I am looking to set up a trombone harmonizer to play salsa, but I'm new to both salsa and electronic music. It seems like what I want is unusual and not so simple, but it might be possible to do 85% of it, and I want your advice on what software and hardware I need to assemble.

In salsa, it's typical for trombone sections to alternate between unison/octaves and dense, delicious chords. One nice example is Ruben Blades & Willie Colon's "Ligia Elena"; I especially want to mimic the effect at 3:17 where the trombone section changes suddenly from unison to chords for extra punch. Other examples are this adaptation of "Verde Luz" (see 2:00) and this recording of "Buscando Guayaba" (see 3:32 or 5:30).

This question is not about how to arrange trombone parts for a salsa band, but it's useful to dissect a little bit of what's out there, just to guess how smart my harmonizer rig needs to be. For "Buscando", some absolute hero has published a youtube demo with the trombone section chords written out. At the start, the harmony seems simple enough: it's all white keys except two passing tones, which are raised or lowered a half step from the previous chord in all three trombones, and one can predict the lower parts from just the note in the top part. Soon after, there is a chord labeled Db7#11, which is way outside of the key (C) but could be taken from a canned or live piano given the right technology. There are also chords that follow neither the key nor the piano, such as 0:30 or 3:44, but I don't know if they're typical of salsa or more a feature of this specific group & album. There's also perfectly good salsa with only one trombone, so I don't need to do everything; I think it would be nice just to have options for solo, octave doubling, and triads or 7th chords.

Now, the question: what equipment and software do I get? I'll need to capture the sound, specify a "scheme" with 1-2 pedals (solo, octave, or chords), and for the chords, I need to specify and shift the pitches. To capture the sound, I am thinking of using a Yamaha silent brass mute, and I just need to make sure it's the right kind of signal+plug for whatever's downstream. This video suggested it.

Where I'm really stuck is trying to learn about harmonizers. Do I need a physical device, or just software? How do I narrow it down to a manageable number of options? I saw a fantastic demo of the TC Helicon Harmony G-XT. It seems you can set it to either listen to a guitar, or use a fixed key, and you can switch modes with your toes on the "A/B switch". That is typical according to SE.

(Vocal) Harmonizer Pedals: How do live performers use them?

So do I just get one of those Harmony GX-T's? If I do, would it be compatible with the minijack on the Yamaha pickup mute? Should I hold out for software that might be cheaper or easier or more harmonically flexible than the Harmony GX-T? Thank you!

  • From what little I know - they can be set for a key, and will harmonise within that key - diatonically. Or - they will listen to what chord is being played on guitar, and harmonise appropriately with that chord. Neither would appear to suit exactly what you need - and of course you'd need a mic to feed the machine anyway.
    – Tim
    Jul 26 '20 at 9:20

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