Harking back to the thinking that prompted Technological Roadblocks, or The Kore Of The Problem?, over the last couple of days I’ve been exploring some of the multeity of effects I have available to me on my DAW and looking at how I can develop an interesting, recognisable and (above all) personal guitar sound using them.
Though I started out as a drummer at school and had a phase using my voice as my main instrument, these days I am first and foremost a guitarist. The guitar is, for me, still the visceral rock and roll instrument and has the most tactile, expressive interface of all the instruments I play. There is something primal about the wood, the metal, the physicality of bending notes, picking at strings and digging out harmonics that makes a guitar an incredibly satisfying instrument to play.
I have a number of guitars, both acoustic and electric but in trying to develop a sound, I’ve been gravitating towards just one – my much-loved 1986 Fender Thinline Telecaster. It’s a beautiful guitar to play, and the bridge pickup has that characteristic Telecaster twang, but the special thing for me is the neck pickup which has a much lower output than the pickups used on the solid-bodied Tele’s and exhibits an incredible round, almost jazzy quality that really appeals to me.
Great guitarists in the past have been able to coax a unique, instantly recognisable sound out of a guitar using just their fingers and their phrasing – Clapton and Hendrix to name just two – and others still have employed effects to take their playing on this ubiquitous instrument and elevate it to a career – The Edge, for instance. Well, my fingers don’t match up to Eric’s or Jimi’s, and The Edge already owns 3/16 ping-pong delays so I’m still searching for my sound, but I’ve been having a lot of fun doing it!
It’s possible to get an almost synthesiser-like sound out of a guitar, using a combination of envelope-following filters, harmonisers and fuzz pedals, and that’s what I’ve done on this first excerpt of an idea I’ve been playing around with over the last couple of days. There are two guitars in this piece – the first, an obvious, delayed guitar panned slightly to the right, and the second, panned slightly to the right (that comes in at around 40 seconds), that you may initially mistake for a synth.
The guitar line is played with an eBow into IK Multimedia’s Amplitube3, where I set up an FX Chain with the Phaser10 phaser, PRODrive distortion, Octav octaver and Envelope filter pedals to give a synth-like quality to the line. The pitch-tracking using the Octav pedal is not great with an eBow’d line but it’s good enough to pipe into the next set of effects outside of Amplitube3, and a bit of variation give a sense of analogueness and movement. From Amp3, everything goes through eletronisounds ubergate plugin, which cuts and chops the line up and applies some further effects (delay, chorus, some further filtering and EQ) and then into Variety of Sounds’ NastyDLA, a delay and saturation effect that I’m really loving at the moment. Finally, we go through Stillwell’s Bombadier buss compressor to even things out and glue things together.
I think it all works very well in context and though it would never be mistaken for a synthesiser on its own, it’s nice to take a guitar so far from its natural sound once in a while!
Another effect I’ve been really enjoying lately is VallhallaShimmer an awesome reverb with pitch modulation. I set up a chain in Reaper for some live improvisation, with the THD BiValve amp model running out into SoundToys’ Tremolator tremolo plugin and an instance of ValhallaShimmer on a send with a huge, modulated reverb sound… and then I played!
(The opening sound is me tapping this neck pickup of the Thinline with a plectrum. The rest of the effect all comes from ValhallaShimmer.)
When I was thinking about “turning my guitar into a synthesiser”, I considered the possibility of using the live audio from a guitar as one (or more) of the oscillators in a synth itself and going from there. Native Instruments’ Absynth lets you do just that, so I set up another chain in Reaper with the guitar going (again) into Amplitube3 (though this time, the British Copper 30TB amp model) and then into Absynth 5 with a patch that used the audio input as oscillators, filtered and subtracted it a bit before pushing it through Resonators effect. This then all came out into ValhallaShimmer again to create a (far more suble than in the previous clip) reverse reverb sound. Enjoy!
So far, I guess, I’ve not come up with anything earth-shatteringly unique, but I have been having a lot of fun and am actually making and recording some music, so that can’t be bad in itself! I’ve still got “Connections” to complete, and I shouldn’t be allowing this to distract me as much as it has been this last week, but sometimes you just have to go the way the music takes you!
Anyhow, let me know what you think about any of the clips or concepts in this post, and also let me know you favourite ways of effecting guitars in interesting and fresh ways!