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How to Get the Guitar Heard Properly in a Band: Part 3

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In the previous tutorial, I covered how choosing the right amp and setting it up correctly can go a long way to improving the live sound.

In this tutorial I'll demonstrate how effects can lift the tone from bland to brilliant.

Useful Effects

Effects are often classified in terms of making the player louder, more distorted, further away and so on. Some, however, are also useful for increasing sonic clarity.

EQ Pedals

This is one of the least exciting and most misunderstood pedals. Most are bought for signal boosting, often using it to lift the volume when soloing.

There’s nothing wrong with this but it rather misses the point. An EQ pedal can be a lifesaver when faced with a sonically-challenging venue, or having to play through a muddy and indistinct amplifier.

To get the best from it, you should learn to cut frequencies than just boosting them. For example, if the sound has too much low end, don’t push up the treble. Instead, cut the offending frequencies. Remember, these tutorials are about improving the sound without resorting to cranking up the volume. 

If you’re looking to buy one, every budget is catered for. For example, the Behringer EQ700 covers some very useful frequency ranges and, at under £25, there’s no excuse for not owning one. BOSS and MXR are also good choices.

These pedals typically using sliders to cut or boost fixed frequency points. It’s a simple idea and reasonably effective.

My only issues are:

  • Fixed frequencies means you can’t be specific; you can only choose a frequency nearest to what you need
  • You’ve no idea how big the Q—width—of the cut or boost is
  • Sliders are inherently more prone to dirt, dust, and thus electrical noise than potentiometers

I would, therefore, recommend a parametric EQ. This not only allows you to choose specific frequencies, but the width of the Q as well. They also use potentiometers, so are more accurate and far quieter.

They're not, however, cheap. Typically they cost well over £200. Quality costs, but I would still cite the Empress Effects ParaEQ as a personal favourite. It’s studio-grade control that lives on your pedalboard. It comes with an adjustable onboard clean boost of up to 30db.

Pitch-shifting

Whilst everyone’s heard this effect, most wouldn’t necessarily include it on their pedalboard. Extreme examples come to mind, like the fake bass sound used in Seven Nation Army

Used carefully, however, it can really help with clarity.

Here’s a trick I learned in the world of recording and have applied to live performance.

When mixing a track, if you can’t hear the bass part, record a guitar that’s playing the same thing. As the guitar sits in a range of more audible frequencies, it actually has the effect of making the bass appear easier to hear.

Therefore, if you can’t hear the guitar in a live setting, use a pitch-shifter to produce a sound one octave up. Dial it in so it’s just apparent—any more, and you get that obvious chipmunk sound.

That higher octave gives a sparkle to the sound that, as the mixing trick attests, makes the main part seem easier to hear.

As to what to buy, modern technology means that today’s pedals track flawlessly, so don’t worry about the effect warbling as it tries to figure out which note to shift.

I’d always recommend buying polyphonic as opposed to mono, because you can play chords without overwhelming it. Prices start around £70 to £90, with Hotone’s Octa Pedal, or TC Electronic’s Sub ’N’ Up Mini as examples. 

Above £100, the choice and quality really broadens. I use the Pitch Fork from Electro-Harmonix for £150, as it goes three octaves in either direction as well as performing other interval shifts.

Shimmer Reverbs

These are an interesting development in recent years. Essentially, they’re reverbs where the wet signal passes through an octave-up pitch-shifter. Instead of the reverb becoming darker as it decays, the shimmer effect creates the aforementioned sparkle.

The pedal therefore serves a dual purpose. Reverb creates a sense of space and depth, but it’s also useful for bedding the sound of the guitar into that of the whole band. 

Both vocals and lead guitar are curious things, as they can sound sort of stuck on top of the rest of the sound, and thus can appear disconnected accordingly. Reverb helps glue them to the overall sound.

A shimmer reverb therefore attaches the sound of the guitar to  the band, and the shimmer makes sure it remains distinct at the same time. Try the Shimverb from Mooer for £50.

As with all effects, tread carefully. Excessive reverb will make you disappear into a ballooning cloud of noise, and too much shimmer gives the impression your guitar’s being fed helium.

Resonant Filters

Put simply, this creates a peak in the frequency range, whilst cutting a lot of frequencies around it. 

Consider why you'd want to chop away lots of your sound. Hearing it on its own, you end up with an extremely thin sound. 

However, in the roar of a live band, it allows the guitar to cut through. Brian May of Queen achieves this effect by using phase cancellation between the pickups of his guitar. You can hear this in the solos of Bohemian Rhapsody and Save Me.

If you’re not keen in taking a soldering iron to your guitar, there are pedals that’ll achieve a similar effect.

Some flangers have a filter switch, allowing you to tune into the resonant peak that works best for you. Mooer’s Elec-Lady (£50) is one such example.

The simplest filter is the humble wah pedal, and guitarists such as Michael Shenker use it to notch out their sound.

Conclusion

Just a few pedals can really make the difference, so remember:

  • Buy an EQ pedal
  • Parametric EQ is preferable
  • Pitch-shifting adds clarity
  • Choose polyphonic over mono
  • Consider shimmer reverbs
  • Resonant filters cut through
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