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FX for dulcimer and guitar


digital effects (FX) recommended for mountain dulcimer and acoustic guitar and the phenomenon of synesthesia


 Dan's electro acousitc guitar & FX


abbreviations of some popular effects
AD = analogue delay
CH = chorus
CM = compression
DD = digital delay
FL = flange/flanger
LP = phrase loop/loop station/sampler
LM = limiter
NG = noise gate
OD = overdrive/distortion
PH = phase shift/phaser
RV = reverb/reverberation
SG = slow gear
TR = tremolo/pan
what the individual effects do

envelope-shaping effects
SG – this changes the envelope – specifically the attack of the note such that the sharp leading edge of the string is softened to give more of an organ-like sound – useful on slow melodic parts
CM – compression reduces the dynamic range, increasing the amplitude of quiet signals and reducing loud ones – a compressed signal gives a more balanced level and is useful to precede an overdrive/distortion to ensure a more evenly overdriven sound 


overdrive/distortion effects
OD – the sound is clipped by adding harmonic distortion – a whole range of OD sounds are possible from ‘fuzz’ to a harder, more gritty OD sound     


modulation effects
CH – chorus splits the signal in two, slightly alters the pitch of one signal, then blends the two – the effect is a cool and open sound with a shimmer – useful on chords   
PH – phase shifters work in much the same way as choruses only they put the two blended signals out of phase creating richness and modulation, especially noticeable on lower notes   
FL – is similar to a phaser but the out of phase-ness, varies creating a pronounced rolling effect and a clearer, more open sound – useful on repeated musical patterns  
TR – a tremolo imposes a modulation to the volume of the signal – when in stereo, this pans from left to right 


reverb & delay effects
RV – creates a reverberation, like playing in a room or hall – some reverb is customary to make an anechoic space sound more natural  
DD – digital delays give a precise copy, or several precise copies of the original note, usually decaying in level over time - the effect can make notes seem longer and is useful on melodic parts    
AD – is similar to a digital delay except that the repeat of the note is less clearly defined and so a warm ambient sound is achieved – useful on melody parts  
LP – phrase loops record a piece of music and play it back, allowing you to play a second part over the original, thus dueting with one instrument


corrective effects
LM – a limiter reduces the amplitude of peaks in the music without seeming to compressing the overall sound – this is useful to avoid unwanted distortion in loud passages  
NG – combining lots of effects in complex arrangements, especially if compression is used, can result in a higher noise floor – a NG removes this ambient noise during silent passages


example effects for mountain dulcimer – signal from transducer pickup 
input  => RV => output
input  => AD => output
input  => CH => RV => output
input  => CH => DD => output


example effects for acoustic guitar - signal from transducer pickup 
input => RV => output
input => AD => output
input => CH => RV => output
input => CH => DD => output
input => FL => RV => output
input => FL => DD => output
input => PH => AD => output


using a loop allows two layers of with different effects  …
input => CH => RV => LP
  +                                     v 
input => PH => AD => LP => combined output


in this example chords might be played with the chorus making them sound open and uncongested, whilst a melody line on top with phase and analogue delay will sound rich and warm   


example FX for acoustic guitar – signal from coil pickup 
input => CH => DD => output
input => FL => DD => output
input => TR => DD => output
input => PH => AD => output
input => OD => PH => AD => output
input => CM => OD => PH => AD => output
input => SG => CH => DD => output


combining a transducer and coil pickup gives a rich resonant sound
transducer input => CH => RV => output 1 
            coil input => PH => AD => output 2   


combining a transducer and coil and using a loop on the coil gives three layers with different effects sound  …
transducer input => RV => output 1 
            coil input => CH => RV 
              +                                v 
 coil input => PH => AD => LP => combined outputs 2+3

These are just a few simple examples using only a few popular effects.


sequences of FX
Whilst it good to experiment and push the boundaries, some things work better than others. In general it’s best practice to put overdrives at the start of the FX chain, modulation effects in the middle and delays at the end of the FX chain. 


Dan playing electro-acoustic guitar with FX


playing the effects
For me, using effects is not just about adding a colouration to the sound after having written or arranged the music. The effects become part of the instrument – you actually play the effects. Delays, for example, work well with slides on treble strings, staccato and muted playing - your fingers intuitively change the way the music is played to interact with the effect. I play the piece with the effects from composition/arrangement through to rehearsal for concerts.


recommended brand
Having used effects with acoustic instruments for over 30 years I’ve owned several generations of effects. The market leader Boss, made by Roland, are in my opinion by far the best for pedals and boards. Boss effects are rugged and reliable, easy to use and come in a comprehensive range of single & twin pedals and multi-effects units. Moreover, they sound great. 


synesthesia – they look like they sound
Boss, and other FX manufacturers have chosen the same colours for their effect boxes and it may not be an accident. Chorus pedals are blue, reflecting the coolness of the sound. Likewise, analogue delay pedals are burgundy, reflecting the warmth of this effect and overdrives are yellow or orange, representing the aggressiveness of the sound and so on…


This may be more that helpful intuitiveness on the part of the manufacturer however. Syneshesia is where some people can experience one sense though the organs for a different sense. Evelyn Glennie may be a good example of this phenomenon as she feels the music in her fingers. Some synesthetes experience music as visual information. I don’t think I’m a synesthete, as I don’t perceive music visually. However, somewhere deep in my psyche it makes a deal of sense for a chorus pedal to be blue.

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