The Pedal File Halloween Edition – Spooky Sounds with Pedals

Hey all, it’s that spooky time of year again, so I thought it’d be fun to put on our Hillary Clinton masks and talk about making freaky sounds with some pedals.  Sounds fun, right?  Right.

The inspiration of this idea came from Tera Melos guitarist, Nick Reinhart.  If you don’t already know, he’s kind of a pedal mystic or sage if you will and has in the true Halloween spirit, made recordings full of spooky sounds on guitar.  Check it out above.

I wanted to share a spooky soundscape I did and talk about a few pedals that are perfect for haunting your house, cabin, spaceship or any other place that is bound to contain evil spirits and/or aliens.

Moog Mf-102 Ring Modulator – every sound that comes out of a ring modulator can be nasty, dirty, scary, and panic-inducing if you want it to be.  LFO sweeps, crazy harmonics and electric bellgongs, robot wolf howls…Ring modulators are a pretty common sci-fi film sound effect that I’m sure you would recognize.  Most robot voices are just ring modulators.  Think of it as a robot larynx, I guess.

Iron Ether Frantabit – bit crushing sample rate reducing is another way to conjure some gnarly sounds from your guitar to honor your favorite dark lord.  This thing does fuzz, static, strange theremin-like frequency sweeps, total annihilation.  You can make an already scary sound even scarier by making your amp sound like it’s dead. Or back from the dead and you have to smash it’s fucking brains out.  (If you want to know more about this pedal, check out my review of it.)

Visual Sound Liquid Chorus – the Liquid Chorus ironically sounds beautiful and makes everything shimmer.  Chorus (or any modulation) is great for creating suspense, especially if you set the depth, width, and rate controls high for some wobbly swirlyness.  The faster the swirl the more anxiety you can impart on your dog, as well as any ‘subjects’ you may have strapped to that operating table in your basement….oh, that was a secret?  My bad.

Keeley Absolute Wurst – octave pitch shifting pedals are perfect for getting doomy low octave bass lines and those high-pitched terror inducing noises that sound like babies and cats fighting in the night during a full moon.  Plus, this guy can sort of emulate a pipe organ, which is kind of the epitome of evil sounding music. (Review here.)

Anyway, here’s my contribution to the genre of scary guitar: https://soundcloud.com/sexypigdivas/sets/freaky-sounds-on-guitar/s-RJbXC

All these pedals can be used in a musical, subtle way, but today that isn’t the point.  Mood and texture is what it’s all about if you want to get freaky with pedals.  Now go out there and make Satan proud!

See ya in Hell!

Until next time.  Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

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The Pedal File – Fun with a Minimal Pedalboard

Hello and welcome to the Fellowship of the Pedal, commonly referred to as the Pedal File.  Today I want to flip things around and make you question your pedal beliefs.  Let’s put your mind in the sweet new shoes of another perspective:

Minimalism

What I mean by minimalism in this respect is but one definition of the word – a design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect.  In other words and in this context, do more with less pedals.

I know what you’re thinking.  Use less pedals?  Everything I read and all you talk about is pedals, blah blah, pedals to infinity!  I know it sort of sounds like blasphemy, but sometimes cliches are right, and less is more.

Using fewer pedals means swapping out or switching the order of your effects without feeling like you’re using a Moog System 55.  (Sure pedals are awesome, but you know what are not awesome?)  Cables.  Would you care to put your dirt pedal in other places on the board to see how it sounds?  It’s a lot easier with less pedals – less weight to carry, space to take up, less cables, and less time thinking about turning pedals on and off.

The Pedal File - My Current Board

It’s easy to load up.

It can be hard, but take some deep breaths, and think about limiting yourself to just three pedals.  If you want to get hardcore downsize to one pedal.  Although initially dreadful, this thought can be liberating and inspire you to explore sound in an all new way.  Have you ever dared to not use any dirt pedals?  What about substituting another effect for distortion, like chorus?  How about using a pedal for a tone it wasn’t technically intended to produce?

With a little patience and willingness to explore, I’ll bet you’d be surprised by how much you can do with one pedal (and by what one pedal can do to you).  For instance, since delay, reverb, and chorus are all time based effects, you can achieve all three if you have the right delay pedal.  Set the delay time short (preferably less than a slapback, but experiment with longer delay times too!) and keep the repeats low – this will create a chorus or doubling effect (if you have a mix knob, see how things sound when increasing or decreasing the effect).  Begin turning the repeats up and you should make some pseudo percussive reverb sounds. Experimenting with different combinations of short delay times and the other knobs of a delay can yield sounds you can’t quite get with a reverb or chorus pedal (EQD’s Aftermath and Sea Machine are exceptions).

