Electronic Guitar: Hassell Free

Easily make your guitar sound like ambient pioneer Jon Hassell’s trumpet
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Jon Hassell is known for developing a genre called “Fourth World,” which incorporates influences as diverse as minimalism, Miles Davis, and world music, filtered through distinctive electronic manipulation of his horn. In the early ’70s, Hassell studied the Kiranic singing style with Pandit Pran Nath and began using his electronically treated trumpet to imitate these vocal techniques.

His breathy tone and use of harmonizers has had an influence on Norwegian musicians, such as fellow trumpeters Nils Petter Molvær and Arve Henriksen, as well as guitarist Eivind Aarset. Aarset has played with Hassell and uses harmonizers to produce a similarly evocative sound in his own music.

Hassell’s harmony makes extensive use of fourths and fifths, producing a Gregorian chant-like mystery. There are numerous hardware and software harmonizers on the market that will add those intervals to your guitar. Although Hassell’s Eventide 8000 runs over five grand, you can get a decent emulation using a Boss pedal that costs less than a hundred dollars. On the other hand, if you just want to try out this sound to see if it works for you, save your money and download Pitchproof, a free pitch shifting plug-in from Aegean Music.


Pitchproof is a “smart” harmonizer, meaning that you can choose the key in which you are playing from a dropdown menu, and the harmonies will all be correct for that key. Although it offers a blend control, I installed Pitchproof on two separate tracks in Ableton Live, both being fed by the original guitar track. This keeps my original tone pristine and enables me to feed the original guitar signal to two separate pitch shifters.

I used a Studio Devil amp modeler, set clean, to fatten the guitar sound. Live’s Auto Filter let me roll off the top end in such a way as to produce a brass-like tone (see Figure 1). There is something about the character of this type of filtering that cannot be achieved with an amplifier’s tone controls or even the Studio Devil’s graphic EQ. If your DAW doesn’t have a filter, there are many free plug-ins you can try.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

I set one Pitchproof track to a fourth below the original note. This already sounded very Hassell-esque. Adding some delay and reverb helped me come even closer to the trumpeter’s atmospheric sound. I installed a second Pitchproof in track three, tuned a fifth above (see Figure 2). The combination of the original note with these two intervals, panned slightly left and right, gave me a larger, lusher effect. I set both Pitchproof plug-ins to full wet, adjusting the balance with the track volume sliders.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

While you can get some terrific Hassell-type tones from this setup, for an even more accurate emulation, you will want to use an EBow. Make sure you are using a clean amp tone or try just going direct into your DAW.

If you decide you like this sound and want to take it into the hardware realm, you can go all in and get an Eventide 8000, though you can also achieve much the same effect with a more affordable Eventide H9 or a Boss PS-6. You will, at minimum, want to reduce your guitar’s high end by rolling the tone down on your instrument or backing off a wah, but a real filter pedal such as the Electro-Harmonix Blurst Modulated Filter or the Source Audio Stingray Multi-Filter will sound closer.

In any case, listen to some Jon Hassell records, because, even if you don’t want to imitate his sound, you will find inspiration there. Hassell draws warmth and magic out of technology, providing a great lesson for every electronic guitarist.