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Sound FX by Andy Paredes

Have you ever heard a guitarist make a crazy sound and wonder “How’d they do that?”  Check out this lesson to learn some of the most common guitar sound effects used in modern guitar performance!

Many guitarists will use “unorthodox techniques” to create unique sounds, either to accent a part or just to “sound cool”.  Check out the following examples for some of the most common sound effects employed in modern electric guitar performance. 

Example 1: The Pick Scrape

The pick scrape has been used in thousands of songs, often as a crescendo or to separate parts.  This example uses an open E5 chord, and is performed by turning the pick sideways (so the side of the pick is perpendicular to the lowest three strings) and scraping the pick across the strings from the bridge to the edge of the fretboard.  Distortion, reverb, and/or delay can make this effect sound larger.

Example 1

Example 2: Bending Strings Behind the Nut

This is a trick that many guitarists will use to raise the pitch of a note (especially open strings) when using a guitar without a vibrato bar.  This effect raises the pitch of the string by applying pressure (with either the picking or fretting hand) on the string behind the nut.  Be aware that this effect will not work on a guitar that has a locking nut that is tightened down.  You can hear Tony Iommi bending behind the nut at the beginning of “Iron Man”. 

Example 2

Example 3: Picking the string behind the nut

This sound effect is subtle (but useful) when there is a lot of space in the song.  Dampen the strings on the fretboard with the fretting hand, then use the picking hand to perform an arpeggiando on the strings behind the nut.  This effect can also be used by picking the notes behind the bridge on guitars with a tunamatic (Gibson) style bridge.  Check out the intro of Van Halen’s “Running With the Devil” to hear this effect in action.

Example 3

Example 4: Staccato Volume Effects

This effect has been used by many guitarists to create a staccato effect.  This effect is often performed on a “Gibson style” selector switch (with separate volume controls for two pickups), but some guitarists (i.e. Tom Morello) have their guitar modified with an “off” switch to achieve this effect.  Set the bridge pickup volume to 100% output and the neck position “off”, then switch between the bridge position (sound on) to the middle position (sound off) to perform this sound effect.

Example 4

Example 5: Volume Swells

Alex Lifeson, The Edge, and Adrian Belew have all used volume swells in their material for different effects. Volume swells are created by performing a note or chord with the volume off, then using a volume control (either the volume knob on the guitar or a volume pedal controlled by a foot pedal) to increase the volume.  Practice the following example by striking the string with the volume knob turned off, then turning the volume knob up slightly using the side of the fourth finger of your picking hand (allowing your pick to stay “in position”).  It will take a little time to become proficient with volume swells, so be patient.  You can use gain or compression to make this effect more obvious, and reverb or delay can enhance the swell effect as well.

Example 5a

Here is an Alex Lifeson-style example of volume swells.  See the following scale diagram for the notes used in the example:

Example 5b

Now that you have mastered swells on single strings, we can tackle this Edge-style double stop melody.  This volume swell is enhanced by the use of a compressor, delay, and a lot of reverb.

Example 5c

Adding delay to volume swells creates an even larger effect.  Edward Van Halen and Andy Laroque (King Diamond) have used volume swells with delay to create interesting sounds, often imitating the sound of a string instrument such as a cello.  This four-measure pattern is based around an Eb G B G ascending/descending arpeggio pattern, and uses a volume swell on each note.  Use a moveable “A major” barre chord position for each chord, noticing that the root note of each chord is two steps (4 frets) apart.  Practice this pattern slowly to ensure that each note is completely silent prior to the swell to achieve the correct effect, and see the following chord diagrams for the notes used in the example.

Example 5d

Now play this same pattern using a dotted eighth delay to fill the “open” spaces.  Setting the delay mix to the same volume as the guitar creates the illusion that there are more notes being performed than what is really happening. Check out the following audio example to hear the same melody with a dotted eighth note delay.

Example 5e

Example 6: G-Master Scratchin’

The sound of scratching records (used in Rap and Hip-Hop style music) can be emulated on guitar sounding by rubbing the fingers or palm of the picking hand on the strings. Tom Morello and Edward Van Halen have both used this effect on various recordings.     Distortion, reverb and/or delay, and a modulation effect (i.e flanger or phaser) can add to the effect.

Example 6


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