Talking Guitar: Part 1

Text from screenshot: I want to hear you talk guitar. I want to hear how you get your sounds, how you produce and mix, your favorite gear. how you compose. all of it. your music is killer good. 

Who could resist such flattery @benda?  I'm not always good at talking  but I thought I'd have a crack but it's a big subject so this might just be part 1

How do you get your sounds?


I think it might make sense to work backwards for this. A key component of the ambient side of things that I do is some sort of looping set up.  I am very influenced by Robert Fripp and David Torn who have different but interesting takes on looping, I’ve read a lot of interviews with them but not flat out tried to replicate their sounds.  Essentially I’m feeding a sound source into a delay loop somewhere around 1 minute long.  I’ll usually use some sort of volume pedal to fade in rather than have the attack part of the sound source.

This way I can play and overdub to build up repetition and phrases that forms most of the actual music.  But too much repetition can be a bit dull so I usually add effects after the loop that will change over time and create additional textures.  So more echoes, often with filters.  Or different modulations like flange and phase effects placed before or after the echoes so the sound modifies at different times.  I will use rotary speaker emulators for this too.  If I’m using gear with the capacity, I’ll set up expression pedals to change the delay time (to give glitch out effects), depth and modulation speed.  If I want a bit more of a rhythmic element to it, I’ll add tremolo or a slicer.

Usually last, I’ll add a reverb, often one with a shimmer (pitch shift an octave up), or flange/filter.  Again just to give another flavour, texture, or movement to things.  I’m also usually switching between overdubbing and playing over so that there is more variety.

Then, if I have the equipment and I’m in the mood, I might set up another looping device using a similar method but different modulation and with a different main loop time.  So now as the two loops play, the combination of them together will change over time as well creating more layers and shifts in melody and sound.

Occasionally, I’ve used a third loop just to see what happens.  Often if I’m using more than 1 loop I’ll set the other loop to glitch out, shuffle or some such because I don’t have 3 lots of the same gear as well as for interest. Finally I also have the option on at least one loop to reverse or shift speed (or both).

Looping Gear

When I came back to recording I’d got some random gear from previous projects.  So I was using a basic TC Electronic Ditto into some pedals.  Particular favourites amongst them are Zander Circuitry Duplo and Templo.  I also picked up a Mooer Ocean Machine which has now died, but was very good for quite a while.  I also ended up trying a Line 6 HX FX.  This had much of what I was looking for – real time control, a library of effects to choose and put in different combinations – good for exploring!

I think all of e.Femoral, Many Times Now, and Marchland Stars was done on various combinations of those.  Then I sold some old things, some things broke, and I got a bonus at work.  So I sold the HX Effects and splashed out on a Stomp (for playing with the band) and a full Line6 Helix for my home studio.

I’ll confess, I love the Helix – when I can edit through software.  I can change things around, explore, come up with crazy stuff and wire up real time control to old places just to see what happens.  You could do that with other gear but it’s harder and generally more expensive for the quality.

It also means I can put the Stomp in the Helix effect loop if I’m using 2 loops, and its my main audio interface.

Sound Sources

So obviously the main input into this system is a guitar.  Pre-podcast I was using two main guitars, a pine Fender Strat and a Crimson Guitars Copper-Rodded Descendant (links are to similar, not the actual ones!). Both are great, the Crimson is amazing but a little heavy for gigging.  I had a go at building a partscaster that would be similar but lighter and include a whole bunch of ideas that I like but don’t appear in one place often.  That guitar is mostly what you hear on Stellar Umbrella, Galactic Ataractic, and Universal Dispersal.  It’s an ash telecaster body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard.  Creamery pickups – low output Alino 2 humbuckers with just a volume and 3-way switch.  Wudtone Holy Grail bridge.  It sounds more or less right but I’m no luthier!  So for my next birthday I’ve started getting someone who knows what they are doing to work on something new for me…

My usual, non-looping rig then goes guitar into a fuzz, then into an amp.  In the amp fx loop is usually a phaser and a delay pedal with tap tempo.  Favourites have been Hughes & Kettner Tubemeisters, Marshall JTMs, that sort of thing.  So called British sound valve amps around 20 watts with DI outs.  For fuzz – Electro-Harmonix Russian Muff Pi is my favourite.  My favourite phaser is the MXR Phase 90, the script 1974 edition (not the original, the remade one).  Delay would be Zander Circuitry Tape Deck (which they don’t do anymore).

All of this of course is fairly standard and comes as model options in the Line6 gear – so I generally just take the Stomp out gigging now.

On the podcast I’ve also used a cheap acoustic that have around the house, just to see the difference and if it added to things texturally.  I don’t really get on with acoustic guitars, but I like the sound.  So before season 2 I took the plunge and splurged on a Boss SY-1000.  A long time ago I used a VG8 and my other half likes some of those sounds, I wanted to experiment with using them again.  I’m still getting to grips with it really, but being a big Vernon Reid fan, it’s scratching an itch!  Season 2 I’m using it as a sound source, season 3 I’m getting more on top of merging the sounds so it’s not a choice between synth or guitar but both combined. I’m now taking that out on it’s own to gig and hopefully explore further.

Phew, that seems like a lot of writing suddenly and there’s still other questions to answer and more to talk about!  Probably ought to add some pictures too one day…

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