Showing posts with label signal chain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label signal chain. Show all posts

Thursday, April 3, 2008

How to Choose the Correct Signal Chain Order for Your Effects Pedals

You’ve gone to your local guitar store and bought some pedals and the next question is “what order do I put them in? Try this common order first:

  1. Dynamic Range – Compression
  2. EQ – Wah Pedal, Equalizer
  3. Drive – Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz
  4. Modulation – Phaser, Flanger, Chorus
  5. Time-Based – Reverb, Delay
Here's why:

Each pedal imparts its own coloring to the audio signal. This order goes from least alteration of the signal to the most and minimizes the chance that the effects introduced at each point in the signal path cancel the previous ones out.

Dynamic Range
If you have a compression pedal this should be first in your default signal chain order. Compression automatically “rides the gain” by pumping up volume when levels are low and cutting it when levels peak too high. The behavior of the rest of your effects chain becomes much more predictable by receiving this more uniform and consistent audio signal.

If you have an EQ type effect it is most likely a Wah pedal, which creates its distinctive effect by sweeping a narrow frequency range up and down as you move the pedal. Placing the wah pedal next in this suggested default order enables it to benefit from the consistent audio signal coming from the compressor and it yields a more open vintage sound. In addition its output is more predictably colored by other effects down stream in the signal path such as gain and modulation.

Drive pedals emulate the saturated gain sound of a tube amp turned up to 11 by clipping the audio signal. Since this effect adds lots of gain to your signal it works best in this next position as we’re still dealing with a clean signal from the compressor and wah pedal; thus you avoid boosting unwanted noise.

Modulation type pedals operate by splitting off a portion of the signal and applying slight delays and or altering the pitch of the incoming signal before mixing it back together with the unprocessed portion. This signal treatment increases the likelihood of cancellation effects if modulation is placed earlier in the signal path.

Time-based effects are last in this suggested default order because they repeat the original signal without alteration. This treatment earlier in the signal path will conflict with other effects that alter the waveform if they were later in the signal chain giving you unpredictable results.

Now that I’ve laid out the “rules” I can move to the inevitable exceptions.
  • If you have a Fuzz Face pedal you will need to plug your guitar into it directly. I learned this the hard way. It goes nuts if you have anything other than the guitar in front of it.
  • Try the wah pedal just after drive pedals for a thicker sound.
  • While modulation effects generally go after drive try placing phaser effects in front of your overdrive and distortion pedals.
Be sure to balance the volume across the signal chain (ensure the same volume when an effect is on or bypassed). Lastly, don't forget the most important effects; your guitar volume, pickup selector, and the type of guitar pick you use. Since these are the very beginning of the signal chain they have the largest impact on your tone.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

How to Replicate the Tone for Brian Setzer’s Sleepwalk

"Sleepwalk" is a great tune, especially Brian Setzer’s version. I experimented with gear I already have to see how close I could get to his tone as heard on “The Dirty Boogie” CD.

The signal chain for "Sleepwalk" is a single coil pickup (Gretsch®) with slight distortion, slapback echo, running through a Fender® amp. I came up with my approximation using an American Standard Stratocaster®, MXR Distortion +, Ibanez Analog Delay, and a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe™ .

I use the bridge pickup on the guitar with volume around 80%. The diagram above (you can click on it for more detail) summarizes the settings for the distortion and delay pedals. I am using the clean channel on the amp with the “Bright” mode activated.

In testing this setup along side the recording I find a passable match with the exception of my technique compared to Brian Setzer. Unfortunately, there is no effects pedal for that. I just need to keep practicing!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Guitar Technique: Remember the Fine Art of Down-Picking

I did a post awhile back extolling the virtues of alternate picking (striking the string with your pick both on the down stroke and upstroke) as a technique you can't do without. Then, I ran across an article by Dave Mustaine in the February Guitar World pointing out that many of today’s players overlook the art of down-picking. Hmmm.

I have focused almost solely on alternate picking in my practice routine. But, if anyone would know about picking technique, Dave Mustaine, one of the pioneers of thrash and speed metal would, so I decided to give it a try.

I used the intro for Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” as an experiment. I had been using alternate picking for it and though I had tweaked all the elements of my signal chain I was still not satisfied with how it sounded. It just did not have the authority I hear in the recorded version. With down-picking I found an immediate improvement both in punch as well as consistency, I’m into this! So, why did this work so well?

