Guitar pedals can be used for more than just guitar! For both your analog stomp boxes or plugin pedal emulations, check out these 3 tricks for integrating guitar FX into your productions and mixes.
By Charles Hoffman, Black Ghost Audio
If you come from a guitar background and have recently jumped into the world of music production, there’s a good chance that you have a ton of guitar pedals laying around. These are excellent creative tools that you can use for much more than just guitar. Pedals come in many different forms and allow you to perform an assortment of processes to your audio signal and song development.
As a producer or mix engineer, it’s important to learn to commit to creative decisions. The ability in DAWs to constantly turn plugins on and off, always rethinking tones you thought you liked, is both a blessing and a curse. There are both time-saving and creative advantages to choosing your FX sounds and moving on with other tasks.
Running audio from your DAW into guitar pedals can be a great workflow solution to this problem. Aside from it being a lot of fun, you can find sounds you like and immediately print them, leaving less space to second guess yourself. If you don’t have analog guitar pedals, you’re still able to replicate this process in your DAW with plugin stompboxes and print them into FX tracks to achieve the same result.
By running audio out of your DAW and into a single pedal or multiple pedals routed in serial, you can apply effects like delay, reverb, compression, EQ, overdrive, distortion, and pitch-shifting. Fuzz, screamer, and wah pedals are some more iconic “guitar-sounding” effects.
If you are doing this process in your DAW, you can access 26 different effects pedals using the emulations found in GTR3 Stomps. You can route up to 6 of these pedals together in serial with one another, creating unique signal processing chains.
We’ll be walking through 3 creative ways you can use guitar pedals in your productions and mixes.
1. Song Development
Effectively progressing the arrangement of a song through the intro, first verse, pre-chorus, chorus and beyond, doesn’t always require you to drastically change chord progressions and melodies. Adding too much musical variation to your song can make it less memorable for the listener. Although, not changing up the song enough can make it feel tiresome. There’s a delicate balancing act that you need to perform to hold a listener’s interest throughout a song.
Pedal effects like distortion, EQ and doubling can have a drastic impact on the vibe of different sections within a song. Bring Me The Horizon does a great job of this in their track “sugar honey ice & tea” off their album amo.
The main guitar riff is filtered, somewhat distorted, and panned center for the first 12 seconds of the song. At 13 seconds, the guitar is doubled, heavily distorted and panned hard left and right; this slams the listener with the main riff early on.
In the first verse, the guitar returns to its filtered state, but since so much attention has been drawn to this element in the intro, you notice it throughout the rest of the song. It’s already been established as a vital piece of the arrangement, so it gives the listener something familiar to latch onto.
When the chorus comes around and hits you with the main riff again, there’s this feeling of overwhelming release. Also, since you’re already acquainted with the riff, you can vibe with it really hard during the chorus. The intro contributes to the power and emotional impact of the chorus.
You can achieve this effect yourself very easily using GTR3. In the following example, I’ve re-written the riff from “sugar honey ice & tea” using MIDI notes and played them back with a basic bass guitar emulation; any bass guitar or guitar emulation should get the job done since most of the sound we’re making comes from the pedals being applied.
- Example 1a – Guitar Riff (unprocessed)
Next, I’ve added an instance of GTR Amp and selected the “Edgy” amp type. Some of the mids, highs and presence have been attenuated to tame the top-end harshness.
- Example 1b – Guitar Riff (Amp)
At this point, the tone is closer to something usable, but it still lacks some overdrive, distortion and stereo width. By loading up a couple of foot pedals into GTR Stomp, I can automate them on and off at different points in time as necessary. The pedal automation is what’s going to help progress the song along.
In the following audio example, the distortion remains turned on continuously, while the overdrive and doubler are engaged 13 seconds in. I’ve also added a little bit of noise during the intro and applied some light EQ and compression to shape the sound further.
- Example 1c – Guitar Riff (processed)n
So does this sound exactly the same as the original? No, but for 5 minutes of work, it sounds pretty close. To achieve a massive wall of sound, I would want to stack multiple guitars together and dial in the processing some more. It’s amazing that the simple application of an amp emulation and a few pedal emulations has been able to take the sound this far. When layered on top of the original track, you can hear the enormous impact these simple pedals have had on the bass guitar.
