By Craig Anderton
I’ve been playing guitar with DJs and electronics-oriented groups for 15 years, and it has always been a great musical experience: DJs have someone with whom they can interact, and I get to play with a cool “rhythm section.” With bands, the guitar’s organic quality complements the perfection of the electronics. For me, the question isn’t “real instruments” vs. “laptops and electronics,” the question is how best to integrate the two—if for no other reason than because it’s fun (which is my favorite reason to do anything).
People ask me whether an “EDM guitar” needs MIDI, onboard electronics, fancy knobs, built-in touch pads, or other technological marvels. My answer is that an “EDM guitar” needs to do only three things:
So it’s probably not a surprise that the Branden Small Snow Falcon, shown in the picture below, is my current favorite nominee for an “EDM guitar.” But really, what makes an “EDM guitar” doesn’t have much to do with the guitar itself—it’s about how you play it, and how you process it.
SYNC YOUR SOUND TO THE BEAT
Having the guitar’s audio influenced by the music really integrates the guitar into the overall sound; here are some examples of how to do this.
Compressor: Both hardware and software compressors can have a sidechain input. This input controls the compression from external audio, like drums or percussion. For example, having extreme compression happen whenever there’s a snare hit causes the guitar to “pump” or “splash.”
Noise gate: A noise gate lets the input pass to the output if the sidechain signal is above a settable threshold. A common application is feeding kick and snare into this input to “gate” the guitar sound in time with the drums.
Vocoder: No law says you have use a microphone as a vocoder’s modulation input, and a synthesizer as the carrier input. Try distorted guitar power chords as the carrier, then modulate that with the drum track. This makes the guitar sound like percussive, tuned drums.
MIDI clock control: MPC beat boxes, sequencers (like Ableton Live, Cakewalk SONAR, Apple Logic, etc.), and “workstation” keyboards typically produce clock signals that correspond to tempo. Processors like Roger Linn’s AdrenaLinn (a great processor for EDM) can synch to the master clock via their MIDI inputs. Many computer plug-ins also respond to the host tempo, and can do all kinds of spectacular beat-synched effects.
Footpedals: It’s old school, but you can move wah and volume pedals rhythmically.
Also note some guitars, like Gibson’s FBX, have hex outputs (i.e., an individual output for each string). This lets you apply different rhythmic plug-ins to different strings, which can produce sounds that are amazingly synthetic but also very “real.”
ADAPT YOUR PLAYING STYLE TO THE BEAT
Highly rhythmic guitar playing often fits in best: strumming muted strings, doing rhythmic “chops,” single-note short arpeggios, and the like. But sustained sounds can work really well, too; there’s a device called an “E-Bow” that can drive a string into continuous sustain. DJs appreciate that I can sustain a note (or notes) while they’re doing transitions. I also like to do “sound effects,” like tapping the back of the neck, holding the guitar’s headstock against a speaker cabinet for sustained feedback, pick scrapes, sliding a beer bottle up and down the strings, and even hitting the strings with a drumstick to “trigger” chords. Why be normal?
Craig Anderton is Editorial Director of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), andSound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.