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How do you design a preset from scratch?

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I thought various people might describe their method for designing a preset from scratch. This is, at its most basic, the way I am currently doing it for general use presets. These are the kind of presets that you might be able to play 80% of your set with depending on what kind of music you play. You will have a different method for a preset designed for a specific song. I will probably end up forgetting some details. I am hoping that other people will add their own methods which I can learn from. There are lots of permutations on routing, and finer points to the process but they would cause this to be a Herman Melville length document. So here goes...

  • I have a preset that I use as a jumping off point for my 'general purpose' presets that has the routing and most of the effects and EQ blocks I use already set up. I generally set up four snapshots for general use (Clean, Crunch, Lead, and Mega(Super Lead)
  • I use the looper to design my presets. I have different guitar parts I play that are best suited to designing a Clean, Crunch, Lead, or Mega snapshot. This is a lot easier than trying to play while you are tweaking a snapshot.
  • I change/select my amp(s) and cab(s) and start by designing the 'Clean' snapshot
  • I turn off all blocks in the preset other than the amp and cab.
  • First I get my amp settings in the ballpark of a decent clean sound. If I will be using that amp for other snapshots as well I will assign most of the settings to snapshots by using the Alt-Click method in the Editor, nice and fast.
  • Once I have the amp sem-dialed in I go to the cab and adjust the mic type, and distance, I may or may not assign a low/high cut at this point. Picking the right mic model is definitely one of the most important parts of the process as it has a profound influence on the EQ curve. I usually assign all the cab parameters to snapshots as well so they can be altered across snapshots.
  • Once I have the cab dialed in I go back and fine tune the amp settings.
  • I generally have at least two EQ blocks set up in a preset. Often a 10 band or Cali (Mesa EQ) before the amp/cab and a parametric after. I assign my EQ parameters to snapshots so I can change them for each snapshot without impacting the other snapshots. I go through now and fine tune my EQ settings on the 10 band before the amp/cab. Afterwards I use the sweep method on the parametric after the amp/cab to dial out or in any frequencies I find that require adjustment. Usually I dial out frequencies.
  • I now turn on and adjust the Delay settings. Usually I assign at least the mix and the time to snapshots. If the time is assigned to the tap tempo button I don't assign this to a snapshot.
  • I then turn on and adjust my Reverb settings with the mix assigned to snapshots so I can alter it across snapshots.
  • I make sure the Tails are set to on in the delay and reverb blocks as I will be switching snapshots within this 'general purpose' type of preset and want the tails to function between snapshots.
  • I turn on my Compression block and adjust its settings.
  • Now I move on to my effects one by one adjusting their parameters to taste. I generally have at least a chorus available for clean sounds although I don't use it very often, and an overdrive/distortion block of some kind . I have various other effects set up depending on the preset. I almost always have a wah and I always have a volume pedal block set up as I frequently use it to adjust my volume on the fly during a performance depending on how loud the rest of the band is.
  • I assign a 3db boost to a pedal on the output block for a clean boost that does not alter my tone.
  • I go back and fine tune everything with all the assorted blocks activated that will make up my core tone for that snapshot.
  • I repeat this entire process for each snapshot (Clean, Crunch, Lead, Mega (Super Lead). I usually just copy the 'Lead' snapshot to the 'Mega' snapshot and tweak it to be hotter than the 'Lead' snapshot.

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My approach is similar to yours and probably best described in this blog post: 

Creating a Helix Electric Guitar Patch (updated)

This posting was pre-snapshots, and I use the Teemah! more often now, maybe plate reverb instead of spring. The biggest difference is that I tend to treat my Clean, Drive, Overdrive, Distortion tones using gain staging in the same snapshot. That way I can combine them. Drive adds a studio pre in front of the amp to lower the bass into distortion, and changes the amp drive. Overdrive is Teemah! Distortion is Compulsive Drive. These are set so that I can use different combinations for different volume and distortion levels throughout the song. I prefer this over snapshots as it keeps all the other footswitches directly available for adding/removing effects. So I guess I treat Helix like a traditional pedal board and amp, and tend to use the same patch all night. 

 

I do use snapshots for open tunings and switching guitar models with my Variax.

