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Sound Design Workshop: Rough It Up

12/1/2009

The VST version of AmpliTube Fender makes it easy to process synth sounds. Here, the Fender '57 Deluxe amp, Fender '64 Vibroverb cab and Groove Tube MD1B condenser mic all contribute to the perfect distortion for one of the Minimoog V's bass presets.

The VST version of AmpliTube Fender makes it easy to process synth sounds. Here, the Fender '57 Deluxe amp, Fender '64 Vibroverb cab and Groove Tube MD1B condenser mic all contribute to the perfect distortion for one of the Minimoog V's bass presets.

It's the early '70s. Somewhere in the U.K., Yes' keyboardist, Rick Wakeman, is tweaking the filter emphasis on his Minimoog. Across the Atlantic, Eric Clapton is deciding which Fender combo to use on his next session with Derek and the Dominoes. Though both musicians move in their own separate domains of sound design, each has the same objective: perfecting the timbre of his instrument. Historically, it has been impractical for keyboardists like Wakeman to experiment with guitar amplifiers. There's no point in using the gain on a Fender Deluxe Reverb to emphasize a saw wave patch only to have it clash horribly when you switch to your favorite square lead.

Now, thanks to amp-modeling software, swapping amp circuitry is as easy as combing a list of presets. So why not try combining these two worlds? There's Peavey Revalver MK III, IK AmpliTube Fender, Line 6 Pod Farm, Native Instruments Guitar Rig and a host of noteworthy offerings from independent developers such as Gallo Engineering and AcmeBarGig. For my example, I've combined the Arturia Minimoog V with the new AmpliTube Fender 1. The results speak loudly for themselves.

Bodacious Bass

I started with the Minimoog V's default three-oscillator, saw-based bass patch and auditioned a few AmpliTube presets before settling on one that used the Fender '57 Deluxe (see Web Clip 1). After picking the '64 Vibroverb as my extension cab, I chose a mic. The best was an off-axis Groove Tube MD1B condenser, emphasizing the overdrive crackle (see screenshot above and Web Clip 2). I turned down the input level to reduce the gain saturation, eliminating the treble distortion while preserving all of the beautiful bass saturation (see Web Clip 3).

Though brain-busting bass timbres come naturally to AmpliTube Fender, many of the more elegant pads and lead sounds lose their character in the amplifier circuitry. In fact, any heavily distorted sound will lose detail. That's because most distortion is a soft clipping caused by saturated amplifier circuitry, transistor or tube, and much of the information carried in the wave peaks gets lost.

AmpliTube is built to process a mono signal, hence panning effects are absent in the processed signal. I was tempted to avoid complex, textured synthesizer tones, but the Minimoog V's delay changed my mind. As the delay reflections (or reverb) diminish gradually in amplitude, the signal ceases to distort. The original timbre of the synthesizer as it appears in the quieter delay reflections comes through AmpliTube unaltered (see Web Clip 4).

In general, heavily distorted settings in AmpliTube lead to a backward sound design approach. Changing the Minimoog V's waveforms effected nominal changes to the overall timbre. The biggest differences came from switching amps, cabs and microphones. So instead of using the oscillators to select a basic timbre, I would use AmpliTube presets. Then I'd switch between sine, square and so on to make fine adjustments.

The Microphone Route

The availability of multiple microphones made me think of another aspect of guitar sound design. The Shure SM57 is the quintessential guitar microphone. It has a pleasant boost in the 5kHz range, and the coil — slower to respond than a condenser diaphragm — provides a natural compression of strong transients. That's a perfect choice for any guitar.

To test AmpliTube's model of the SM57, I bypassed the amplifier section while trying various microphones on some of the cleaner-sounding extension cabs. The changes in frequency response were obvious, and the SM57 softened the transients on the more percussive sounds. Using a dynamic mic instead of a synthesizer's attack time is useful if you want a softer attack that retains its snap (assuming you like how your synthesizer sounds through a Fender '59 Bassman extension cab).

AmpliTube Fender's effects rack opens a sea of experimental sounds. You can chain pitch shift, tape echo, sine flange, triangle chorus, wah, reverb and compression effects in any combination. Using the first three effects in that list, I modified a simple staccato phrase (see Web Clips 5 and 6). The rack delivers some provocative sonic collisions, but I'll leave you to chart those waters yourself.


Benjamin McFarlane is editor-at-large and Web producer of ModernBeats Hit Talk (modernbeats.com/hit-talk).

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