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Faking Keyboard Parts on Guitar: Part 2

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In the previous tutorial, Faking Keyboard Parts On Guitar: Part 1, I looked at adjusting guitar technique in order to recreate keyboard parts, as well as considerations of appropriate chord structures.

Having sorted out the playing, I now turn attention to the hardware you need to employ to sound authentic. There are some genuinely complex/expensive bits of kit available, but for this tutorial, I’ll start with something more familiar.

Pedals

This is the golden age of pedals—there’s never been such a wide range of sounds available with options to suit all budgets. From the stalwarts to the specialised, you’ll find whatever you need. Before looking at some useful effects, a note of caution.

Tread Carefully

It’s easy to get carried away when using effects, so dialling in the sound correctly is crucial.

Obviously, you want to hear it, but not to the point where it’s intrusive. Ultimately, suggest the sound to the audience.

You’ll also want to play carefully; most pedals have a preset input sensitivity, so sloppy fretting or ringing strings can trigger them unnecessarily.

Octave Pedals

Keyboard players often span several octaves at once because, unlike guitarists, they use both hands to select notes (unless you’re an eight-finger tapping master, such as Jennifer Batten). 

Using an octave pedal will help address this shortfall.

Mono Or Poly

A monophonic pedal can only handle single notes, so is fine for single-note lead lines, but cannot handle chords. I’d therefore recommend a polyphonic pedal, as it can do either.

Up And Down

A single octave pedal simply mirrors your notes an octave above or below. For example, an octave down pedal paired with a fuzz creates some great 80s-style monophonic synth tones.  An octave up pedal through some vibrato produces a passable ’Telstar’ sound.

I prefer a pedal that does both simultaneously; it gives you more options and, if both octaves are employed, really fills out the sound.

Cheaper pedals, such as Hotone’s Octa Pedal, or TC Electronic’s Sub ’N’ Up Mini, are £70 to £90. Above £100, the choice and quality really broadens. I use the Pitch Fork from Electro-Harmonix for £150.

Modulation Pedals

These offer a wide range of tonal choices, so you should have one on your pedalboard.

Rotation

The rotary speaker is an iconic keyboard/organ mainstay, and essential for a classic sixties sound.

The simplest/cheapest route is a modulation pedal with the RATE control at high settings. Add some drive, and you’ve got the organ tone used in ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’.

As ever, everything in moderation—you want a swirling sound, not a drunken, seasick wobble.

Chorus pedals are particularly suitable, starting around £80. Both the TC Electronic Corona Chorus Mini and the Ibanez Stereo Chorus Mini are excellent. I have the latter for exactly this usage.

Others worth considering are tremolo, vibrato, Univibe, and, of course, rotary speaker pedals. They’re all variations on a theme, but it’s worth doing a little research to find what suits you best.

Wallet-friendly examples include the TC Electronic Viscous Vibe (£95), and Hotone’s Roto (£65). Above that, the Digitech Ventura Vibe (£120) sounds great and has lots of options.

Express Yourself

Keyboard players rarely leave a sound alone, changing parameters on the fly. So when choosing a modulation pedal, consider ones with an expression input. 

For example, the Electro-Harmonix Good Vibes chorus and vibrato pedal (£130) allows control of either the effect’s speed or intensity.   

EQ

An overlooked pedalboard option, the EQ pedal’s useful in so many situations. For our purposes, it can shape the tone to better replicate our desired keyboard sound.

For example, 'Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder is a covers band classic, and the riff’s easy to play on guitar. However, to sound more like the Clavinet that Stevie used, rolling off a lot of low frequencies with the pedal will certainly help. Some slapback delay (plus snapping the strings against the frets as you play) gets you closer to the real thing.

Dedicated Pedals

The B9, C9, K9, and Mel9 from Electro-Harmonix emulate classic organ, electric piano, and Mellotron sounds, offering a great all-in-one solution. 

Rather than digital modelling, they use octaves, pitch-shifting and synthesis to create their tones. Towards £200, they’re obviously not an impulse buy, plus you’re limited to the onboard sounds. They sound great, however, so check them out.

iOS

If you don’t own/want any pedals, but have an iPad, you can still achieve great results. All you’d need is an interface, such as the Apogee Jam, and a suitable app, like Tonestack by Yonac Inc. 

In this short video, I used the app to create a patch containing a poly-octave generator and a rotating speaker. I set the higher octaves louder than the lower ones, then adjusted the rotating speaker’s speed to taste. 

It’s very simple to do, and can even be used live. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of using iOS live, please check out my tutorial: The Portable Guitarist—Using iOS as a Live Rig.

Routing

Whatever you use, consider running your keyboard sounds separately to the PA. They’ll sound okay through the amp, but the PA has a greater frequency response, plus it serves to increase the illusion of another instrument being played.

The simplest route is via an ABY box, allowing you to send your guitar’s signal to separate destinations. The Electro-Harmonix Switchblade+ (£42) is one such example.

Conclusion

There’s plenty of gear to get you the right sounds, so do your research, and bear in mind:

  • Avoid sloppy/inaccurate playing
  • Octave pedals are a must
  • Polyphonic gives you more options
  • Modulation pedals lend authenticity
  • Expression pedals are worth considering
  • EQing your tone gets you closer to sounding right
  • Dedicated pedals are easier to use, but can be limited
  • iOS is another option
  • Consider running keyboard sounds to the PA

In the next tutorial, I’ll enter the scary world of MIDI.  

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