I recently watched a video featuring Eddie Kramer, the sound engineer of acts such as Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and occasionally the Beatles. In this video, he explains how he has worked with Waves to create a series of “plug’n play” software plugins, each dedicated to the processing of either guitar, drums, bass or vocals. The guitar plugin features compression, slapback echo, flange and reverb. And he goes on saying that the slapback echo brings a bit of an “analog” feel but that it is not an effect that is very popular anymore.
So this got me thinking. The slapback echo, also known as slap echo, was very common in the 50s and 60s. It was created by recording with a tape recorder and playing back the same tape a fraction of a second later using another “head”, generating a single repeat type of short echo. Its use is very obvious on early rock’n roll and rockabilly records, particularly on vocals. It can also be heard on the guitar on a number of Hendrix tunes like “Voodoo Chile Slight Return” where a slapback echo augmented by an old plate reverb creates a really cool dripping kind of tone. It is easy to reproduce with today’s analog or digital delay pedals as well as software plugins.
I experimented with my recording software (Cubase 5) and put together this video that shows the same tone without and then with a slapback echo. I think it is pretty cool, I might use it more in the future! See after the video for some slapback settings for the Cubase delay plugin and the good old BOSS DD-3 delay pedal.
For the basic tone I used my 1978 Telecaster with a Fender Champ tube amp and then kicked in a Pro Co RAT 2 distortion pedal (settings on the RAT 2: DISTORTION at 2 o’clock, FILTER at 3 o’clock and VOLUME at 2 o’clock).
In Cubase I used the following delay settings:
With a BOSS DD-3 digital delay pedal, the following settings will give you a nice fattening slapback echo: Mode 200ms, E.LEVEL at 12 o’clock, F.BACK at 9 o’clock and D.TIME at 4 o’clock. You might want to vary the E.LEVEL or D.TIME to taste.
It would be easy to reproduce this effect with any other model of delay, just set the “delay time” between 70 and 200ms and the “feedback” quite low to have just one repeat.
This post is part of my “Effects FAQ” series explaining guitar effects basics. A very common question is: “where should I plug my pedals in the effect chain?”.
So I have put on schematics what is thought to be the most optimal guitar effect order for most styles to avoid for instance, plugging a reverb before a distortion which produces a very mushy sound. And so it goes for most effect combinations.
A word of advice on this though: often in music, rules are meant to be broken and experimenting to find your tone is highly recommended!
Case 1: All your effects are plugged before an amp that has no “Effects Loop”
The first case is where you run all your pedals before the input of your amplifier i.e. your amplifier has no Effects Loop or you are not using it. The amp would be presumably set quite clean. You don’t want to run a delay or a reverb in front of an overdriven amp as this can sound quite mushy. Click on the image to see a larger version.
You could argue that the Whammy is a pitch shifter but there are two types of pitch shifters and each type might work better in different places in the chain. You could place a Whammy after your distortion but the “tracking” is usually better before. More sophisticated digital pitch shifters/harmonizers like the Eventide kind sound better after a distortion/overdrive (think Brian May of Queen).
Modulation effects like chorus or flanger can be placed before a distortion but the sound will be quite different from when they are placed after. As I said, just experiment!
Case 2: if you own an amplifier equipped with an Effects Loop (a.k.a. FX Loop)
Some effects like delay or reverb sound clearer if they are placed after a distortion/overdrive. In order to use these effects after the natural overdrive of your amp, the amplifier gods created the effects loop. It translates into an “FX LOOP SEND” connector that goes into the “INPUT” of your effect and an “FX LOOP RETURN” connector that goes to the “OUTPUT” of your effect. Here is how it goes:
The loop is placed in between the two main parts of any amp: the preamp and the power section. Most modern amps get their natural overdrive from the preamp and then the signal goes through the effects loop and is amplified quite cleanly by the power section. Cleanly means that effects like delays and reverb stay “clear”.
This is different from earlier amps which had no master volume let alone effect loops (think old tube Marshall, Fender and VOX amps). With these or their reissues still sold today, in order to get any distortion, you have to crank the volume to make both the preamp and the power section saturate. This is sometimes referred to as “power tube saturation”. Some guitarists like Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck love power tube saturation which explains why they still tend to use older amps that they crank.
To add some “crystal clear” reverb or delay to “power tube saturation”, you can put a microphone in front of the amp and add the effects to the signal picked up by said microphone. Or you can use a power attenuator like the THD Hotplate which can absorb the power of an amp and turn most of it into heat as well as provide a “line level” signal. This can then be used with effects before it has to be re-amplified. Not as easy as an amp with an effects loop or the use of pedals in front of a clean amp! But some guitarists really want the tone provided by “power tube saturation”.
As a guitarist, sooner or later comes the question of the volume balance between rhythm and lead tones.
You probably all know the devastating feeling of playing the best solo of your life only to be told later on by members of the audience that nobody could hear it!
