In this article, we’ll help you out with understanding how to EQ saxophones in your mix.
In short, when you’re EQing a saxophone, you’ll pay more attention to the midrange where the body of the sax tends to be most present. But aside from EQing, there are a few things to consider, such as choosing the right type of sax, maintaining the instrument, and recording in a treated room with the right mic in a proper position.
While EQing, you should start with getting rid of any unwanted frequencies up to 100 Hz. After that, you should look to eliminate any mud or honk, which lives around 240-400 Hz. And if the recorded saxophone sounds rather thin to your liking, you can proceed with boosting it around 250-400 Hz to achieve fullness.
In the midrange, you might need to fix the body of the sax if it sounds rather thin. The best way to do that is by boosting 1-2 dB around 700-900 Hz. The next thing to address is nasal sounds that live in the range of 500 Hz to 1.6 kHz, apply precise cuts to eliminate them.
If squawks sound rather harsh, you might want to eliminate them by cutting 1-2 dB around 1-2 kHz. If you’re looking to add more quacks, you can do that by slightly boosting 1-3 dB around 900 Hz – 2 kHz. If your saxophone lacks heat, you can add some by boosting 3-4 dB around 2 kHz.
In highs, you might want to start with addressing presence by boosting around 2-6 kHz. After that, you should get rid of any unpleasant reed noise by cutting with a narrow Q somewhere around 5-7 kHz. To emphasize and make the sax sound more pronounced, you’ll need to boost around 6-8 kHz. To add more air, you should use a high-shelf boost around 10-17 kHz, and to emphasize breathing tones, you should apply a slight boost around 12-13 kHz. Finally, to address any unwanted hissing, apply a cut around 17 kHz.
Let’s get into greater detail…
As usual, the first thing that you need to do in the low-end is to get rid of any inaudible frequencies and any rumble. The best way of doing that will be to use a high-pass filter and apply a cut up to100 Hz without doing any damage to the natural tone of the instrument.
The next thing that you need to check is whether you need to add a bit more punch by boosting around 125-250 Hz. Whether you’ll add it or not depends on the type of saxophone and the musical idea.
If you’re using a soprano or baritone saxophone, you can find mud and honk around 240-400 Hz. Usually, a baritone saxophone tends to have more mud in lower ranges than a soprano saxophone.
Finally, if the sax recording sounds too thin, you can boost it a bit around 250-400 Hz to achieve fullness.
The first thing that you may need to tend to is the saxophone’s body. Most often than not, you don’t need to do anything with it, as it’s the easiest part to capture on the recording. But in case your sax sounds thinner than to your liking, you can apply a boost of 1-2 dB around 700-900 Hz to thicken it up.
After that, you can look for any nasal sounds in the range of 500 Hz – 1.6 kHz. If you find some, you should apply a precise cut to get rid of them.
While squawk is more a unique sound of most saxophones, sometimes, on the recordings, they might sound harsh, even painful. So if this is the case, you can apply a gentle cut of 1-2 dB somewhere around 1-2 kHz. But if you need to add more quacks, you should apply a slight boost of 1-3 dB somewhere around 900 Hz – 2 kHz.
Finally, saxophones usually have a lot of natural heat, but sometimes heat might be lost on the recording stages due to the wrong mic positioning or the quality of the saxophone. So, to add more heat, you should apply a precise boost of 3-4 dB somewhere around 2 kHz. If the track is poorly recorded or the sax wasn’t that good-sounding right from the start, you can be more aggressive with boosting.
To make the sound of the saxophone more present, you should consider boosting around 2-6 kHz. Then, you should eliminate any unpleasant reed noise that occupies the range of 5-7 kHz. To do that, you should apply a cut with a narrow Q, but be careful not to cut into the presence of the sax.
If the sound of the sax isn’t that pronounced, you might consider a gentle boost around 6-8 kHz but try not to overdo it as you might need to cut extra afterward. To add more air, you should apply a high-shelf boost around 10-17 kHz. If you want, you can emphasize the breathing tones by slightly boosting around 12-13 kHz. Finally, to avoid any unpleasant hiss sounds, you should apply a cut around 17 kHz.
Before you start EQing, you should choose the type of saxophone that best suits your musical idea. Taking proper care of your instrument affects the way it sounds on the recording, so don’t neglect it. Recording with a properly chosen mic, putting it in the right position, and doing it all in an acoustically treated room raised your chances for a successful recording.
Types of saxophones
These days, there are only four types of saxophones that are commonly played around the world such as soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone.
The soprano saxophone looks a lot more different than other saxophones and looking at it reminds of a clarinet. Soprano sax is tuned to B-flat and features louder, fuller, and more midrange-focused tonality. It’s mostly played as a secondary instrument in jazz, swing bands, and concerts.
The Alto saxophone is a small, easy-to-grip, and lightweight sax that’s tuned to E-flat and a good choice for the novice as well as seasoned players. This sax easily produces a rather pleasing, in-tune musical tone, and it’s widely used in jazz and concert bands, as well as in different styles of music such as rock, pop, blues, jazz, and classical.
The tenor saxophone is a bit bigger and has a deeper sound than the alto, but it’s widely used in different music genres. It is tuned to lower B-flat and has a unique, deep, and rich voice that helps it cut through the mix and easily fit the room.
The baritone saxophone is the largest sax of all four types and has the deepest sound. It’s tuned to low E-flat and features an organic and raw tone that brings thick and full low-end to any genre or musical idea. Due to its size, it’s most often difficult to play if you’re a novice.
Maintain your instrument
It’s very straightforward that if you want to have a clean sound, you have to maintain your instrument in perfect shape. So the first thing that you need to do after you finish playing is to take care of the mouthpiece and neck. To do that, you need to grab a cleaning swab and carefully remove any dirt from the mouthpiece and any moisture inside the neck.
After that, you should remove any moisture from the pads with the help of cleaning paper. To clean tone holes, you need to remove the keys, but be very careful. After that, take a piece of cleaning paper, put it between the tone hole and the pad, and lightly press on the key several times.
Next, you should use the cleaning swab to remove any dirt in the bell and pull it all the way to the neck joint. After, use a polishing cloth to get rid of any fingerprints and dirt from the instrument. Finally, with the help of a tone hole cleaner, carefully wipe the tone hole.
Treat your room
Knowing that the saxophone is a very powerful instrument and can produce loud volumes with a lot of harmonics, you most definitely need to record it in an acoustically treated room.
Choose the right mic
Before recording a saxophone, you should choose between three mic options, the condenser, the dynamic, and the ribbon. Condenser mics have the clearest top end and pick up all the details, so it’s important to record in an acoustically treated room. Dynamic mics pick up the sound that is right in front of the mic and can be hypercardioid or cardioid mics. Ribbon mics have a softer top end and they can tame the sound of a bouncy room.
Picking the right position of the mic will bear fruit after you finish the recording process. You should start with putting the mic 12-24 inches from the sax’s bell, but not pointing right into the bell. If you record a seated player, then the mic should be on the level of their right elbow. If a player reads from the chart, then place the mic on the level of the bottom of the music stand right beside it.