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I don't really have any sort of strict outlined procedure I use to build presets. The process is somewhat dynamic and unknown to me because whatever a preset ends up as is dependent on whatever it is I happen to be writing musically. Makes things fun and adds a persistent sense of discovery.

 

I assume one preset for each track of a song. The presets usually start out as something like an amp, cab(s) or IR(s), delay, and reverb. Simple. Often they stay simple, especially for bass. Sometimes not.

 

I don't mess around very much at all with the different amps. I have a favorite for a given category of tone and just stick with it.

 

During the writing of a song, I find the right IR or cab so that the tone clicks in place with the song. Sometimes that doesn't happen until I'm halfway done with a song.

 

Then I'll agonize over what delay I'll use and how, such as the time, feedback, spread, scale, modulation, etc. This also has to click in place with the song, and sometimes change within the song. Same for the reverb, only this is easier because of less parameters and variations.

 

Sometimes I'll just start messing with different effects to see if I can find anything interesting and useful for the song I'm working on. A lot of times I just stupidly stumble on interesting things and go with it.

 

Once I think I'm satisfied with everything tone-wise, I'll configure the switches and snapshots, if needed.

 

Everything I do is for original music. If I was building presets for existing music, I'm sure I would do it much differently.

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I think I start out with a general idea in my mind of what type of tone I'm looking for which will determine which guitar I'll be using (Les Paul, Strat, or Gretsch hollowbody).

 

From there I have a rough idea of how the preset should sound in my head.  Typically this will relate to a tone I've heard on some recording I've heard from some artist or song that I has a sound I want to emulate for this preset.  That will then lead me to one of a few different candidate amps I think might be good at achieving it.

 

I then start with a blank preset and add a volume pedal block and then create a serial path from A to B to have ample space and DSP for what I might end up using.  I then start with an amp block and IR block switching through the few variations I have in mind before settling on the one closest to what I've been thinking of.  Add in any EQ adjustments needed.  The eventual goal is to get the basic sound of the amp where I want it before I start making decisions about other effect elements.

 

The next area I'll address will be the lead tone for the preset if necessary using an appropriate distortion or gain block and harmony effect.  Finally I'll start looking at things like delay, reverb, chorus, etc. if the preset needs such things (some don't).  The very last step will be compressor if I feel it's necessary.

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Thanks for the responses. It is really interesting seeing how different people go about this process. I don't always do it the same way although the method I listed above seems to be the prevailing one for me right now when I am not designing a preset that is intended for only one cover song or original. When I am going for a preset to cover a specific tune I think my method is somewhat similar to the one DunedinDragon describes although I almost always include a compressor. Hmm.. going to have to examine that practice a bit. I do turn the compressor off sometimes for high gain tones that may not require it due to the level of gain on the amp and perhaps a distortion block. I have experimented a bit with using the Tube Pre before and after the amp/cab blocks but I don't use it consistently. I also did not mention IRs in my method which I have been using more frequently of late. With IRs I assign the IR number to a snapshot or a pedal so that I can switch IRs between snapshots or even within a snapshot. This is similar to assigning the mic type (and other parameters) to a snapshot using the Line6 built in cabs in that it can profoundly change the whole sound of the preset.

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 The eventual goal is to get the basic sound of the amp where I want it before I start making decisions about other effect elements.

 

 

Pretty much this - I'm old school, I select the amp (or experiment with amp/cab combinations) to get the core tone I'm looking for.  Hopefully I can achieve that with just amp/cab eq's, but that would be the next addition if needed.  Only then do I start placing fx, engaging/bypassing as I go to keep tone/level consistent.  Last is controller assignments, I'm not a snapshots guy yet so it's pretty much on/off switching with perhaps some parameter changes stacked on a switch. The new auto-engage is gonna get some love pretty soon, tho - I've had both external expressions hooked up from day one, to date never really used #3.  That's about to change...

 

Said it before, say it again - Helix is literally what I've been waiting for in my adult playing years.  (Arrived a bit late for the rock-star thing, but watchagonnado?).  And not just sound/feel/touch - the interface is so brilliant and easy to suss out that "patch from scratch" is not only simple. but fun...