- Example 1d – Guitar Riff (layered)
2. Vocal Processing
This idea is a little bit out there, but you can process vocals using guitar pedal effects. Sure, mangling vocals with overdrive pedals and distortion pedals can be fun, but you don’t have to do that. GTR Stomp comes with all of your essential vocal processing tools. You can compress, EQ, double, delay and apply reverb to your vocals with little to no effort. Everything is bundled up inside one plugin, making it a convenient vocal processing toolkit.
A quality vocal starts at the recording level. If you’re working with a decent recording that doesn’t require much surgical processing, you can fully process it using pedal effects. This doesn’t mean that you need to record with the most expensive equipment in a professional vocal booth, either. The following recording of Darkspade The Ace (aka Young D) is completely dry and recorded in a living room on a cheap MXL 990 microphone.
- Example 2a – Vocals (unprocessed)
With a little bit of basic vocal processing using pedal effects, you can completely transform a raw recording. In the following example, I’ve used a compressor to tame Young D’s dynamic range, an EQ to open up the top-end, a doubler to create synthetic vocal doubles, a delay to add some depth, as well as reverb to create a sense of space.
- Example 2b – Vocals (processed)
Vocals can also benefit from parallel processing, which involves duplicating the original signal, applying processing to the duplicate, and blending the processed duplicate signal with the unprocessed original signal. Parallel processing allows you to maintain the integrity of the unprocessed signal while adding some of the flavors of the processed track. This technique involves sending signal from a regular vocal track to an aux track, where processing is applied.
Parallel compression is a popular mixing technique that involves heavily compressing a duplicate signal and blending it in with the original signal. This allows you to fill in the troughs of an audio signal and make vocals feel thicker.
- Example 2c – Vocals (parallel comp)
You’ll notice in the image below that I’ve cut away some of the lows and some of the highs from the signal that I’m applying parallel compression to. This helps avoid phase issues in the low end and any sort of overly bright characteristic introduced by heavily compressing the top end. These vocals should now sound a bit fuller, as well as a bit less organic; this technique also helps vocals sit on top of dense Rap, Pop and Rock mixes.
3. Movement and Modulation
Certain song elements can end up sounding boring if they lack sufficient movement and modulation; sustained strings, horns, keys and synths are the most common victims of this issue. While simple arrangements with solid musical ideas often make for the best songs, they can feel stale and empty if mixed improperly. Adding movement and modulation helps to fill space and create mixes that remain interesting over time.
Newer producers sometimes tend to over-produce their songs, meaning they keep adding track after track, thinking that more instrumentation will provide improvement; this usually just ends up creating more clutter than anything else. One of the main reasons that over-production happens is that people are trying to fill space. There are many different ways you can fill space, but devices that create movement and modulation like flangers, phasers, panners, volume shapers, and even pitch modulation effects are a great place to start.
The following audio example contains a simple four-chord arrangement made of supersaws. These chords might sound ok in a busy mix with a lot going on, but if you wanted to use them on their own, they’d get old pretty quick.
- Example 3a – Chords (unprocessed)
To spice things up a bit, I’ve added GTR Stomp and loaded it up with a flanger, phaser, panner and vibrolo pedal. The flanger and phaser are going to introduce sweeping notches to the audio signal. The panner is going going to pan the signal between the left and right speaker, and the vibrolo is going to modulate the volume of the audio signal. I’ve also automated the “Trem” knob on the vibrolo over time so that the depth of the effect becomes less as the arrangement progresses; this helps the chords open up as they lead into a new section.
- Example 3b – Chords (processed)
As you can see, guitar pedals can be utilized in a wide variety of ways beyond guitars FX. GTR Stomp offers up a healthy assortment of effects that can be used to create exciting song arrangements, process vocals, infuse mixes with movement and modulation, and more. You’re only limited by your imagination, so experiment as much as you can.
If you already own hardware guitar pedals, you can use them to apply the techniques described in this guide. While guitar pedals are traditionally used for guitar, nothing is stopping you from running a drum bus through distortion pedals or strings through a wah pedal. The more you open yourself up creatively, the more you’ll be able to do with the tools at your disposal. Think outside the box and push the limits of your creative tools.
Charles Hoffman is the owner of Black Ghost Audio—a website that provides free music production tips, tutorials, gear roundups, and premium online video courses. Visit Black Ghost Audio to learn how to produce music online.
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