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How can I make a sound like a snare drum hit using my electric guitar and multi-fx pedal? I imagine it's possible to get a more "authentic-sounding" snare hit than just strumming muted strings without any effects, but I haven't managed through my own experimentation.

  • I'm also trying to make hi-hat sounds and haven't managed at all, but I guess that's another question – Anna Mar 10 at 21:46
  • Connect a drum module via MIDI. Every drum sound available is there. – Tim Mar 10 at 21:49
  • Thank you @Tim I didn't think of that option at all! Getting one of those would solve many of my challenges – Anna Mar 10 at 21:50
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    Are you talking about making isolated sounds, or do you want to have a snare-like sound while you're also playing other things, the way acoustic players might tap their guitar for percussion sounds? – Your Uncle Bob Mar 10 at 23:41
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    @YourUncleBob Isolated, should have mentioned that. I'm using a looper pedal to first lay a bass line, then the snare hits, etc. – Anna Mar 11 at 0:49
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The first thing I would do is put lots of nonlinear distortion on the signal, to squelch the actual guitar-string character. With sufficient distortion, any sound like muted-string-strum will become more or less a white noise burst, which is also the most important component of the sound of both a snare and hi-hats.

Unfortunately, almost all guitar distortion effects work by the principle of clipping, i.e. they boost the signal beyond what the circuit can actually handle, so that the peaks are truncated. The transient edges of this truncation are what causes the bright fuzz sensation, but as a side effect, the signal is strongly compressed because the small-level is boosted while the louder notes are simply reduced to a square wave. That compression is normally desirable for guitar, but if you want percussion it works against you. There is also a completely different kind of distortion which instead clips the low-level signal to zero. The recent Gamechanger Plasma Pedal is based completely on this. Software-based distortion such as iZotope Trash can also do it easily.

After such a distortion, the signal will sound very percussive and noisy, but it won't have the spectral character of the perc instrument you actually want. There's a nifty way to get that though: convolution between white noise and a given sound sample will give you the spectral details of that sample its ring-out sound, while retaining all the dynamic response of the noise “trigger” signal. Convolution is nowadays a standard part of every amp simulation. It is usually used to simulate the speaker cabinet and room reverb, but you can also load any other sound into it, such as an actual snare drum sample. In fact, iZotope Trash used to come with a snare “cabinet” sim, which does just that. Most amp sims until recently didn't allow loading custom impulse response files, but I think the newer ones like Bias FX do. In a DAW, you can also use a convolution reverb plugin, which does exactly the same.

The result of all this will sound neither like a snare nor like a guitar, but it will be usable in broadly the same musical way.


Related: I imitated an acoustic drumset using only a simple Monotron synth and the convolution technique, i.e. basically guitar effects, when I made this – ahem... very mature video ages ago:

I also made another video then explaining the setup used:

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