In today’s world most people are mixing and tracking in the box. With this comes a lot more flexibility then in the past, yet I find the understanding of signal flow isn’t as strong. (Youngsters these days!!)
I suppose I’m at an advantage as a guitarist. I have pedals to tinker with. Over the years I’ve moved pedals around, trying many different chains. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident.
This idea goes far beyond guitar. These principles apply to plug-ins as well. Not only for guitar-based plug-ins like Logic’s “Pedalboard,” but individual plug-ins for all instruments.
In this article I’m going to give you 11 variations on signal flow that you can use to create interesting sounds on any instrument.
1. Delay Before Overdrive
Sometimes people don’t realize this, but some of the most acclaimed rock delay sounds have been an analog delay straight into a cranked guitar amp. What does this mean? When an amp is cranked it naturally overdrives and compresses. It creates a coherency in sound that can’t be replicated.
Solution? Place a delay before an overdrive. You probably have to be conservative with the settings on the Overdrive. An amp rarely gets the amount of overdrive most pedals have. Keep it low and notice how it changes the delay.
When you use an overdrive, you’ll notice it’s affected by velocity. The louder the signal source, the more overdrive it will have. You can use this to your advantage. If you place the Overdrive after the delay, each repeat from the delay will be less overdriven then the last. This method can keep a sound from getting too blurry.
2. Delay After Overdrive
This is the “modern” method for placing a delay. Whatever goes into the delay gets repeated as it sounded. It’s like taking a picture of something and then duplicating it.
I’ll be using the term “snapshot” in this article to describe this scenario. This is the missionary position of signal chain routing. Traditionally, it’s wah, fuzz, overdrives, modulation, and time based effects.
3. Reverb Before Overdrive
This one has to be subtle. If you run a verb into a heavy distortion, your dog is not going to be happy. In subtle doses, it can help create a hip, vintage sound. When I’m playing guitar, I like to play a spring reverb into a cranked, slightly overdriven amp. Why? For the same reason I like to do this with delay. It compresses the signal in a flattering, colorful way.
It kinda sounds like a reverb from records cut in the ‘50s. Not hi-fi… Not for the weak of soul… Attempt at your own risk.