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How to Make a Sampled Guitar Sound Using Freeware

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This post is part of a series called Producing Guitar: From Recording to the Finished Product.
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Making something sound like it was sampled can be a fun, royalty-free way to add some old-school soul to your projects. Producers that sample from records do so because they are looking for certain types of sounds that come from old styles of production, but through studying how records used to be made, these types of sounds can be imitated in modern music software. The 1950s classic guitar sound is one of those of sounds.

First, we'll try to imitate the effects that used to be used on guitars, and then we'll work on making it sound like it was taken from a very old record. This is the type of sound we'll be making:

Here are the freeware plugins I'll be using to demonstrate, be sure to download them, or use different plugins of your choice. If you'd like to follow along, you'll also need some sort of guitar instrument or soundfont, but just about any sound will work.

  • Ndzeit TubeBaby (guitar distortion)
  • Rhythm Lab Mo Verb (can do spring reverb)
  • Izotope Vinyl (lo-fi treatment)

Step 1 - Instrument

The first step will be to get a dry guitar patch without effects or distortion. While a clean electric guitar sound would be ideal, I want to show that this technique will work with a regular acoustic patch as well. If you do not have either of those sounds but you do have FL Studio, there is a free acoustic guitar patch available for DirectWave (Image-Line's Multisampler), if you already have a guitar sound or you're not using FL Studio, skip to step 2.

To access it, open DirectWave, and then click on "Select Preset" near the top. The Content Library will pop-up.

Browse for World > Plucked > 12StringGuitar. If you can't find it, make sure to enable both "Show Online items" and "Show Downloaded items" in the tools menu of the Content Library.

Now I'll paint some chords in the piano roll so that I can have a pattern playing while I make changes.

Step 2 - Tube Distortion

Link the Acoustic Guitar to its own Mixer track, and load the effects plugin TubeBaby into the first effects slot, and press play. The first thing to notice is that the track is clipping. It's too loud, so reduce the volume using the mixer fader or the master knob on the TubeBaby plugin until it is no longer clipping. It's probably better to reduce the master knob on the TubeBaby plugin because it might clipping internally.

The default preset is close to what we're looking for, but I found that the preset "Clean 1" is even closer.

Next, adjust the knob settings to taste. The changes I made were a slight increase in gain to increase the distortion slightly, a decrease in treble to make it sound deeper, but then an increase in presence to introduce some highs back into the sound. The knob values of the before and after are shown in the screenshot.

Step 3 - Spring Reverb

Spring reverb can give guitars, brass, and electric pianos a classic sound. While freeware spring reverbs are hard to find, Mo Verb can get us close. Load an instance of Mo Verb in the Effects Rack after TubeBaby, and check out the preset called Insert - Vintage Spring.

First of all, we can tell from the input meter on the Mo Verb that the sound coming in is to loud. To remedy this, let's turn down the Output volume of the previous effect, TubeBaby, until we can see some headroom on the input.

Then we can turn the volume up on the mixer track to make up for that lost volume.

From listening, some things clearly need to change in the reverb sound. First, I'll reduce the "R Time" knob to about 3 seconds to shorten the reverb time. Then, I'll increase the Room Size to 32, to change the tone and reduce the ringy sound. Next, I'll reduce the Predelay to 32 ms to reduce the pause between the initial sound and the reverb starting, making it sound more like one smooth sound.

The images below show the before and after with the changes highlighted. You might also want to adjust the EQs of this plugin to see the effect it has.

Before

After

The reverb sound is sounding pretty good, but the tail of the sound is lasting too long. So I'll turn up the Gate knob to -26db, which will cut off the sound once it reaches -26db. A part of making something sound sampled is making it lo-fi, so I'll also reduce the stereo width to zero for a mono sound.

Now we're getting somewhere, and this is a respectable sound as it is, but next I'll use a plugin to reduce the sound quality of the track, in a good way.

Step 4 - Lo-fi Treatment

Load Izotope Vinyl into the next effect slot, here's what our effects rack looks like so far:

Starting from the default preset, turn the Year knob to 1960 to hear a big change in the quality of the sound. The change is more obvious on monitors than it is on headphones, because it mostly affects the bass.

I want to add some subtle crackle that I can hear, but not too much. A common technique when adding effects of any type, is to figure out how much is too much and then dial back a little. I'll use turn the Wear fader to 30 percent to hear the effect I want.

It's the sort of distortion I'm going for but it's too much. With most forms of distortion, the volume of the sound going into the plugin is going to effect how much the sound is distorted, this is why many distortion plugins feature an input or gain knob. To dial back the effect, I'll reduce the Input Fader, but to regain lost volume I'll increase the output fader. This makes the Wear effect more subtle.

Step 5 - EQ

For one last lo-fi touch, I'll load an EQ and filter out the highs with a lowpass filter.

The EQ ended up removing most of the crackle that we achieved in the last step, so if you prefer the crackle, move the Vinyl plugin so that it is after the EQ or remove the EQ altogether. Crackle or not, a lot of subtle changes took us from a 12 String Acoustic guitar to a classic sampled guitar sound that we can now use in a project.

I combined the drum sounds from the Drum Layering
Tutorial
tutorial with the sound we made in this tutorial, to create the beginning of a song:

To reflect, let's listen to the transformation of our Guitar, as it changes from a 12-String Acoustic into a guitar sampled from an old record.

Final Tips

For even more of a sampled feel, consider programming a few chords and bouncing to a wave file. Then take that "sample" and play slices from it using a slicing plugin like Fruity Slicer or SliceX. Basically, create your own samples and use sampling techniques like chopping.

To make other types of "sampled" sounds, study the types of effects used in the time period that has the sound you like. In this case it was spring reverb and tube distortion on a guitar, but maybe there's a classic drum sound you're looking for, in which case you would try to find out the techniques and effects used by the producers who made those sounds originally.

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