Having worked on several classical and piano-oriented sessions, I’ve had the opportunity to hear gorgeous grand pianos in their native habitat. But it spoiled me. When I had to use sampled pianos in other types of productions, it always seemed something was missing.
This tip puts some of the low-end mojo back into sampled pianos. Sure, it’s done with smoke and mirrors, not by having wood interact with a room—but check out the audio example at the end, and you’ll hear what Beethoven has to say about it.
How It Works
The bass enhancement occurs by mixing a sine wave behind the main piano sound, but only in the lower octaves, and very subtly. This adds bass reinforcement that you won’t find in samples.
Set up a Multi-Instrument (sorry Artist users, this is a Pro version-only feature) that combines the piano of your choice, like the Presence Acoustic Full, and Mai Tai (fig. 1).
For Mai Tai, you want the simplest sound possible—one sine wave oscillator, no modulation except for an amplitude envelope, no random phase, and no effects other than EQ. By turning the Filter cutoff down to around 100 Hz or so, turning Key tracking all the way down, and using the EQ (in the bass range) to take out all the highs, we now have the sine wave tracking your playing on only the lowest notes (fig. 2).
The Mai Tai’s level setting is crucial. You want an almost subliminal effect—something you don’t notice unless you mute the Mai Tai. Check out this audio example, but note that I’ve mixed the Mai Tai up higher than I normally would, so you can hear what the sine wave adds to the piano sound. Also note that even with the extra emphasis on the lower octaves, you can’t hear an added sine wave on the higher notes. This is important for a realistic sound.
Finally, although I’ve emphasized using this with piano, the same technique can add a commanding low end to other sampled instruments, like acoustic guitar—yes, you can change your parlor guitar’s body into a jumbo—no woodworking required!
The Attack Delay effect, used primarily with guitar, fades in a note or chord over the initial attack to give a more pad-like sound. The effect feeds audio into a gate with an attack time, and triggers the gate when a note or chord hits.
However, you need a brief silence between notes or chords (I prefer using this with chords), so the gate can reset prior to initiating the next attack. It’s kind of annoying to have to modify your playing style to accommodate this pause. Also, if the gate threshold is too high, you won’t hear any note—and if it’s too low, you might lose the attack effect. Attack Delay stompboxes can be iffy, which may be one reason why you don’t see one on every pedalboard.
Nonetheless, this can be a beautiful effect when done right…and as the audio example shows, Studio One can do it right.
Attack Delay Setup
The key is to insert the Gate in the track you want to process, but not trigger the Gate from that track. Instead, you create a copy of the original track, and optimize it for triggering the Gate. The copy then controls the Gate through its sidechain (you don’t listen to the copied track).
(Optionally, before setting this up, consider compressing or limiting the original guitar track so that it has a longer sustain. You don’t want the guitar to fade too much before the attack fades in.)
Fig. 1 shows the mixer setup. The GtrPadTrig track’s pre-fader send goes to the Gate’s sidechain. Turn down this track’s channel fader, because we don’t want to hear the copied track. The guitar track in the audio example inserts Ampire before the Gate, and reverb after the Gate. The reverb adds an ethereal quality as the guitar fades into the chord.
Next, prep the control track in the Edit window. Open the Audio Bend panel (to the right of the speaker icon in the Edit window toolbar), right-click on the Event, and choose Detect Transients. If necessary, adjust the Bend Marker Threshold (or remove and add Bend Markers) so that Bend Markers appear only at the beginning of chords or notes (fig. 2).
Mind the Gap
Right-click on the Event, and choose Split at Bend Markers. All the Events will be separate and selected. Click on the right edge of any Event, and drag to the left. Because all the Events are selected, this opens up a gap before all the chord attacks (fig. 3).
Now start playback, and adjust the Gate parameters. This is a little tricky at first, because you want the Threshold set so that triggers coming in from the sidechain open the Gate, coupled with a Release time that’s short enough so that the Gate doesn’t shut off immediately. I usually leave about a 100 ms gap between chord attacks, and set the Gate release time to 60 ms. Your mileage may vary.
If the triggering isn’t reliable, adjust the Threshold, gap length, or Release. To edit the gap, select all the events and vary the right edge of one of them—they’ll all move together. Sometimes, there might be one obstinate note that doesn’t trigger correctly, in which case you can select only the Event before it, and vary its gap for reliable triggering with the next chord.
Yes, this takes a little effort to set up, but it’s cool. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with exploring an effect that remains somewhat rare, because it’s hard to get right—fortunately, Studio One can get it right.
The problem: I was using one of Chris McHugh’s acoustic drum loops from the (sadly, no longer available) Discrete Drums sample library. However, it had been recorded at a slower tempo, and when sped up, it was a bit too “busy” in places.
The solution: Drum Replacement with Studio One, Pro EQ, Gate, and Melodyne, so I could edit Note data into the part I wanted.
Getting Started: Step by Step
Prepping the Note Data
The note data length will vary. To tidy up the part, set all the drums to 16th or 32nd notes with Action > Length (fig. 4).
Note that Melodyne picked up on some low-velocity kick hits too (pretty cool). You could assign these to a different sample of a kick hit softly. Fortunately, the Discrete Drums library includes samples of the individual drums. So, I could load the samples into Impact XT, and this way the sound would work with other loops from the same collection. Since the drums are multi-sampled at different velocities, I selected all the notes, and used Studio One’s Transpose function to set them to the same pitch as the kick samples.
Hi-hat was the most difficult to convert to Note data, because snare hits can produce transients that extend into the hi-hat range. A 48 dB/octave low-cut combined with a major high-frequency peak did a decent job of isolating the hi-hat, but the frequency was extremely high and Melodyne wasn’t too happy about that. Transposing the Event down an octave or so before applying the gate made the hits more Melodyne-friendly.
I was taken aback at how well this technique was able to translate the acoustic drum loop into Note data. The best aspects were that it preserved the human timing of a real drummer, and Melodyne did a good job of preserving the dynamics. The only needed fix was removing a few notes caused by loud snare hits that came through on the hi-hat track, and of course, editing the data to create the part I wanted—done!
Ampire has a User cab that can load impulse responses. You knew that, right? What you may not know is that you can load stereo cab impulses, and they magically make the User cab stereo. If you’re thinking “but creating impulses is such a hassle,” it’s not—let’s get started.
How It Works: Overview
Start by downloading the 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz stereo impulses. These are 1-sample spikes, so if you listen to them, don’t expect a thrilling audio experience. To create the impulse response, load a stereo impulse into an audio track, but no other audio—just the impulse. Send the audio to two cabs, set up in stereo (e.g., using two FX Channels, panned as desired). Don’t include any amps or effects—only the cabs. Bounce or otherwise mix/export the result. This is the stereo impulse response.
For the sake of example, we’ll assume you want a 4×12 M65 and a 2×12 VC 30 as your stereo cabs, but you can use any cabs you want, including cabs from other amp sims. Referring to fig. 1, this setup works for Artist or Pro.
Create the Impulse
Create an audio track, load Ampire, plug in your guitar, and select an amp. Choose the User cab, and then click on the + symbol in the Mic A: field. Navigate to where you saved the impulse response, load it, and kick back with your cool stereo cab.
To get you started, the folder you downloaded with the impulse also has stereo Impulse Responses for the M65+VC30 and 4x10American+2x12Boutique stereo cabs. Try them with the new High Gain and Painapple amps…you’re gonna love ‘em.