In 2010, one could think this is a trivial problem but it is not. This is essentially due to the fact that a volume or gain modification anywhere in an effect chain can have a big effect on the overall tone. Unless you are a rock star and your sound engineer knows exactly when to boost your volume, there is a number of solutions to this problem that I will list in this post.
Using the guitar volume control or a volume pedal
The first solution that comes to mind is of course to use the volume control of your guitar. After all, why is there one? The problem is that reducing the volume of your guitar will reduce the amount of signal sent to your pedals and amp thus directly change the amount of distortion/overdrive in your tone. It can fit certain styles like blues rock where rhythm work is not as dirty as lead work. For instance, Jimi Hendrix made use of this extensively on stage: he could go from clean to dirty just by manipulating the volume of his guitar (note that the stratocaster is especially good for that). It also works well if you are more of a clean tone player. Using a volume pedal at the beginning of your chain is the same thing as using the volume of your guitar except it might be more progressive. You will have the same problem though: reducing the volume will reduce the amount of overdrive or distortion from any device placed after.
Using an amp with multiple channels
Another solution is to use an amplifier with 2 master volumes or 3 or more channels so that you can dedicate some of them to rythm work and some of them to lead work: usually these amps are not the cheapest and offer slightly different tones depending on the channel but they can be a good solution. For example, the high end models of the Marshall JVM series feature 2 master volumes and are programmable which makes them very flexible. Note that for those of you who need tons of distortion for their rhythm tone, a lot of 3 channel amps (especially those made in the 90s) won’t cut it since the middle channel is often tailored for crunch tones rather than devastating ones.
Using two overdrive/distortion pedals
This is a very flexible solution: you can set the volume of one pedal in “rhythm mode” and the one placed after in “lead mode”. In lead mode, you can have the two pedals together for more gain or just the lead pedal. It can be tricky to switch from rhythm to lead but it is doable especially with BOSS or Ibanez pedals which have a large switch. One stomp and you can switch off a pedal while switching on the other one. Combining two overdrive/distortion pedals is a broad topic in itself and I will soon post about it. A few recent distortion/overdrive pedals feature a “boost” switch to increase the volume for lead work, check out the Satchurator and the upcoming Ice 9 overdrive designed by VOX for Joe Satriani or the ZVEX box of rock.
Using a multi-effect unit or a modeling amp
Those of you with super sophisticated gizmos don’t have much of an issue since you can program rhythm and lead patches. They can even sound good plugged straight into a PA. This is not something that purists love but I have used my Line 6 Pod straight into a PA for gigs with very good results.
Using a clean boost or volume pedal at the end of your chain
If you play against a clean amp and all your overdriven tones come from pedals, this is by far the easiest solution. A clean boost pedal will take the signal and make it louder without altering it. I personally use a BOSS LS-2. The LS-2 can also be used as a looper to switch between 2 chains of effects or use them in series, each chain having its own volume. I have heard the MXR micro amp is also pretty good placed after a chain of effects to increase the overall volume, not to mention all the boutique clean boost pedals. I stress that you need to have a clean amp with enough headroom because otherwise the extra volume might make the amp clip (which can also be a cool effect). Alternatively, most equalizer pedals feature a general volume control and will be able to get you a nice boost, check out the BOSS GE-7 or MXR 10 band EQ. And of course, you can also use a good old volume pedal but at the end of the effect chain rather than at the beginning as mentioned earlier in this post.
If your dirty tone comes from your amp, it is a bit trickier. People have had good results using a booster and or a volume pedal in the effect loop providing your amp offers such a facility. Be careful what kind of pedal you use. Most of them are OK but some of them won’t work in an effect loop since the signal strength is too different from a guitar output (check out the impedance). Check also that your effect loop has an adjustable level because in this case it will probably adapt to any pedal.
The beauty of this “end of chain” boost solution is that you can boost either your clean tone or your distorted tone which gives you a wide variety of tones for soloing.
Note that placed at the beginning of the effect chain, say right after your guitar, a clean boost pedal will have a different effect. If it is placed before a distortion/overdrive pedal, the more gain is dialed, the less the clean boost will have an effect on the overall volume, it will rather have an effect on the amount of distortion (this is because a side effect of distortion or overdrive is that the tone gets compressed). With a moderate amount of gain on your overdrive/distortion stompbox, a clean boost will fatten your tone and moderately increase the volume which is like going from the crunch to the lead channel on a 3 channel amp. As always when unsure, just experiment!
Solving the lead volume issue is linked to your style of playing and one or several solutions amongst those I have mentioned in this post might be available to you. And don’t forget that the volume is not everything and your tone will have to cut through the mix as I have explained in a previous post. Also you might want to check another one of my posts about the use of compressors at the end of your effect chain, it is a possible solution to boost your volume for solos although I have not always found it workable in live situations.
BOSS US is doing a nice series of videos explaining what some of the basic effects do with demos by the most excellent Johnny DeMarco. It is called Effects 101 and can be found here: www.bossus.com/go/effects_101/. It is mostly aimed at beginners but more seasoned guitarists might like it too (well, I did).
As an example, here is the video about the overdrive effect: