Modulation pedals can be a tricky set of effects to tame. Maybe you’re stuck in the stereotypical sounds — your flanger sounds like a jet plane, your chorus like a sloshing waterbed, and your phaser is set to a funky “stun” — or are simply looking for some new sounds in your old effects.
This week on TPS, Dan & Mick tackled the topic of modulation pedals with the aim at rediscovering or uncovering their potential. As Mick summed up, the goal was “to inspire you onward in your quest for a great sound and to play better.” To set you in that direction, Dan & Mick prescribed a top eleven tone and gear hacks to get more out of your flanger, tremolo, phaser, and vibe pedals.
1. Use tremolo to create a rhythmic effect. In its simplest form, tremolo is a wave form with pulsing variations in volume. Think, “loud-quiet-loud-quiet” and you get the picture. As Mick noted, however, using a tap tremolo with a more accentuated depth to the tremolo can be a way of taking charge of the rhythm section and commanding the song with heavily bouncing riffs.
2. The best chorus is actually a flanger. Dan disclosed that flange and chorus are near cousins in the effect family. One of their core similarities is their manipulation of delay times. For flange pedals that allow for manual control over time, notch the delay time up ever so slightly and the sound becomes less soaring and more swimming to give a chorus-like vibe.
3. Emulate an organ with a rotary speaker effect. For Mick, this tip is an ideal way of standing out and adding something new to a blues ensemble. Remember, rotary speakers were originally meant for organs, so why not go back to that old-timey feel? Simply dial up the rotation speed for an accentuated rotary effect and your twelve-bar blues pattern will take on an entirely new character.
4. Get a bigger sound with a subtle vibrato. While vibrato can be a prominent effect, Dan shared that his Boss VB-2w pedal has become an almost “always on” type of pedal. When set subtly the effect, however, is almost perceptible yet is present enough to add “just a little bit of movement of the frequency that says so much.” As Mick noted, a similar strategy works for tremolo to give a hint of bounce to your overall sound.
5. Thicken but don’t sicken with chorus. Using the Boss Dimension DC-2w, Mick laid down a slow tide of chorus to broaden the sound of his side of the Keeley D&M Drive. As Dan noted, the advantage of the Dimension chorus in particular is it keeps the core tone tight but then sends that chorus out to the sides. Even with a mono speaker setup, you get the impression of a bigger and bolder sound.
6. Add texture to rhythm parts with a phaser. As Dan noted, it’s easy to typecast phasers for that 1970s funk vibe, but there are more sophisticated sounds lurking within. By turning the depth down the sound retained a bit of movement without that over the top pulsing phase. “This just gives the sound a bit of texture… if you’re recording and looking to change things up with some different guitar parts, that’s a really great way to do it.”
7. Create a mood change in a song by changing modulation speeds. Mick shared, “this is something I do a lot with my favorite modulation pedal, the Vent.” For Mick the true hack is that you don’t have to blaze up the fret board in a soaring solo to stand out—simply step on the switch to speed up the effect and let your gear take care of the rest. As Dan noted, this strategy is also possible using an expression pedal for stompboxes that allow for on the fly interaction of modulation speed controls.
8. Make your tremolo more interesting by opting for a harmonic tremolo. While traditional tremolos affect amplitude, harmonic tremolos achieve their sound by interacting with both amplitude and frequency modulations. For Mick, swapping out your go-to tremolo for a harmonic pedal, like the Walrus Monument, “will just add a bit of chewiness: it works great on chords and it works great on lead lines.”
9. Take flight with your flanger by modelling a robotic flight machine. As Dan & Mick dialed in a heavy flange sound that slowly ramped and roared into the stratosphere, they demoed how the effect can add a crushing sound mid riff to take your playing way out front. Feeling forgotten in the mix? Try this strategy and your bandmates won’t soon forget you’re in the room!
10. Make your delay more interesting by modulating repeats. This hack is great with analog delays, such as almost any Electro Harmonix Memory Man, MXR Carbon Copy, or Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall. Alternatively, it’s possible to build any modulated sound into a delay pedal with an effects loop. As a result, your core sound stays distinct while the background of your delay gets the modulation treatment. “There’s a whole different mood and feel,” remarked Dan, “when it’s only the tails that are modulated.”
11. Modulation effects are versatile—use them in anything. This bonus tip is more of a reminder than a specific gear hack. Mick noted how it’s easy to pigeon-hole certain modulation effects to a given era or genre of music. However, “you can use all of these effects [chorus, phaser, flanger, tremolo] in pretty much anything and creatively in different ways.”
If your pedalboard has a modulation shaped hole, head over to see us in store or online so we can help you rethink a fresh take on modulation effects.
TPS Rig Rundown
Guitars: Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster.
Pedals: Sonic Research ST-300 Turbo Tuner Mini, King Tone Guitar Mini Fuzz, Keeley D&M Drive, A/DA PBF Flanger, Fulltone Mini Deja Vibe, Neo Instruments Mini Vent II, Walrus Audio Monument V2, Mooer ElecLady, Boss PH-1 Phaser, Boss DC-2W Dimension C, Boss VB-2W Vibrato, Strymon TimeLine.