Remember kids, there is nothing wrong with using a pedal in a way for which it was not intended.  Just also remember, your friends and family may not want to hear about all of your experiences using pedals for ways they were not intended.

All this being said though, it doesn’t mean you can’t still be tasteful and use a knob factory’s worth of pedals.

Check out another fine article on the topic by Caroline Guitar Company’s Philippe Herndon and another by Sam Hill of Tone Report.

Now go out there and get em!

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

Pedal Feature: Pigtronix Quantum Time Modulator

Hey there, just another exciting post from your favorite neighborhood pedal pal, The Pedal File!  Today I’m going to talk about a versatile and otherworldly pedal – the Quantum Time Modulator, produced by Pigtronix.  Based in New York, Pigtronix have been getting my attention, along with the attention of pedal lovers everywhere in the pedal world for a while now with their complex and originally designed pedals like the Echolution delay and Mothership Synth pedal.  Pigtronix pedals are full of analog goodness and built so sturdily (no cheap plastic crap components) that they could probably survive a cycle in your dryer.  With a man like Howard Davis (you know, that dude who designed tons of legendary effects for Electro-Harmonix??) on their side how could they do any less?

Pigtronix Logo

Per usual, I’ve had my eye on this pedal for a long time.  I fell in love with Pigtronix after buying the EP-2 Envelope Phaser a few years ago, so naturally I was giddier than a hillbilly stranded on a desert island with a pack of goats to get my greasy hands on the QTM.  I’d first like to point out that the Quantum has a great name.  Anything that sounds like it’s out of a science fiction book gets +1 from me.  Secondly, I like Pigtronix’s own description of the pedal: Multi Dimension Chorus Horror Film Vibrato DynaFlanger.  That’s creative.  Does that creativity steep into the pedal?  Read on, loyal tone minion, to find out.

The Quantum Time Modulator is, in layman’s terms, a chorus/vibe pedal.  It’s great for adding depth, dimension, swirl, and space to your guitar (or bass, or synth, or ukelele, or whatever) like you’re flying a time machine into a black hole to another dimension (I feel dizzy).  While it is a chorus, overall the QTM produces tones more like how you say, ‘dimension chorus’ – the kind of “dimension” effects used in professional recording studios.  These effects can add to the spaciousness of instruments in a mix as well as double a track, i.e. make it sound as if there are two tracks playing when there is only one.  Add to that the ability to modulate the delay time via envelope (more on that below), emulate rotary speakers, achieve pitch vibrato and recreate classic tones such as the MicMix DynaFlanger utilized by the great Frank Zappa, the TC Electronics TC 1210 Spatial Expander most commonly associated with Alex Lifeson of Rush, and the Roland Dimension D chorus, and the QTM is a whacked-out-chorus-swiss-army-modulator-of-time machine.  ***If you wanna know more, go to the bottom of the page for more info.

At first glance, the QTM’s controls look deceivingly simple, which sport only three knobs (or as I like to call them, pedal nipples) and one switch to choose either chorus or vibrato mode.  Say whaaaat?  A chorus with three knobs?  And they’re labeled sensitivity, speed, and source??  And this thing is supposed to emulate three much bigger and tweakier rack units???  Are you scratching your head?  Well at least close your mouth while you think like an ape, stupid!  It’s easy to guess what speed does, but how bout all them other knobs?  I was confused and intrigued (confrigued?) by this at first, but once you realize the relationship the knobs share, it becomes simple to understand how these controls work in combination to give you a pretty unbelievable amount of  lush 3D chorus/doubling/vibe/flange tones with only three freaking knobs.  Everybody knows; usually a cool chorus pedal used by cool kids has to have a minimum of four knobs (rate, depth, mix, and delay time).  Duh!

Tweakables:  the majority of this text is taken from the manual.

Sensitivity – this knob controls how hard you have to hit the string in order to produce a modulation voltage from the envelope circuit.  Lower settings will be appropriate for hotter pickups or in situations where you want only a small amount of envelope modulation to occur.  Higher settings will be needed for low output pickups or when you want to produce significant amounts of modulation via envelope.  As far as I know, this is a unique characteristic of this pedal.  In other words, the harder your attack, the harder the chorus modulates (kind of like an invisible hand cranking the depth or the delay time).  This adds a greater sense of dynamics by creating more dramatic modulation when you pick hard and more subtle modulation when you lay off.  Another way to think of it is like a regular envelope filter, but instead of a filtered wah sound, a heavier, swirlier chorus/flange sound is produced.  It sounds complicated, but it’s easy to get a feel for when you actually play it.

