Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

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Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by HatGuy »

Hello,

This is my first time posting here, but certainly won't be my last! (unless you kick me off!)

For some time now, as I've been learning synthesis (and really enjoying it) I've been wondering about this question - I'm not asking how to make a synth sound like a guitar, but which sounds are best for filling in FOR a guitar.

Context will make more sense of the question. I am a guitarist, but I'm in a band situation with no bassist. Instead of picking up the bass, I saw it as an opportunity to learn the keys and play synth bass, while further filling things up with my right hand with pads and the like.

With no guitarist though and a style of music that often would do well with having one, how can I 'fill in' or 'fill up' the sound using the synth?

I don't want to synthesize a guitar - I might as well play the guitar then; and I know there are VST's which attempt this, and I'm not too interested in that. I am looking to use the keys in a very versatile way and it would be great if it still sounds like a synth, but is able to fill in or replace the guitar.

The kind of sound I would be going for is not some super distorted crazy stuff, which I think I can find examples of - but some sort of sound(s) that provide some gentle 'jingle jangle' in sections or a bit of crunchy chords to fill up a chorus. Not Metal stuff but a bit more poppy and a bit more vintage in its approach.

I am still in the learning phases so I am using software synths of the freeware variety like Synth1 and Surge, and I am amazed at what can be done even at this level. When I am more competent, I'll look to purchase a hardware synth, but for now am experimenting with what can be achieved.

I have pretty good music theory knowledge and have been playing guitar for over 20 years in different band situations, churches, etc., so I think I'm progressing nicely. I've always been fascinated with synths and their sounds, particularly classic stuff, so I am happy to be in a situation where I am having to branch out and explore this world.

thanks!!
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by muzines »

You can try various sorts of "plucky" sounds - electric pianos, clavs, synth sounds in the "Plucks" category in your synth's presets.

Those sounds typically have an envelope characteristic of guitars (generally, a piano-type envelope, fast attack, long decay, no sustain, fast release), and you can use them in similar ways (and apply FX in similar ways according to need - overdrive, chorus, reverb/delay, EQ, compression etc).

Oh - and welcome! :thumbup:
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by Folderol »

I suggest starting with a sound very rich in harmonics (saw wave maybe) then add envelope shaping and filtering so the sound loses upper harmonics as it fades.
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by BigRedX »

What's the line-up of your band? That may have a bearing on what sorts of sounds to use.

I found myself in a similar situation a few years back when the guitarist and primary writer of the music for the band (which was very much guitar-focused) decided to leave. Our response was for me to swap from "conventional" bass guitar to Bass VI (short-scale 6-string bass tuned an octave below the guitar), which allows me to play "bass" and "guitar" parts, and I alternate with our synth player so that when one of us is playing the "melody" part the other is doing the bass line.

As has been said, "plucked" type short sounds millwork and if you need something with a bit more crunch and sustain have a look at sounds using oscillator sync, where the sync'd oscillator only is being pitch controlled by an envelope generator or mod wheel.

Of course you could also run your synth sounds through distortion or guitar amp plug-ins, in which case IME the simpler the sustain portion of the sound is the better it works.
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by The Elf »

You should be able to rustle up some suitable sounds with those VST synths.

A rich, thick polysynth pad is always good for filling a hole in a mix - a typical Jupiter/Oberheim sawtooth pad would be my choice. Add as many sawtooth oscillators as you have available, keep oscillator 1 at centre pitch, and de-tune the others *slightly* (not the typical dancey-trancey de-tune I see every week on YouTube demos - sigh...) and filter/envelope to taste. If you can also add a gentle stereo chorus that will help too.

I'd maybe add Dexed to give you an FM option - there are thousands of DX7 patches available that will cover all the plucky-type sounds you could ever wish for. You could always add a bit of distortion to these if that suits the moment.
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by N i g e l »

"Keane" have a guitar band sound but they use an amped up Yamaha CP70 instead of a lead guitar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whzqnSQrzWY
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by BigRedX »

And a word of warning. If you are going to use synth sounds played from a keyboard, then compose the parts from a keyboard. Some guitar parts will never translate for feel (and it will surprise you just how important the feel can be as opposed to the notes or the sound) because of the way polyphony on a guitar works.

