Tech Tip:How Can I Get Unusual Sounds From My Guitar Without Using A Guitar Synth?

Exploring your guitar effects is a good place to start when you want to add some new sounds to your act. Experiment by using processors in non-standard ways. Forget how they're "supposed" to be used. Turn knobs and try out all kinds of settings. Connect them in a different order. In time, you'll find some sounds you'll want to use.

Delays can be used to add complex rhythms. Daisy-chain flangers and phasers set at different speeds for sounds-in-motion. Pitch shifters can be combined with delay and reverb for some ambient shimmers. Delays set from 2 seconds to 10 seconds (or longer) with lots of regeneration can set up loops you can play over. A phrase sampler or echo unit is ideal for this.


If your processor has a built-in arpeggiator, add them to loops, combined with echoes, delays, and pitch shift. Place a volume pedal before the effects. As delays and echo regenerate, the pedal can add swells without cutting out the volume of the affected signal.


If you have a multi-effects processor with an expression pedal, assign the pedal to an effect parameter instead of volume. Then you can change the effect in real time, as you play.


A wah pedal can add some filtering effects. It can make some unconventional sounds when it's used in a chain with other effects. Place it after a volume pedal, before other effects.


Fuzz boxes can alter guitar tones a lot. For a horn-like sound, turn up the volume, set the treble to zero, then add chorus and echo.


The Boss SYB-5 Bass Synthesizer is a stomp box particularly useful for non-traditional sounds. It doesn't require a synth pickup--you can plug your guitar into it like any other stomp box. It has 2 outputs, one for clean, the other for the electronic sounds. Combined with processing, it can lead you to new and exciting sonic adventures.


Another unorthodox effect is obtained by using a mini-amp. Plug your guitar into the mini-amp, and connect from its headphone jack (with the plug halfway out) into your guitar amp. As you play, hold the mini-amp up to the guitar for feedback and sustain. Place effects between the guitar and the mini-amp, or between the mini-amp and the guitar amp.


Activating the guitar string by means other than picking can also lead to some fresh new sounds. An EBow is a great way to get infinite sustain. Use it in combination with delay and lots of processing. You may also want to try violin bows, metallic combs, metal rods, and vibrators. You can produce some bizarre results by tapping on the high E string and pushing it off the fretboard to the side of the neck.


These techniques are only a start. There are universes of fantastic sounds awaiting your discovery.

Many thanks to Bill Newman, our friend and a gifted guitarist, for most of the techniques described in this week's Music123 Helpful Tip. Bill has produced a CD on which you can hear him using many of these techniques.

Music123 carries almost all of the items mentioned above, including a huge variety of effects processors, from stomp boxes to elaborate multi-effect rackmounts. We also have some phrase samplers (such as the Boomerang), mini-amps, volume and wah pedals, and EBows. Check out for more details.