Rigged Up

Using guitar amps, cabinets, and stompboxes to process instruments ranging from horns to acoustic and electric keyboards has a long history onstage and
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Using guitar amps, cabinets, and stompboxes to process instruments ranging from horns to acoustic and electric keyboards has a long history onstage and in the studio. You can carry this time-honored tradition into the digital domain with guitar-amp-simulator and stompbox plug-in effects such as Native Instruments Guitar Rig 2, IK Multimedia AmpliTube 2, and Line 6 Amp Farm 3. You can creatively weave these effects into your mixes as sends and inserts.

I'll use Guitar Rig hosted by Ableton Live 6 to illustrate several ways to enhance and abuse bass, drum, electric piano, synth, and flute tracks (see Fig. 1). You can use the same techniques with any full-featured guitar-effects plug-in and digital audio sequencer. Special thanks to Big Fish Audio for allowing me to use several clips from its excellent sample collection, Nu Jazz City, for my examples. See Web Clips 1 and 2 for the full mix with and without effects processing.

Basic Bass

Using Guitar Rig on a bass track, while not particularly adventurous, adds definition and motion to the sound. I used Guitar Rig's Fretless preset from the factory Bass bank to add character to an acoustic bass clip. The preset starts with EQ boosts of roughly 10 dB at 175 and 1,182 Hz, which is followed by a cabinet and mic simulator, and then by a chorus. I left the preset's spring-reverb and volume-pedal effects turned off. Changing the choice of cabinet and the mic position are particularly effective ways to change the bass color without radically altering the feel.

I put the Guitar Rig Fretless effect on a separate track whose input is taken from the bass track. I assigned the two tracks to the A and B sides of Live's Crossfader, respectively, and then automated the Crossfader so that the raw bass crossfades to the processed one over the course of the mix.

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FIG. 1: Live 6''s Session view with red dots indicating Crossfader, volume, and send automation.

A small amount of each bass track and a substantial amount of the ambient synth track are routed to send bus A, which houses the '60s-style reverb preset Big Hall/Dirty from the FX bank. That starts with a 600 ms feedback-delay line whose feedback is modulated by an LFO. The delay is followed by extreme compression (25:1) and a spring reverb. MIDI-controlled pitch pedals are inserted before and after the delay line, and at the end of the signal path.

The Voice in the Drum

The absence of a vocal track leaves plenty of room for a simulated vocal effect. For that, I fed the conga track to send bus B, on which I had inserted an instance of Guitar Rig 2 loaded with the Robotone preset. Robotone uses a chorus followed by three phasers to achieve a whispering effect.

Two short flute clips carry the melody, and although they can stand on their own, I was looking for something a little edgier. For the more aggressive of the two, I used the Ultra AC Box preset, and for the more melodic one, I used Crunchy FX; both clips were from the Contemporary Mix bank. Ultra AC Box uses distortion followed by an amp and cabinet simulation to magnify the breathiness of the flute. Crunchy FX uses two amp simulators in parallel to create an airy, multitap sound. One of the simulators is followed by a chorus effect and a multitap delay.

Bumpy Rhodes

For the electric piano track, I created a combination tremolo and vibrato effect called Tremolato (see “Step-by-Step Instructions” on p. 78). This effect is useful for electric piano loops without tremolo and for sampled virtual instruments whose implementation of tremolo and vibrato you find unsatisfactory. I started by placing Guitar Rig's Tremolo and Chorus + Flanger effects on opposite sides of the Crossover Mix module and set the Chorus + Flanger to Pitch Modulation mode. That applies tremolo to the low frequencies and vibrato to the high frequencies. By adjusting the crossover frequency, you can have all tremolo or all vibrato and use the crossover-balance fader to balance the effect when both tremolo and vibrato are present.

Finally, I used an envelope follower (the Input Level module) to modulate the tremolo and vibrato rates. The modulation amounts are both negative, so as the sound dies out, the rates increase. With this, as with any other crossover-based effect, you can swap the high-band and low-band processes by dragging modules from one side of the crossover to the other. That leaves all modulation and MIDI-controller routings in place.

Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For an earful, visit his Web site atwww.swiftkick.com.


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Create an empty preset and drag a Crossover Mix module from the Tools tab of the Components view into the modules rack.

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Drag Tremolo and Chorus + Flanger modules from the Mod tab of the Components view into the Low Channel and High Channel slots of the Crossover Mix module. Set the Chorus + Flanger to Pitch Modulation mode.

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Assign the MIDI Mod Wheel to the Crossover Mix Frequency knob by right-clicking on the knob. If CC #1 is not listed, select Learn.

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Drag an Input Level module from the MDF tab of the Components view to the bottom of the rack.

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Click-and-drag the Assign button to the Tremolo module's Rate knob. Click-and-drag the Assign button to the Chorus + Flanger module's Speed knob.

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Click on the Targets button and adjust the modulation amount for the Tremolo and Flanger rates to taste. Negative values cause the rates to increase as the sound dies out.