Yesterday, I reviewed the Godin xTSA strictly as an electric guitar. Of course, alone, that would miss the point, seeing as it also has a piezo pickup that doubles as an acoustic guitar emulator and a synth pickup. Today, I’ll focus on the acoustic sounds you can get from the instrument.
Here is an mp3 that demonstrates the sounds I get out of the piezo. You might want to leave it open in the background to refer back to.
The first thing to note is that the “acoustic” sound does not really sound much like an acoustic guitar out of the box. It sounds more like a solid body guitar played without amplification and miked, which is a bit like what is actually happening. The pickup itself is part of the bridge, and as I understand it, picks up the vibrations of the each string directly from the string’s contact with the saddle. That signal is then routed through a small preamp with volume and a three band equalizer.
The EQ is quite responsive, and jacking or cutting the mids in particular completely changes the tone. The result is a jangly sound with mids cut a little and a cutting sound with the mids punched. It still does not sound very acoustic, but it could be useful to adding some definition to an electric sound, particularly on the attack portion.
the convoluted part
I mess with this basic tone to give it a more realistic acoustic flavor. First I run it through Voxengo’s Perfect Space, a convolution reverb plugin I got with Cakewalk’s Sonar. They also sell it separately as a plugin called Pristine Space. Convolution is the process of combining your signal with the sound of some real or imagined acoustic environment. In this case, I mixed the piezo sound of the guitar with the characteristics of an actual acoustic. The sound file that Perfect Space needs to do this is called an impulse response, because it is a recording of the sound of something as close to an impulse as possible, often a balloon popping. In this case, the author of the IR tapped a ceramic spoon against the bridge of his acoustic guitar. I used the “near” version of the acoustic guitar IR from Noise Vault. They have a great selection of acoustic instrument responses, speaker cabinet responses, and various hardware. It is a great resource. If you need a freeby convolution plugin, you might try freeverb3 but it is hard to set up and a resource hog. There used to be one called revolverb, also less than perfect, but that’s gone it seems. If you want to drop a few bucks, Elevayta’s ConvoBoy is good, as is Voxengo’s previously mentioned Pristine Space. Both are reasonable and worth the money. Voxengo is a little less resource hungry, but ConvoBoy lets you load a different IR in each channel of your stereo output, which is kind of neat. Since most of the guitar’s sound comes from the strings, the convolution is kept down in the mix, a flavor rather than the substance. This gives the sound a “woodier” feel, but the resonance gets a little obnoxious if the mids on the eq are turned to high.
Next in the chain is the best fifteen bucks I have spent in a long while, G-Sonique’s FSQ1964 vitalizer/exciter. It grabs the transients…just the part of the signal we are most concerned with in getting a realistic sound — and makes them sound wonderful. After that comes a touch of reverb, then out. I experimented with light chorusing, but ultimately realized whenever I could hear the chorusing it was too much and let it go.
Not content to have an acoustic, I wanted to see if I could get a twelve string sound out of the piezos. I split the input signal, before all the other effects mentioned above, and ran the unaffected signal in one side and sent the other side first to a very short delay with no feedback to emulate the space between the strings when you pick a twelve string, and to articulate the higher note just a little clearer. Then the delayed signal goes to a pitch shifter set to raise the pitch one octave. The delayed, raised note then gets fed back in with the slightly earlier unmodified note before coming out the convolution “body.” It is not exactly accurate, as the high E and B strings on a real twelve string are not an octave higher like the lower four strings are, but it still sounds neat. As the sound file makes clear, it is not perfect. It warbles a little as an artifact of the pitch-shifting effect, but when it is mixed back a little and accompanied by other instruments, it passes reasonably well. Take a listen to Be Miner for an example. The rhythm part is all on the “12-string.”
Conclusion of acoustic part
Obviously, I like the processed sound a lot and have spent some time to get it as good as I can. If I really need acoustics on a recording, I’ll go with fresh strings and an XY arrangement of a matched pair of mics on a real acoustic, like in Bomb the Beach. But having an acoustic-sounding guitar that you can mix in with your electric and synthesized sounds as you are playing is a blast. A couple of things I like to do are to chop the attack off a distorted electric guitar and replace it with the acoustic attack, or have one delayed a beat or portion of a beat behind the other. It is also really nice to be able to put an analog, human touch sound into a synthesized one, opening up lots of new textures and spaces, which is what I am all about musically.
Well that is it on the acoustic portion of the xSTA. Two down, with the synth section yet to go. Even without the synth, this is a blast of a guitar.
Finally, If you didn’t get a chance the other day, give a listen to the four new tracks from rreplay and let me know what you think!