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YukiRaven

Synthesized Guitar Advice

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First of all, I know that a synthesizer will never sound like a real distorted guitar. This is more of an exercise in being resourceful.

That being said, I'm trying to find the most realistic way of emulating the sound of a distorted guitar for metal/heavy metal. The catch is that I only use what I have available to me right now (no samples or new SoundFonts). This effectively means a Roland JV-1010, an analog synth (PolyEvolver), and a hand full of software synths (Prophet V, Moog Modular V, Jupiter-8V, the things that come with SONAR 7 Pro). Since most of those are great for electronic music but make piss-poor guitar sounds, I figure the JV-1010 will be the thing to use.

Here's what I've found so far. On the synthesizer there are separate patches for "lead" sounds and "chunk" sounds. My first thought was to combine them to do rhythmic background patterns while the "lead" sounds play lower power cords held out. Tends to work OK, but still sounds thin and just not that impressive. Adding a bit of chorus and a lot of reverb tends to fill out the sound, naturally, but not in that hard-rocking sort of way. The one thing I haven't tried yet is passing it through some of the software FX units I have that emulate amplifiers.

So for the guitar players out there and anyone else who may have an idea, what makes a good distorted guitar sound? I'm thinking guitars like those found in Alice in Chains, Metallica, and Iron Maiden mostly. I know that the chorus effect can help, but should I use more distortion on these sounds? Any EQing tips or other effects to look at?

Again, this is more of an exercise in "lets see how good I can do this" and I'm just looking for tips.

To see where I've come so far, here are two mp3 files. The first was done in 2002 on a synthesizer I don't even have anymore (a Casio). The second was a re-recording I did a few months later after I bought my JV-1010. They were meant for some Doom levels I never released. Old and new.

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I have a couple of old Roland synths myself. (A D-70 and a D-5). What I used to do was, I had a couple of bits of ancient stereo gear (An 80's cassette deck and an even older record player), and both of these had jacks where you could plug in a microphone. I used to run my keyboard (turned way up to distort the relatively low input levels on the mic lines) out through one of these pieces of gear, then into whatever recording gear I was using at the time. And with a bit of tinkering, I used to be able to get something reasonably chunky and passably good. Part of the reason it worked is because it was actual line distortion, rather than a synthesised effect.

'Course this is all pretty useless to you if you don't have an old beatbox or something lying around somewhere or something. Maybe you have some friends or something who have some old crap lying around somewhere.

Btw, listening to the guitar sounds you have going on now, they are not bad. The second one has the right general tone for a good rhythm guitar track. It sits in the mix pretty well, but I guess, coz its a keyboard, you can't push it up in the mix much more than you have already, or it will lose a lot of its guitar sound.

Another trick that I now know is to not make a distorted sound (be it keys or guitar) too bassy. More bottom end does not mean a chunkier sound. Leave that to the bass guitar and the kick drum. Guitar sounds get a lot of their balls from being "percussive" and rhythmic, rather than being something that shakes the walls with sheer bottom end "bassiness" Guitar, especially rhythm, can be made to sit a lot better with a lot of the highs and lows stripped away. Gives more room for everything else to breathe, while still maintaining good drive.

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There's something I noticed a while ago that's apparent in your song that I noticed just about every single doom song does, and unless a song doesn't do it, it doesn't sound like doom. It goes like this

Every song has some Simple Riff or melody repeated over and over.

Riff plays once. plays twice, three times, fourth time.
Riff plays at a higher pitch once. Twice.
Back to original pitch, plays twice.
Riff plays at even higher pitch once,
Riff plays at a still high pitch once (the same as the pitch from line 2)
Back to original pitch, plays twice.
Then repeat the same thing with a solo going on in the background. Song ends, loops from the beginning.

I dunno if there's an easier way to describe it, maybe there's a one word definition of what I just described, but it's definitely the trick to turning any piece of midi into a doom song that fits. I don't think there is any song in Doom (besides ones from Evilution) that don't go by that rule, or at least some sort of twist on that rule. Did anyone else detect that same rhythm?

Sorry to derail your thread but I've been meaning to get that off my chest for a while.

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JohnnyRancid said:

Riff plays once. plays twice, three times, fourth time.
Riff plays at a higher pitch once. Twice.
Back to original pitch, plays twice.
Riff plays at even higher pitch once,
Riff plays at a still high pitch once (the same as the pitch from line 2)
Back to original pitch, plays twice.
Then repeat the same thing with a solo going on in the background. Song ends, loops from the beginning.

You're basically describing a blues progression, where it goes Root->Fifth->Root->Seventh->Fifth->Root. Many Doom songs use it, and sometimes have variations on the number of times the root is played. I used to use a horribly expanded and repetitive version in my old songs before I learned other forms.

Also, Kyka, thanks for that advice. I did some quick testing using the EQing you described and it did help quite a bit. I also used a effects plugin called Vintage Channel that came with SONAR. Turns out it has a preset that really adds to the bite of the sound for guitars.

My Poly Evolver synth has an external input port. I may try passing the guitar sounds through it first and then using the Evolver's distortion and "hack" filters. Then, since it all goes through a mixer, maybe I can just overdrive the gain a bit and then reduce the channel volume to produce a bit of analog-ish distortion that way.

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I've been able to get some convincing lead-guitar-solo sounds by processing the hell out of a basic sawtooth waveform, with distortion and other filtering in Reason.

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To get guitar-esq synth sounds, two saw-waves with slight detune (5 cents) in unison mode. If you have a modular set-up such as Reaktor, link the decay of the VCF to the note velocity to emulate palm mutes. Use aftertouch to emulate harmonics, a sin wav tuned two or three octaves above the saw wave could work. A generous amount of compression and distortion wouldn't hurt either.

FM synthesis might be the way to go too. Either option still won't come anywhere close to the sound of a real electric guitar, even a lousy yard-sale guitar with a 5 watt amp.

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