Search Gear

Five Sonic Missteps

May 1, 2011

rory-gallagher-promo-foto-5Rory Gallagher—he didn’t need no stinkin’ effects to blow your mind.


TODAY, THERE may be a zillion signal-processing options available to the average guitarist. Ya got your modeling software, boutique and mass-production pedals, studio processors, plug-ins, and myriad multi-effects devices—most of which are totally affordable and designed for all skill levels and stylistic forays. But having ultimate power doesn’t mean you have to wield it like Thor’s hammer. In fact, employing processing without forethought may actually tank your guitar tone. Here are five “oops-inducing” sounds that you might wish to avoid.

Saturation = Muscle Massive applications of distortion can actually neuter a guitar sound by obscuring attack, impact, and punch. Not much machismo in fizziness, bucko! In actual fact, some of the boldest guitar tones in rock aren’t as overdriven as one might think. Check out “Highway to Hell” by AC/ DC, “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple, or “Good Times, Bad Times” by Led Zeppelin. These tunes fire off some mammoth aural wallops, but the guitars driving the grooves and energy are relatively tame from a distortion/saturation standpoint. In many cases, heaviness is a matter of dialing in guitar sounds that allow the other instruments to rage. If you slaughter the frequency spectrum with buzzy waves of searing midrange distortion, the attack of the bass, snare, and other rhythm-oriented elements may be diminished, and effectively kneecap the sonic power of your track.

Reverb Makes It Bigger While reverb can absolutely place a guitar sound in a huge ambient environment, too much of a good thing can wash out your track, blurring rhythmic attacks with cascading reflections and devouring a significant chunk of frequency range. Phil Spector’s classic “Wall of Sound” productions actually took a fair bit of genius and lots of experimentation and tweaking to deliver a rollicking ambient roar with impact and clarity. Phil didn’t just crank up a cathedral reverb program to 100-percent wet and call it a day. This is definitely one of those instances where comparing your reverbdrenched guitar tracks to the guitars on a song you dig can save much embarrassment, as those guitars will likely prove to be much drier than you imagined.

Layers Are Lovely Tone addicts often believe that if one guitar track is great, then doubling, tripling, or quadrupling that track will deliver tonal bliss. Well, watch those overdubs, because adding too many layers and textures to a guitar part can also weaken attack and diminish impact. A simple rule is: If you absolutely love the sound of a single guitar track, keep it lonely. Once you start piling on overdubs, you will alter the guitar’s sonic DNA, and risk destroying all that you adored about the solitary track.

Modulation Rules It’s no secret that chorus, phasing, and flanging are fabulous spices that add interest and vibe to guitar sounds. But too much goop can send listeners into an annoying carousel of swirling candy-cane sweetness that may pull their attention away from the song and the guitar part. Try blending in just a touch of modulation first, and then see how the processed guitar fits in with the stereo mix. Use only what you really need, and you’ll cook up something tasty.

Dry Is Boring A great dry guitar sound that turns heads is a thing of beauty. Listen to raw guitar tracks by Rory Gallagher or any number of artists, and be astounded by the feral majesty of in-yer-face tone, attack, dynamics, and phrasing. Remember, kids, there’s a ton of vibe in your fingers if you choose to unleash it.

Show Comments

These are my comments.

Reader Poll

Do play more hardware or software synths?

See results without voting »