Consider a simple picked part using the top three strings on a guitar. Each time you play a new note on a string the previous note on the that string is replaced, whereas the notes on the other two strings will continue to ring out. As soon as you try to replicate any complex picking pattern, you won't get the same overlap and removal of notes as you do on a guitar, because a polyphonic synth doesn't know which notes should be replaced and which should carry on. I know from experience that this makes more difference then you would think it does!
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by MarkOne »

An FM DX7 pluck of some kind into an amp simulator, such that you get those rich overtones and a little breakup when you hit a 5th. Obviously not a guitar in sound but can fulfil many of the same duties.

I also often use a hard sync 'd pair of saw waves with some filter envelope that really cuts through as a solo instrument.

I also did a trick where I layered that up with a fixed tone oscillator with a slow amplitude envelope that came in on a long sustained note like amp feedback. (But that might be a bit 'heavy' for the sort of thing you are after)
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by ben howes »

I know it's not quite what you are after, but you might also check out Jan Hammer who often plays synth in the style of lead guitar. On casual listening of Billy Cobham's Spectrum, it's sometimes hard to tell apart from the guitar. In my mind, he's playing a miniMoog, but I don't know that.
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by N i g e l »

BigRedX wrote: Wed Jul 13, 2022 2:29 pm Some guitar parts will never translate for feel (and it will surprise you just how important the feel can be as opposed to the notes or the sound) because of the way polyphony on a guitar works.

very true, a guitar is 6 mono synths.

As for the notes to play, Daniel Fisher has several videos of playing guitar parts on keyboard [He is a demo guy for various companies].

On a Yamaha.....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLtwHzJ2s3g

basically you have to understand the instrument you are trying to emulate.
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by Eddy Deegan »

HatGuy wrote: Wed Jul 13, 2022 3:33 am Context will make more sense of the question. I am a guitarist, but I'm in a band situation with no bassist. Instead of picking up the bass, I saw it as an opportunity to learn the keys and play synth bass, while further filling things up with my right hand with pads and the like.

I've had some experience of this situation myself albeit only on rare occasions years ago when the bass player in the band I was in at the time couldn't make a gig.

Substituting a guitarist and a bass player are two different challenges. When it comes to bass the main problems are balance and amplification. A bass guitar has a commanding, if not always obviously so, presence in the room and sits solidly underneath the birds-nest of frequencies being emitted from the rest of the band.

The bass sound on the left hand is likely to require more level than whatever you're doing with the right hand.

You can cover bass parts with a synth but it may well require some sound-shaping and EQ to restrict the synth to the bass frequencies you actually want. Synths (even when 'just' playing bass sounds) generally throw out a lot of additional frequency content you don't want and which can muddy the low-end waters.

A bass amp is designed for a different purpose than a synth backline as well. A synth amp, assuming you're not plumbed directly into FOH, is a 'full range' speaker whereas bass speakers aren't.

So although a synth can certainly cover for a bass in principle, if it's also doing 'right hand' stuff then the left and right hand sounds should really be going through different amplifiers to avoid problems.

If your synth is restricted to a single output (whether stereo or mono) then I'd be very wary of trying to cover both roles. I'd be inclined to use two keyboards in that case; one for bass and one for everything else. If using only one, and it has additional outputs that you can route the bass through so the signal is handled separately then that's certainly worth trying.

When it comes to handling the parts that might normally be done with a guitar there is nothing stopping you from routing that sound through a guitar pedal or two. Even if it's not a realistic guitar sound, it's an avenue of exploration well worth experimenting with IMHO.

If you were in a duo then bass from the synth is pretty easy. Not so easy in a conventional band, although the genre of material you play may have some bearing on that.
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Re: Synth sounds that fill in for guitar sonically

Post by zenguitar »

Also, thinking about synth sounds filling in for the guitar sonically can be a red herring.

The sound of the guitar isn't that important. What is important is the role the guitar plays in the arrangement and how best you might fulfil that role using a synth instead.

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