sketchbook: faking guitars

As someone that plays keyboards I’ve been mostly resigned to the fact that I can’t put guitars in any of my tracks, but after some playing with guitar samples available at the Flame Studios website, I’m cautiously optimistic. Flame Studios has high-quality recordings of various guitars (like the Fender Telecaster and Gibson Les Paul) in GigaStudio format, and when used appropriately, they sound great. Their website has been down for most of the last few years, but I’m hoping that it’s now back for good.

Most of the recordings are straight from the guitar’s line-out, which I think is ideal: if you want a clean sound, you can use it as-is, or you can run it through your choice of amp simulation to get a more typical guitar sound (something I’ve always been curious about but never had a chance to try). I was testing the samples using the Linuxsampler LV2 plugin in an Ardour 3 MIDI track, so I decided to try Guitarix, which as of version 0.25 includes some pre-built combinations of tube amp, tonestack, and cabinet as LV2 plugins.

The new Guitarix LV2 plugins, alongside some old favourites

The new Guitarix LV2 plugins, alongside some old favourites

So far, I’ve been quite impressed with Guitarix. I haven’t had much experience with amp simulations, but even so, with appropriate twiddling of knobs I’ve been able to get some crunchy distorted sounds, and some cleaner sounds that add a lot of character without over-the-top distortion. There are other options — Rakarrack has some amp/cabinet simulation features (though it focuses more on effects), and the C* Audio Plugin Suite provides amp/cabinet simulations as LADSPA plugins — but the simplicity and quality of the Guitarix LV2 plugins won me over.

The sound itself is just one piece of the puzzle — the other is to play things in a believable way. Keyboards can do a lot of things that guitars can’t, so you have to limit yourself playing parts that at least sound like they would be possible on a guitar. Arpeggios with wide gaps between notes are an easy cheat, but if you want to play chords, a list of guitar chords mapped out on the keyboard, like this one, is very helpful.

Of course, the reverse is true, too — guitars can do a lot of things that keyboards can’t. Many of the Flame Studios guitars include extra samples of finger slides and other guitar sounds beyond just the notes, which you can sprinkle in to a part to add some realism. Subtle MIDI pitch bends can help add some expression, too, though they really stand out if they’re done poorly. You’re not going to be able to capture the subtlety and nuance of a real guitar, but with a bit of care, I think you can definitely create basic guitar parts that sound convincing enough to work in a mix.

On to the sketch! Using the Telecaster line-in sample set recorded from the bridge pick-up, I came up with a simple little arpeggio-ish riff thing, and then tried running it through various Guitarix settings. In the sketch you hear three versions of this riff: the first is completely clean, the second uses the Guitarix GxAmplifier-IV plugin with fairly heavy drive settings and a CAPS Plate reverb, and the third uses the GxAmplifier-II plugin with much cleaner settings, along with a Calf Vintage Delay, dRowAudio Flanger, and the CAPS Plate reverb again.

mp3 | vorbis | 1:07

new track: move along

This track has been a long time coming, but it’s finally done! It’s my first original track with lyrics; it’s about leaving my job after so many years there, though I wouldn’t read too much in to the words. It’s certainly a departure from my usual electronic stuff — this has just piano, bass, drums, and vocals — so I’m keen to hear what people think of it.

You can download or stream it below, or at Bandcamp. Some production notes are under the cut.

mp3 | ogg | flac | 3 minutes 47 seconds

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jconvolver, inserts, and sends: a triple-header tutorial

Earlier today, when I was setting up another quick impulse response recording that I made, it occured to me that some of this stuff is really non-obvious — setting up Jconvolver takes some work, and using sends to share a single reverb within Ardour instead of using a separate reverb on each track can be a bit of a leap, too. Here, then, is a three-part tutorial that covers:

  • Setting up Jconvolver
  • Connecting Jconvolver in to Ardour as an insert effect
  • Using sends effects within Ardour

There’s a lot to get through, so let’s get cracking!
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sketchbook: a sooperlooper jam

SooperLooper is proving to be a lot of fun! Last weekend I fired it up and did some impromptu jamming, following this basic formula:

  • Slap together a basic four-bar drum pattern in Hydrogen
  • Export that pattern as a loop and import it in to SooperLooper as loop 1
  • Play a bunch of random crap over the top, and if it sounds okay, grab a loop of it
  • Lather, rinse, repeat

I saved those sessions, and had a quick stab at turning one of them in to a proper track, which I call “sl3”, by importing the loops in to Ardour and moving/coping them in to an arrangement. I also threw in some effects for good measure: EQ, a couple of delays (can’t help myself with those!), and an insert out to Rakarrack to add some guts to my fairly limp bass loop. I’m sure I could make it more interesting by re-recording a few parts — replacing the drum loop with a properly programmed part with a bit of variety, for instance — but hey, for an hour-and-a-half’s work, I think it sounds okay!

mp3 | vorbis | 2:27