrument itself (age, cabinet type, pickups, etc.). Also, are you using an amp designed for handling the pedal steel’s hot output and broad frequency range, or an amp made for six-string electric guitar? Is the amp tube or solid-state? All of these factors will affect how you EQ your amp, but like playing pedal steel, you can do things according to your own taste and preference.
If you like playing rhythmic vamps often on your steel guitar, that include lots of wide voicings with low bass notes, then you’ll probably want to turn the low end up on your amplifier a little bit (1/8 to ¼ turn of knob/fader is a good starting point). If you’re playing this way, but there’s an excellent stand-up bass player on the bandsand, it might be a good idea to turn your lows down a bit instead, and leave them plenty of room in the sonic spectrum (frequency range) to do their thing. You can still play those vamps as you were, but you are now leaving room for the listener’s ears to soak up more of the actual bass guitar.
If you like playing more lick-based, higher range playing on the E9 neck, then adding a little more presence to your signal will benefit you usually. If the amp has a setting for presence, turn it up a bit to taste. If it doesn’t, search for the highest frequency controls on it, and that will get you in that upper range sonically. By the way, the frequency range of human hearing is approximately 20 Hz to 20 kHz. It takes really skilled ears to hear certain sounds really high in this range (above 18 kHz, closer to 20k), and many animals can hear above or below this range. They’re hearing things we wish we could, or sometimes wish we couldn’t. Whales can hear certain really low frequencies below our threshold, dogs can hear way above our frequency range.
Good starting points for EQ on pedal steel guitar, for any amp or guitar, both E9 and C6 necks…
-Settings are on a scale of -15 to +15, with -15 being the lowest setting possible, and +15 being the highest possible. 0 indicates the setting is exactly in its middle position. This is similar to the knob controls on a Peavey Nashville 112 pedal steel amplifier.
Mid -3 (if there’s a shift control, put it around 300-400 Hz if possible)
Using these settings as a starting point will…
- Beef up your low end and give your bass notes some extra uummpphhh. If you’re playing the E9 neck, then you don’t have very low frequency strings on this neck — a six-string guitar has a bigger low-end sonically, so no worries about getting in the bass or guitar player’s way, even with the bass setting so high. If you’re playing C6 neck this will make your bass notes sound thicker and warmer, and just turn them down a bit if there’s a good bass player with you.
- Cutting a little bit of the mid frequency will usually make the pedal steel guitar sound a little less muddy. (If you’re playing jazz pedal steel guitar, then don’t listen to this advice, as that muddy sound may add to your tone). Also, cutting the Mids a bit can give the six-string guitar player a little more breathing room sonically. After all, you and the six-string player share a lot of the same frequency range on your instrument, so try to respect each other on the sonic spectrum.
- Adding highs and presence will get you in a higher frequency range that is less inhabited by other instruments on the bandstand. Although you will find female vocalists and fiddle players living in this sonic range, so respect their territory as you roam through. These higher end boosts will separate you from the keyboard and six-string guitar players, especially when you are chiming away on those harmonics. Also, you’ll find yourself hanging out with the drummer’s cymbals in this sonic environment. This sonic environment is prevalent in areas of the E9 neck, especially on strings 5, 4, or 3 anywhere above the 12th fret.
So next time you sit down at an amp, and decide to play your pedal steel guitar through it, ask yourself “what am I trying to accomplish, not with my playing, but sonically in my hearing environment?” You’ll be closer to hearing like an animal, and not just any human animal.
Check out the pages below for more on pedal steel amplifiers…