Speed – this knob controls the rate of the LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) modulation.  Slower speeds will create more spatial washes while faster speeds accentuate rotary and vibrato sounds.  This knob has great range.  I LOVE the lushness and depth at slow speeds as well as the movement and texture at faster speeds.

Source – this knob determines which of the two modulation sources (LFO or Envelope) is acting on the bucket brigade delay line.  When this knob is fully counter-clockwise (to the left in case you’re wondering) the Envelope is the only modulation source.  At full clockwise (to the right), the LFO is the only modulation source. Parked anywhere in between the two extremes causes the delay line to be modulated by a mixture of both Envelope and LFO.  This is a big part of the versatility of this pedal.  You know I love versatility….don’t you?

Chorus/Vibrato switch – when Chorus mode is selected the output is a combination of your clean tone with the modulated signal.  When Vibrato is selected, your clean tone is cast out of the signal like the town ginger to live a lonely life surviving in the woods.  All that is left is the pure effected signal that becomes, like, mayor and gets all the chicks.  That’s because effects are cool, kids.

The output can be either mono using a standard patch cable or stereo using a TRS (tip, ring, sleeve) cable.  As you can hopefully guess, the effect of the effect becomes stronger with a stereo setup or as Dweezil runs it – mono through one amp in a two amp setup.

The QTM sounds great stacked with other effects, especially anything that distorts.  I used it with a RAT distortion into a Moogerfooger MF-107 Freqbox into the QTM.  The Quantum made the tone sound better, while sometimes being so subtle that I couldn’t tell it was there until it was off.  The enhancement is hard to describe, but it seems to add movement, texture, shimmer, and depth making the signal more harmonically complex.  I found myself leaving it on most of the time while I played (unlike my pants).  Check out my video demo for an example:

Props to Pigtronix for somehow distilling three of the coolest and most unique chorus effects into one small unit (hehe).  Pretty clever considering their tonal overlaps.  The controls will leave any chorus vet feel like they’re looking at some kind of alien device upon first glance.  However, soon after first tweak, the role of each knob should reveal itself to you like Kim Kardashian in a grotesque photo.  Truly some of the best 70’s & 80’s chorus resides within this pedal along with a host of cool new modulation sounds to explore.  No matter what style you play (noise included), the QTM can easily find a place on your board.  Pigtronix didn’t just step out of the box.  They stepped out of the box, killed its family, set its house on fire, then turned around and took a crap on it.

pigtronix logo

Be sure to check out Pigtronix and their whole line of effects pedals.  You won’t be sorry.  Also feel free to leave me a comment at the bottom of the page with your thoughts.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading.

Love,

Nick
The Pedal File

***
MicMix Dynaflanger – this is a now discontinued rack unit flanger with the unique ability to control the delay time by the envelope of the input signal, creating weird and unexpected modulations.  This is part of what gave Zappa his beautifully bizarre tone on his ‘Shut Up N’ Play Yer Guitar’ album.  This was also the unit Dweezil Zappa used for Zappa Plays Zappa to achieve the specific tones of his father…until the QTM came about.  Check out this article for more info: http://www.zappa.com/zpz/tourlog/index.php?year=2008&month=6&day=6

TC Electronics TC 1210 Spatial Expander – this is a really expensive chorus/flanger rack unit capable of all sorts of modulation sounds (on top of making things sound better – this guy from a Sound on Sound article puts it on just about anything while recording for tonal enhancement).  Alex Lifeson has used one of these forever.  It’s made by TC Electronic and is based on the Haas effect, defined as the ability of our ears to localize sounds coming from anywhere around us.  In short, our ears determine the position of a sound based on which ear perceives it first and its successive reflections (arriving within 1-35 ms from the initial sound), which will give us the perception of depth and spaciousness.  This thing adds the depth and space.

Roland Dimension D – although it’s another rare one, this is the one you’ve probably heard of (the Boss Dimension C pedal is basically a mono version for guitar).  Instead of knobs, this unit has preset buttons that allow you to select different chorus effects with varying amounts of depth and speed and is known for its legendary stereo chorus effects.  The “Dimension” chorus effect is one where thickness, depth and a sense of width, is added to the sound to produce a kind of 3D effect.