Looking for a way to breathe some new life into your synth sounds? Well look no further than adding some effects to your synths. Effects can add some extra depth and character to your sound, and go beyond what you can normally create on your gear. In my mind, it’s like buying a new module for your modular setup to expand your sonic territory. You decide which effects you are looking for, and can choose from hundreds (if not more) of pedals on the market today. So here is a little guide on effects pedals for synths and how they can add value to your setup.
Effects On A Budget
Many synthesizers today are including some effects onboard, such as delay in both the Korg Minilogue and Monologue. Once you get a taste of adding effects to your sound, you will begin to understand the possibilities. However, not all synths include onboard effects and, in some cases, you may not be thrilled with the effects that are included. When looking at reviews or forums about the Korg analog series, you may find some people say they find it too noisy (I actually like the noise sometimes).
The effects pedal market is huge, and the prices can range from budget to high-end. I love the sound of Eventide and Strymon effects pedals, but some may find the price a bit out of their range. However, I have used pedals from TC Electronic and MXR that have given me great results without breaking the bank. One small pedal line I have been interested in are the Hotone’s. They offer a whole range of effects and are mostly priced under $100.
The most common effects that you will hear on a synth are delay and reverb. If you are starting out your effects collection, I would usually recommend starting with one (or both) of these. Just these two effects alone can really expand your sound. You could also look for multi-effect pedals such as the Zoom MS-70CDR multi-effects pedal that will offer you chorus/delay/and reverb all in one pedal. This can be a great first pedal option, but with multi-effects pedals I feel like they offer variety yet are not a master at one type of effect. Let your ears decide which effects sound best to you. Check out some demos on YouTube with the synth you are trying to add effects too.
Types Of Effects
There are so many effects to choose from so let’s take a look at some of the most common effects that you can add to your synth and what the effect can bring to you.
- Delay – A delay effect is going to give you a controlled echo to your sound. When you play a note on your synth, the note is essentially recorded in a buffer and will repeat and decay after a period of time depending on how you set the delay amount and the feedback. Some delay pedals can also have modulation effects that really adds to the motion of the decay signal.
- Reverb – Reverb will add a lot of depth and ambiance you your sound. In essence, reverb is an echo effect but it is very different from delay. Reverb is short for reverberation. The effect is caused by the reflection of sound waves before it reaches your ear. Imagine being in a large empty hall and you clap your hands. That echo you hear is reverb. Reverb comes in many flavors like hall, room, spring, and plate to name a few.
- Distortion – Distortion effects are great for making your sound more aggressive. Not only would I recommend this for a synth, but for drums as well. Distortion effect occurs when the gain of the audio signal is overdriven causing more grit, fuzz and harshness to the sound. Now don’t think a distortion effect is always harsh or destructive. Just a little bit can give you a warm fuzz that can thicken up your sound.
- Chorus – The chorus effect is a great way to add some modulation to your sound. The effect adds subtle modulation and adds some depth and richness. Think of chorus as the same synth line being played by multiple people with slightly different pitches and timing.
Pedals are not the only option for you to add effects to your synth. If you have a DAW (digital audio workstation), you may already have a wide variety of effects to choose from. Currently, I am using Ableton Live 9 and there are not only a huge amount of effects, but also many different preset types for each. It can actually be a bit daunting, but their will never be a lack of creativity!
Not only do you have access to the effects included in your DAW, you also have access to thousands of third-party plugin effects. As with many plugins, if you search around you will find some great free options. This is a great way to add some variety to your effects collection.
Now with such variety, why would you want an effects pedal when your DAW may have a huge variety? There is really nothing wrong with using software effects versus an effects pedal as they will both really add to your music. However, their are times that I would rather choose the hardware over the software. First, I may not want to always deal with setting up my computer when I just want to make a quick jam. This is especially a factor if I am taking my gear on the road as I may not want to lug my computer when I have a battery powered effects pedal. Also, I find it much easier dialing in effects with real knobs versus tweaking software with a mouse, especially for a quick tweak in a live scenario. I have also found some software effects to be very CPU intensive, especially when layering other effects. This can cause some latency issues or in some cases even crashing your DAW.
So Many Choices
As I have said before, the effects pedal market is huge and their are so many pedals to choose from. Here are some budget effects pedals that I have found to be great options that will help you begin your search.
- TC Electronic Flashback Delay series – Two options in the budget range to choose from that vary in price and features. The mini is great for basic delay but the regular Flashback pedal will give you several delay options.
- MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay – Analog delay pedal that includes modulation.
- Electro-Harmonix Memory Boy Analog Echo/Chorus/Vibrato – Budget analog delay that also adds chorus or vibrato modulation rates.
- DigiTech Polara Reverb – Stereo in/out reverb pedal with 7 Lexicon reverb types.
- EarthQuaker Devices Levitation V2 Reverb – Handmade reverb pedal with excellent vintage spring/plate style reverb.
- Hotone Verb Digital Reverb – Very small and compact pedal offers a great variety of ambiance and includes a shimmer button to add some modulation.
- Pro Co Turbo Rat Distortion Pedal – Very versatile, all analog distortion pedal with filter control.
- Boss DS-1X Distortion Pedal – Great pedal for adding a little bit of warmth to heavy distortion. Low and High control give you some added sound shaping possibilities.
- Electro- Harmonix Nano Big Muff Distortion Pedal – Based on the classic Big Muff, the Nano includes three control knobs including sustain that adds a shimmering tone.
- Moog MF Chorus Minifooger – All analog pedal that can produce vibrato and deep, swirling chorus effects.
- TC Electronic Corona TonePrint Chorus Pedal – Stereo in/out Chorus pedal with three modes to choose from including the custom TonePrint setting allowing you to upload chorus effects from musicians.
- MXR M234 Analog Chorus Pedal – All analog chorus pedal with a variety of control to shape your sound.
Bringing Your Sound To Life
Effects can bring new life to your synths and music and are an essential component to your music setup. With so many budget options on the market, you do not need to break the bank to get the effects you need. Just like a synthesizer, every effect pedal sounds different and they have their own characteristics, so listen to some demos to help choose the one best for you.
What budget effects pedals are you using in your music? Do you prefer hardware or software effects? Let us know in the comments below!