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Thanks for the responses. It is really interesting seeing how different people go about this process. I don't always do it the same way although the method I listed above seems to be the prevailing one for me right now when I am not designing a preset that is intended for only one cover song or original. When I am going for a preset to cover a specific tune I think my method is somewhat similar to the one DunedinDragon describes although I almost always include a compressor. Hmm.. going to have to examine that practice a bit. I do turn the compressor off sometimes for high gain tones that may not require it due to the level of gain on the amp and perhaps a distortion block. I have experimented a bit with using the Tube Pre before and after the amp/cab blocks but I don't use it consistently. I also did not mention IRs in my method which I have been using more frequently of late. With IRs I assign the IR number to a snapshot or a pedal so that I can switch IRs between snapshots or even within a snapshot. This is similar to assigning the mic type (and other parameters) to a snapshot using the Line6 built in cabs in that it can profoundly change the whole sound of the preset.

 

I think one of the things that tends to differentiate my process a bit really has to do with deciding which guitar to start with.  That pretty much determines a LOT about the sound I'm going for.  I suspect my process would change a bit if we weren't playing such a divergent set of musical styles in the different songs and I was using mainly one guitar all the time.

 

As far as compression, I tend to use that mostly on very clean presets and all the time on finger picked songs to even out the sound.  Like you, if the dynamics change to a more gain driven sound I set up my footswitch that introduces the gain to turn off the compressor, and vice versa when I go back to the more clean sound.  I'm not really looking for gain out of the compressor as much as I am an even tone and volume across the strings, or occasionally to introduce some "pluckiness" for a more country twang sound.

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I don't really have any sort of strict outlined procedure I use to build presets. The process is somewhat dynamic and unknown to me because whatever a preset ends up as is dependent on whatever it is I happen to be writing musically. Makes things fun and adds a persistent sense of discovery.

 

I assume one preset for each track of a song.

 

Everything I do is for original music. If I was building presets for existing music, I'm sure I would do it much differently.

Same here. I also use the same process in my DAW when I am mixing, and even composing if I feel its core to the tone.

 

I start with amp and cabs first. Get that about how I like. I typically dial in fx after that.

 

I create a usable quick tone that works ok enough for the song... For the Name of guitar, as I create patches for specific guitars. For instance I create a semi high gain lead patch. It says Cyan - lead. I record dry, and ReAmp. With the song playing and the dry guitar already recorded. I send the guitar out to the helix patch I have setup. I then dial in the tone further while doing this in the context of the song I am working on. It allows me to dial in my patch faster, and is far nore flexible for the mix of the song. Then I save that patch as a new patch. It becomes a song patch Cyan- lead "song name or abbreviations."

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Well I'm a newbie, 3 wks in...old school for sure, I like consistency, so I tried the global eq approach, tried getting the signal hot approach also, down loaded the relevant 4/5 star custom tones for my tastes, levelled all of them to a consistent hot'sh reasonable level via master output, thinking signal is everything.., 3 worked out of 70 thorough a PA set up..I did have luck my 1st time w/ a PA with a 2204 preset keeping the levels matched to the by passed signal when I was auditioning & considering the Helix, and it convinced me it had the goods, along with the major studying of the Helix via all the forums.... ..so I'm now trying to find a method for finding a solid core tone, and find a way out of this rabbit hole, I've started a project of a preset for every amp (49)..I have them all set with no global eq, all have stock mic at 4", Low cut 50-80hz-Hi Cut 4-9hz, I'm starting now to tweak the gain stages and eq's...keeping the channel vol at least to 5, dropping the presence down to almost nil and keeping the levels as close to bypass as I can with no adjustment on the output stage, I realize this is probably backwards all these amps are different and will react and benefit from differing approaches ...I mean when I went through those 70 fairly rockin presets, I figured one of the Marshall amps would pop out as solid, they sounded great tweaked through my Roland CM-30, but it was a Matchless that kicked butt and was solid, I'm hoping there's a rational reason why and I'm hoping it's not a different reason for every amp other then eq or gain staging, the previewing of the options and cycling through is daunting, I'm gonna have to try the looper trick..thanks ...still I really dig what Line 6 has done here with Helix, so I'm in even if it never hits a stage, anyway just hoping to achieve a knowledge base, I guess I'm a little new to be in this thread, I have to say this thread has been enlightening thanks to the OP...