When it came to the improvement in punch I think it goes back to the adage that the most important part of your signal chain is the guitar itself. So, what would have more influence on the tone than the pick attack? Seems reasonable.

As to consistency, I think that improvement came simply because down-picking is the best pick technique for that particular intro. By attempting to emulate the tone using the wrong technique I ended up struggling at speed and running off the rails.

What this experience shows me is that while alternate picking is still an essential tool, I just need more tools for the toolbox! Continuing to add to the toolbox really helps us latecomers to the hobby make up for lost time.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

How to Build a Pedal Board

As you continue with your guitar hobby and accumulate effects pedals you will need to organize them as a pedal board. When I got to that point I was amazed at how little information I could find on how to make a pedal board. Hopefully this post will provide you some shortcuts.

First of all, a pedal board can be literally that; pedals attached to a piece of plywood. Here is one of Eric Johnson's arrangements as an example. Maintaining an efficient practice rig and portability is a priority with me. The approach I ultimately took after searching the Internet, talking to friends, and getting advice at the guitar store was acquiring a hard case, a power supply, and using Velcro to secure the pedals in the case.


Hard case from Coffin Case – Model SK-110: This was a rugged case that provides a platform on which to affix the pedals plus you can close it up and latch it when not in use.

Voodoo Labs – Pedal Power 2 Plus: This device will power all of your pedals on the board in minimum space as opposed to getting a bulky power strip and using the transformers you typically have to buy as an option for your pedals anyway. This way you do not have to deal with batteries or excess cord clutter.

Velcro – 3M Industrial Strength: This is just a roll of Velcro hook and loop fastening material, each with a self adhesive backing. I used the “hook” portion of the Velcro to affix the pedals to the Velcro “loop” like material that is used on the surface of the pedal board.

Cables: Short guitar cables with ¼” plugs you use to attach the pedals together to form your signal chain.

How to Build a Pedal Board Continued

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How to Build a Pedal Board Part 2
Guitar Tone: How to Duplicate Your Favorites
Guitar Resources: Gear Fundamentals

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Guitar Tone: How to Tweak Your Signal Chain and Nail those Elusive Tones

This is the continuation of my previous article on duplicating your favorite guitar tones.

Once you hook everything up, the first order of business is to address the settings on your guitar. Since the guitar is the first element of your signal chain, it only makes sense to tweak that first. Brief experimentation showed that the pickup selector needed to be on “Treble” so it is using the bridge pickup only. Many references assume you already know this and do not mention it. Big difference, so before you begin tweaking anything else, experiment first with your pickup selector, otherwise you will be chasing an elusive tone all over the place without dealing with the source first. Ditto on the volume and tone controls on the guitar. From there, it is a balancing act.

Each setting of each element in your signal chain affects your tone. Cranking the overdrive on the Tube Screamer to the firewall only served to create a muddy tone. One thing that immediately became apparent is that “Heavy Metal” or “Rock ‘n’ Roll” as AC/DC characterizes themselves is not simply mega distortion. The tones are cleaner than that. Where I ended up after experimentation is as follows:

Guitar Pickup selector (figure 1) – Treble
Guitar Volume (figure 1) – 90% - to compensate for not having the driven Marshall amp sound I used the guitar volume knob to put more gain into the Tube Screamer.
Guitar Tone (figure 1) – 100% treble
Tube Screamer (figure 2) – Overdrive at 70%, Tone at 60%, and Level at 50%.
Amp (figure 3) – Clean channel, reverb at 30%, treble at 90%, bass at 90%, middle at 50%, Normal/Bright set to Bright.

I tried ramping up the drive on the Hot Rod Deluxe but it did not have the crunch of the recordings. Added drive from the guitar volume, brightness from the guitar tone, the Tube Screamer, and the clean channel of the amp created the crunch that matched up well with the recordings.
After rereading this, going to this level of effort may seem obsessive to some readers. It does to me anyway. Keep in mind though; this effort is not just for duplicating the sound of “Shook Me All Night Long”, as fun as that was. Your goal as a player is to develop your own style and tone. An important part of that is learning the relationship between the settings in your signal chain and their effect on your tone.