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Ed O'Brien frequently plays parts on his guitar that sound like a synth, despite not having a synth in his signal path.

I know that he's used an E-bow in the past and that he uses a sustainer guitar for some of these effects but I've watched videos of him playing with guitars that don't have infinite sustain features, so a substantial part of his sound must be coming from his pedal board. However, outside of a Digitech Whammy Pedal, there are no obvious synth imitators except for having multiple delay pedals.

When Ed plays live, he doesn't have the benefit of post-production but live he does stack his delays. I'm interested in the specifics of that.

How does Ed use multiple delay/looper pedals to get synth pads?

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  • Not an answer, but I use a Boss SY-1 which acts like a synth, producing many synth and other sounds. Started with SY-5, but the response time was way too slow.
    – Tim
    Feb 15, 2023 at 9:23
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    Not a guitarist, but as someone watching friends try to sound like The Edge, I feel like enough delay eventually does the trick. Especially tape delay. I had a friend who added the Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive to that chain (probably with the treble turned up?) and the result was magical. Feb 15, 2023 at 13:39

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Looks like it’s not only pedals but also production techniques. About his solo album he said:

Every part that sounds like a synth is multi-tracked sustainer guitars, like the string-section of an orchestra. Even the deeper bass notes, is a Spanish guitar played in a way that sounds more like a sequencer.

That means part of the sound quality he gets comes from recording layers of single note parts that each sounds a bit like a mono synth and having them stack up to an “orchestra” type of sound.

There are two main components at work for his raw guitar tone: the sustainer system and the pedals. Using an ebow or sustainer does a lot to change the timbre of the guitar because it allows the guitarist to change the transients and envelope of the sound. It can be very hard to recognize a sound as a guitar when the initial picking noise transients and the normal attack/decay of the sound is removed. On top of that, a whammy pedal messes with the raw tone a bit, especially when the pitches are shifted by larger intervals. At in the memory man that he says he has on almost all the time, and the chorus and delay effects complete the change from clearly a guitar sound to what seems like a synth.

If you just have distortion, delay, and reverb on a guitar and simply roll off the volume, pluck a note, and roll the volume back up, you get a sound that might still be clearly a guitar but also could be something else. The sustainer and effects just enhance that to a great degree.

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  • When you say 'whammy pedal', do you mean wah pedal?
    – Tim
    Feb 15, 2023 at 16:09
  • When Ed plays live, he doesn't have the benefit of post-production but live he does stack his delays. I'm interested in the specifics of that.
    – empty
    Feb 15, 2023 at 16:54
  • @Tim No, I mean Whammy pedal. Feb 15, 2023 at 18:32
  • @empty Do you know how looping works? Combined with near-infinite delay and a standard delay and a sustainer circuit you can do almost anything. Feb 15, 2023 at 18:54
  • @ToddWilcox - ah, well, something else to spend my ill-gotten funds on...
    – Tim
    Feb 15, 2023 at 19:21

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