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Well I'm a newbie, 3 wks in...old school for sure, I like consistency, so I tried the global eq approach, tried getting the signal hot approach also, down loaded the relevant 4/5 star custom tones for my tastes, levelled all of them to a consistent hot'sh reasonable level via master output, thinking signal is everything.., 3 worked out of 70 thorough a PA set up..I did have luck my 1st time w/ a PA with a 2204 preset keeping the levels matched to the by passed signal when I was auditioning & considering the Helix, and it convinced me it had the goods, along with the major studying of the Helix via all the forums.... ..so I'm now trying to find a method for finding a solid core tone, and find a way out of this rabbit hole, I've started a project of a preset for every amp (49)..I have them all set with no global eq, all have stock mic at 4", Low cut 50-80hz-Hi Cut 4-9hz, I'm starting now to tweak the gain stages and eq's...keeping the channel vol at least to 5, dropping the presence down to almost nil and keeping the levels as close to bypass as I can with no adjustment on the output stage, I realize this is probably backwards all these amps are different and will react and benefit from differing approaches ...I mean when I went through those 70 fairly rockin presets, I figured one of the Marshall amps would pop out as solid, they sounded great tweaked through my Roland CM-30, but it was a Matchless that kicked butt and was solid, I'm hoping there's a rational reason why and I'm hoping it's not a different reason for every amp other then eq or gain staging, the previewing of the options and cycling through is daunting, I'm gonna have to try the looper trick..thanks ...still I really dig what Line 6 has done here with Helix, so I'm in even if it never hits a stage, anyway just hoping to achieve a knowledge base, I guess I'm a little new to be in this thread, I have to say this thread has been enlightening thanks to the OP...

 

Thanks and I would keep working on tweaking the Marshall models including/especially the 'Line6 2204 Mod' and the 'Brit 2204'. They are actually some of my favorite go-to amps on the Helix. I'm also getting great sounds out of the new PRS Archon model. 

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brilliant guys. i really need to learn how to make my own. i just use fremen's patches i suck at making my own so this is an important thread for me.

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Pretty much this - I'm old school, I select the amp (or experiment with amp/cab combinations) to get the core tone I'm looking for.  Hopefully I can achieve that with just amp/cab eq's, but that would be the next addition if needed.  Only then do I start placing fx, engaging/bypassing as I go to keep tone/level consistent.  Last is controller assignments, I'm not a snapshots guy yet so it's pretty much on/off switching with perhaps some parameter changes stacked on a switch. 

 

I'm old school too and that's pretty much how I do it. I explained online to some guy who was on the fence about Helix that it can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. Me; I keep it simple. I start with just amp and cab blocks (is there any other way?). I'll usually put a wah first in line unless it's a patch I'll never use it for (and I only use a wah if I have to). Next, a compressor, and I don't use them for clean rhythm playing very often; mostly for clean leads. I'll use subtle compression and generally it's more for a boost. Then a distortion pedal; sometimes it's set to "on" if it's a crucial part of a lead patch, but usually it's laying in waiting on some type of rhythm patch and used to get a lead of a different flavor than my high gain lead patch. After the amp and cab (what would be the effects loop in the tube/analog world), volume pedal goes first, then some sort of modulation (a chorus more often than not), then reverb, then delay. No delays on rhythm patches unless I have that distortion pedal in waiting. They're not all set up like that, but most of them are. And when I say "all," I mean 8 patches; that's all I need. Clean rhythm, semi-dirty rhythm, power chord/riff rhythm, high gain lead, faux jazz patch (not easy to get a Strat to sound like a big box archtop, but I try... and that one has an EQ block for obvious reasons), ambient (lot of compression, chorus, delay and reverb, mostly for volume pedal swells ala Holdsworth or Frisell), clean rhythm with all different effects than the other clean rhythm patch (I suppose I should use a snapshot for the regular clean rhythm patch, but I don't, at least not yet) and a wild card high gain lead with pitch harmonizers, one set to a diminished scale!

 

I can certainly understand using several guitars, but I just use one; a Suhr Strat with a humbucker in the bridge. It covers everything I need to do, though a 'bucker in a Strat will never be a 'bucker in a Les Paul; oh well! I do use an Epiphone Sheraton with heavy gauge flatwounds for jazz gigs; I have one patch for it.

 

That's it; bonehead simple, but it works for me. BTW, I LOVE my Helix!

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