There’s a lot of excellent modeling software these days: WAVES GTR, Native Instruments Guitar Rig, Universal Audio’s Nigel, Line 6 TonePort, and more — not to mention a bunch of fun freebies on the net. This time around, we’ll check out some tricks with IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube2 (AT2 for short), although many of the following tips apply to other modeling software as well.
By the way, if you’re into the “modeling vs. real thing” debate, nope, not gonna go there. You can make sounds with modeling software that no amp can match, and amps can deliver some things that modeling can’t. This is the same principle that explains why ice cream manufacturers make both vanilla and chocolate ice cream: Some people like one, and some the other. Then again, there are the people who get a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of vanilla, and I’m definitely in that category.
But amp modeling with drums? Well, AmpliTube2 isn’t just about guitar and bass: As any keyboard player will tell you, a little judicious grit and really add character to sterile synths. And I’ve had great luck using guitar modeling on drums (the original AmpliTube was one of the “secret ingredients” in my Turbulent Filth Monsters drum loop sample CD). So, drum roll, please. . . .
CLONING TRACKS: A GOOD THING
Generally, I use modelers to provide support for an existing drum track rather than to “take over” the sound. The easiest way to do this is to copy your drum track, then insert AT2 as an effect in one of the tracks. Varying the level of the straight and processed tracks lets you determine the intensity of the processed sound.
An even more important reason for doing this is that while AT2 is a stereo device at the output, it sums stereo into mono at the input. As a result, the processed sound is centered, while the original track provides the stereo spread. This is actually not a bad thing, as centering the sound can add some real “body.” Of course, if you add a stereo effect within AT2, such as delay, this spreads the processed sound across the stereo field.
If you must have stereo processing, there’s an easy workaround: Bounce the drum track’s right channel to a new track, the left channel to another track, and insert an instance of AT2 into each one.
WHICH KIND OF AMP?
Of course, that’s a matter of taste. Overall, distorted presets sound great for nasty applications, but can also add a kind of tonality to the drums by distorting the decays. Go to the Preset window; Complete Rigs > Crunch has a bunch of useful presets. A good place to start is the “Blues and More” preset, as it’s crunchy without getting too nasty. If you push the copied drum track subtly in the background, you’ll get a nice crunch that doesn’t overwhelm the drums.
On the other had if you have a yearning for hardcore techno, be my guest! “Fuzzace2” is the kind of preset that takes your drums back to a Belgian rave in the late ’90s.
Cleaner presets, while more subtle, can add body and depth. Try the “DarkSoloing” preset under Styles > Jazz for hip-hop type drums; it adds major fullness.
One of the most important switches in the amp is the Bypass switch. This allows you to bypass the amp completely, and just use the Cabinet and Mic modeling. These two can add a lot of variety to drums, in a subtle way.
For this application, I often use Configuration 2, which creates a parallel chain (Figure 1). I’ll bypass all the effects and the amps, and use two different cabinets and mikings to create two different tonalities. The Level control toward the lower right affects whichever module you’ve chosen, so it’s easy to set a balance of the two chains by adjusting the cabinet levels.
AT2’s stomp box effects can really help spice up the drum sounds in, uh, interesting (some would say perverse) ways. My flat-out favorite is the Envelope Filter, which can sound superb on drums — funky, greasy, and squishy (Figure 2). AT2’s filter offers lowpass, bandpass, and highpass filtering; with drums, using LP mode with 24dB/ octave slope creates the most obvious, funky sound but try the other options as well.
For ultra-percussive effects, check out the Noise Gate function. By setting the threshold really high, you can pretty much nuke the lower-level drum sounds, and let through just the loudest peaks. It’s fun to add reverb or delay to just these sounds — the overall result is sparser than affecting all the drums.
The Pitch Shifter is another goodie on drums, particularly with toms. Move the Coarse control around, and you’ll get “talking drum”-type effects. Note that the Level control is kind of a misnomer; it’s more of a wet/dry control. If you’re using the Pitch Shifter in a copied track, turn Level up all the way so that you hear the pitch shifted effect only.
Considering how great the Pitch Shifter sounds, you might expect the Harmonator to be even better. Although the Harmonator is indeed more flexible, it isn’t really as predictable with drums. But it does do some really bizarre things if you’re into more experimental sounds.
I mentioned moving the Pitch Shifter’s Coarse control, but of course, you don’t want to have to do that every time you play the track. Fortunately, just about everything can be automated using standard VST automation protocols (i.e., set up to record automation, and tweak the control). However, there are a few fine points involving automation.
AT2 does not respond directly to MIDI control; in other words, you can’t do something like invoke a “MIDI learn” function for a particular parameter, then move an external pedal. The workaround is that with some hosts, you can tie a MIDI controller to the host’s automation. For example, in the Sonar 5 (Producer Edition) Console view, there are four sliders for each inserted channel effect that can be assigned to particular parameters, and these sliders can in turn can be remote controlled via MIDI. This allows for “hands-free” parameter control, which is important for guitarists.
It’s also important to note that an effect can be automated once in each of the two “rigs” (A and B). If you insert two instances of the same effect in the same rig, only the first one can be automated.
I could go on, but I’ll spare you some even stranger options. There’s a lot you can do with guitar processing and drums, and AT2 is just as happy bending your rhythms as it is a guitar or bass . . . check it out.