Get the Guitar Sound You Want: Cheat Sheet for Pitch and Synth-Based Effects

Posted by John Tyler Kent on Feb 24, 2016 07:00 AM

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Pitch and synth-based effects are special in that they give you the opportunity to make your guitar behave differently than the instrument was designed to perform. While that may scare off some of the purists out there, many guitar legends such as Tom Morello or Jeff Beck have incorporated these sounds into their playing to enhance their sound and at times even reinvent the instrument itself. If you're looking for interesting new ways to adapt your playing and stand out as a guitar player, you may want to consider adding some of these unique effects to your sonic palette.


Matt Bellamy adds a lower octave to his guitar to add punch to the main riff of the Muse song "New Born."

An octaver adds one or several octaves and/or sub-octaves to your signal. They can be used in many different ways; this is a great way to beef up a riff that you feel doesn't quite have the power it needs yet, or to make a bass solo more prominent without loosing too much of the bottom end. This effect is also often used to emulate other instruments and sounds, especially when mixed with other effects. With a bit of chorus, mix an octave up with your dry signal to imitate a 12-string guitar. A phaser or flanger on top of your overdriven dry signal with octaves below and above gives you a unique synth-like lead sound. It's definitely worth mentioning that the quality of the generated octaves will definitely have a major impact on the end result.



Tom Morello plays one of his signature whammy-heavy solos in the song "Promenade" by his band Street Sweeper Social Club.

A Whammy pedal gives you the ability to manipulate pitch with an expression pedal. It has become a cornerstone of experimental guitar playing and has helped to define the sounds of bands like Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, and Muse. This pedal offers a wide range of pitch-based effects, including pitch bends, harmonies, drop tuning, divebombing, and even subtle detunings.



Gundy Keller demonstrates the new Boss SY-300, a guitar synthesizer pedal that's used with normal guitar pickups rather than an installable midi pickup.

Monophonic synth pedals like the Pigtronix Mothership are great for enhancing your leads. These pedals typically give you control over over attack, sustain, decay, and release to really allow the pedal to sing exactly the way you want it to. Hooking up an expression pedal to control pitch or filter parameters adds a whole new range of possibilities.

As music technology continues to improve, polyphonic synth effects for guitar are starting to become more common as well. These are either controlled by pitch tracking (like the Boss SY-300) or by iinstalling a midi pickup onto your guitar (such as the Fishman TriplePlay). By converting your guitars output into midi data, an infinite number of sonic possibilities become available at your fingertips.



The Electro-Harmonix KEY9 modifies your actual guitar signal to emulate various electric piano and keyboard sounds.

These pedals are specifically designed to emulate different instruments by doing things like altering attacks and adding filters and modulations. Electro-Harmonix's B9, C9, and KEY9 pedals are a popular example, as they emulate different organ and keyboard sounds quite effectively. Acoustic guitar simulator pedals are also fairly common, and can be fairly useful for when you're trying to play music that features both electric and acoustic guitar highlights.


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As a performing musician, John Tyler Kent has played with a wide variety of artists for all kinds of audiences, from small clubs across the country to international music festivals. In addition to his work as a performer, Tyler has working experience in marketing, production, and composition.

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