Despite the JP-8000 from which it came being released more than 20 years ago, the supersaw waveform is now a true staple in every synthesist’s arsenal. Electronic music historians may know that it first came to prominence in the late 90s trance scene, but it became truly indispensible during the EDM era and can now can be found at the core of countless pop and future bass tracks. As a college professor, I’m always amazed that this is the first sound my students want to learn in their introduction to synthesizer programming.
While many softsynths—and even a few hardware models—now include this waveform option, it’s possible to reproduce the sound using any softsynth in conjunction with Ableton Live’s Instrument Rack. For this tutorial, we’ll use Operator, as it’s very lightweight in terms of CPU utilization, but if you want to apply the technique to a two-oscillator synth, just double the total number of layers and follow the same steps.
Select the carrier-only algorithm [Figure 1] as this provides parallel oscillators feeding the filter, behaving like a four-oscillator analog signal path.
In Osc A, select the Sawtooth D option [Figure 2], as this is the brightest version of the waveform. Set your amp envelope here too, since you’ll be copying this oscillator in the next step along.
The fastest way for you to get this sawtooth-plus-envelope formatting onto the other three oscillators is to right-click in the envelope area and select Copy From Oscillator A for each of the others [Figure 3].
Once you’ve copied these settings to all four oscillators, it’s time to start detuning. Due to Operator’s tuning method, the fine-tune control is divided into 1000 positive-only increments, so to tune two oscillators by the same amount in opposite directions, tune one of them to an octave lower, then raise its value accordingly. Figure 4 shows how to do this for all four oscillators.
Since the classic supersaw effect relies on more than four oscillators, you’ll need at least two layered Operators (or four two-oscillator softsynths). First, make any filter and/or LFO adjustments to your sound as needed, and then name its chain “Supersaw 1”. Next, right-click on the title bar and select “Group” [Figure 5].
Once you’ve created the Instrument Rack, it’s easy to create additional copies of your Supersaw 1 chain. Click on the chain title and select Duplicate [Figure 6].
Once you’ve got the second copy, retune its oscillators even further, then blend the two Operators to finesse the overall detuning. It helps to number each chain also, to keep track of these layers.
Once you’ve completed these steps, your end result should look like Figure 7, with eight detuned sawtooths replicating the now standard supersaw effect. If you want to go even bigger, just repeat Step 6 until you reach your goal.