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Trying to figure out the effects chain to reproduce, as closely as possible, for a solo guitar piece (from a song).

  • How do people go about it, if there is science or structured approach behind it ? Put another way - can this be learnt ?
  • Or, is it only something that few gifted people would be able to do, completely by ear ?

Here is the piece of solo, I am interested in knowing the effects chain for ? I won't mind being handed the fish, while also learning how to catch it.

Kindly note that the intent is to reproduce the effects chain in a particular multi-effects pedal (fairly entry level but I've seem some good guitarists do absolute magic with it), by configuring the patch for it.

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Much depends upon the amount of effects that's being put through the signal chain, and you also have to count that most of guitar tracks have many layered tracks, often with slightly different effects or EQ to get a better final mix. You can, however, train your ears to identify a good part of those layers, such as the drive that's being used, delays, phasers, choruses or tremolos. The trick to faithfully reproduce some specific sound is to build it "from the ground up": start with your clean, flat guitar sound and add one effect at a time, experimenting different settings with each one until you reach the desired aspect for your sound

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It sounds like maybe 3 effects: reverb (ever-present), gain/light distortion (again, pretty much always, but you will never guess the exact make/brand of pedal). There is also what sounds like an auto-wah or doppler effect (a leslie aka "rotary speaker" simulator): at the very end of that clip, you can hear a very distinct wah-type effect that is extremely regular in timing. It could be a phaser with very limited resonance.

You can guess a lot, but the honest truth is: if you want to know about a specific musician, google it: "jimi hendrix guitar rig pedal board." Most band appreciation pages have photos and break downs of pedals used during certain time periods and for more modern bands, you will even find photos of their amp settings someone took at a show.

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Getting a sound you hear on a record is actually a bit more involved than simply a question of effects chain and can be something of a black art.

From a brief listen to the audio example you've included I would guess that it might be reproduced with little more than a guitar, an amp and standard processing in the mix (compression, EQ, reverb); possibly with an OD pedal driving the amp. The potential simplicity of the setup belies the nuance involved.

Let's start with the guitar. Certain guitars have certain sonic characteristics, stemming from construction, pickup types, wood etc. If you are using the same genral type of guitar (Fender-type v. Gibson-type, for example) this may not be a problem (the difference between the actual instrument used and the one you are using being in the range of "close enough"), but you may be hard-pressed to mimic the sound of a Stratocaster on a Les Paul or vice versa.

Like guitars, amplifiers too have their specific sonic characters and huge amounts of code have been written to emulate this in digital form. Results vary from "nowhere close", through "sorta-kinda", to "pretty good, actually". It is typically easier to approach the sound of an amp you don't have (provided it is a popular and commonly simulated model) than a guitar you don't have.

Even if we can establish what gear was actually used, we must still contend with the variables, which are legion. They will range from the settings on the amp and the guitar, the mic used (and its position), the space where the sound was recorded, the mix and master processing and - most importantly - the original guitarist's playing technique.

To quote Eddie Van Halen:

Once when Van Halen was on tour, we were opening for Ted Nugent and he was standing there watching me play, wondering how I did it. The next day at the soundcheck when I wasn't there, he asked our roadie if he could plug into my stuff. Of course, it still sounded like Ted.

-Guitar Player, February 1986, as reprinted in Rock Guitar (ISBN: 0-88188-908-3)

You could concievably replicate the entire setup, settings and all (which might be harder than it looks, as even the people involved may have no idea what they were) and still find you are unable to duplicate the tone because of nuances in the orginal player's technique that you are unable to copy.

Conversely, the original player may be able to get a broadly similar tone using very different gear choices, simply because that kind of tone is "what sounds right" to their ears.

Ultimately, most of us settle for getting as close to the original as we can and use whatever sounds right.

So, how do we go about learning to copy another guitarist's tone?

First of all, we need to learn to spot the most commonly used tones. This means, amongst other things, learning to spot the difference between single-coil (Fender-type) and humbucker (Gibson-type) equipped guitars, identifying the most commonly used effects (wah, chorus, flanger, delay), possibly getting an idea of the commonly-used amplifier sounds (for example, Marshalls tend to have a pronounced mid-range, while the Mesa Dual Rectifier gravitates towards a "scooped" sound). Similarly, we need to have a general idea of the settings and techniques used - this can be learned through experimentation, or demonstration (perhaps by a teacher, or through watching "rig rundown" videos).

Armed with a general knowledge of how various types of sound are produced, we can listen for tell-tale signs of gear choices and settings in whatever it is we are trying to reproduce. We start by looking at the coarse-grained picture: is the sound clean or distorted (if so, how much)? Are there any identifiable special effects (wah, chorus, delay etc.) in evidence? Do the pickups sound like humbuckers or single-coils? Which pickup (or combination of pickups) does the guitarist seem to be using? (The posted example sounds like a neck pickup to me.) What EQ characteristics does the tone have (trebly, mid-rangey, bassy, "scooped")? Are there any specific techniques being employed that we can identify (such as the whammy-bar work in the example)?

Once we have a general idea of where we're going, we look to our gear and consider our options. If the target tone uses single-coil pickups, but we only have a humbucker-equipped guitar, we're out of luck, but we can at least try to get the pickup choice and volume/tone settings as close as we can. For amplification and effects, we will generally look for a choice that seems close and then try to tweak the sound: we might add extra overdrive with a pedal - if the amp choice doesn't seem to be distorting "right" - or we might slap a graphic or parametric EQ on the end, to shape the entire sound.

While we're doing this, we should be comparing the tone we have to the tone we're trying to get. Ideally, we should be playing the same thing as the target recording. Ideally, we'd want to record our performance so we can A/B the two and concentrate on differences in the tone, without worrying about getting the notes right.

It is important to understand that the setup we will have at the end will probably not be anything like the setup that was actually used (for reasons given above). We should also be aware that even if we know exactly what gear was used (by looking it up in the GuitarGeek Rig database, for example) and are able to replicate it (perhaps, by using simulations of the gear), we might find that we do not sound like what we're hearing at all - again, for reasons explained previously.

The questions to keep asking, whilst you are engaged in this process is "What am I trying to achieve?" and "How good is good enough?"

The answers aren't necessarily obvious. If you are doing this as part of a tribute act that tries to look and sound exactly like the real thing, your concern will be to duplicate the specific sound of specific musical pieces as closely as is humanly possible (and are much more likely to invest in specific gear for this purpose).

If, on the other hand, you are trying to get a similar tone for the purposes of playing your own music - you may find that complete accuracy may not necessarily be desirable. At the end of the day, you want a tone that will be just right for you. The sound of guitarist you love may be a better starting point than a destination.

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