Reality check: I’ve had a Dark Fire for close to a year now. Admittedly, the first one was a prototype that wasn’t as refined as the production model, but it had the individual string outputs—one of my favorite Dark Fire features. So you might think that by now I would have pretty much figured things out, but that’s not the case; it seems almost every time I pick up Dark Fire I stumble upon something I hadn’t thought of before. So, this blog entry is going to be about a technique, “hex summing,” which uses the hex outputs to create a better sound from a single guitar amp.
Most of the time, when I use Dark Fire’s hex outputs it’s to create splits or layers, or get sounds I couldn’t get any other way. But, there’s another use for the hex outs, which is to make amp sim programs sound absolutely wonderful: Smooth, creamy, and organic rather than digital and spikey. Here’s how.
THE TONE EFFECT
You’re probably all familiar with what happens when you’re feeding distortion with a guitar and you pull back on the tone control for a bassier sound. Filtering out the highs keeps them from getting distorted, which if unfiltered would generate harsh, ultra-high frequency harmonics. By restricting the sound to the fundamental tone, the harmonics generated by any distortion are sweeter.
The only problem is that a guitar’s tone control is pretty imprecise. It might take too much away from the high strings, or conversely, leave the lower strings too bright. What’s more, the tone control will interact with whatever impedance it’s seeing. As a result, your sound might change depending on whether you’re feeding an amp directly, or going through a chain of effects.
THE TRICK: FILTERING EACH STRING
With Dark Fire, it’s possible to use filters to “tune” each string so they produce only their basic, fundamental frequencies. You can then mix the individual outputs into an amp simulator like Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig, and end up with a sound that’s totally different than feeding a standard guitar output into an amp sim.
This screen shot shows the basic patch used for each string, with Guitar Rig 3 as the processor and Ableton Live 7 Gibson Studio Edition as the host. It’s quite simple: After the input stage, there’s a Noise Reduction module to keep any hiss out of the sound, a Pro Filter lowpass filter to take off the highs, a Compressor to even out the dynamics a bit, and then the output stage. The only real difference among patches for individual strings is in the Pro Filter settings, which range from about 800Hz for the low E to about 2.7kHz for the high E. Tweak the Pro Filter cutoff for the “roundest” sound when you solo each string.
Note that with Ableton Live Lite, you’re limited to six instances of Guitar Rig. As I needed to reserve one instance for the Aux Return, the high E uses Ableton’s EQ Eight plug-in for the filtering, along with the Ableton compressor.
The screen shot shows the EQ and compressor settings. Note that only one filter stage is enabled—a lowpass filter, which approximates the response of the Pro Filter.
After programming each string, you need to sum them together. In this example, I’ve assigned the send of each channel to pre-fader, and sent the sends to Aux Return 1.
Here’s the signal processing chain for Aux Return 1. It goes through an Ableton Compressor to restrict the dynamic range, Guitar Rig for the amp sound, Ableton EQ Eight to “master” the final sound, then dumps the EQ out into the main bus. I could also have mixed each channel into the main bus, but then I’d be stuck with putting Guitar Rig in the main bus, which would have processed any other channels I might want to add (like drums or bass).
Now let’s take a look at the amp sound, as shown in the above screen shot. This splits the guitar signal into two paths; both have a Cat distortion, cabinet/mic combination, and reverb. The main differences between the splits are the two different reverb types, and also, each uses a different cabinet and mic. The two cabinets are spread to right and left in the stereo field. A noise reduction module follows the mixed signal, and finally, there’s a delay line to add a bit of ambience.
If this patch looks interesting, then check out the set off 44 signature hex patches you can download at http://www2.gibson.com/Products/Electric-Guitars/Les-Paul/Gibson-USA/Dark-Fire/Software.aspx (and don’t forget to download the PDF manual, which has important information on how to get the most out of these patches). They illustrate all kinds of ways to generate intriguing, original sounds with Dark Fire.