The necessary tools
Creating unique pads with a guitar is quite simple. You’ll need an acoustic guitar with a pick-up and your favorite DAW loaded with select plug-ins. The guitar will need to be run through a DI, or audio interface. It’s recommended to use tremolo picking with a heavy gauge pick, or by playing the same note repeatedly and quickly.
Start by choosing a tone that will work from the start to the end of a song. A little practice and trusting of your own ear will help you find which key and / or chord progression will work best. Select any sequence of notes which sound ideal and you’re set. In most productions the pad is used to add tension, ambience or a wave of additional texture to the overall music, so keeping a constant combination of chords will help bring these pads to life. Try many variations until you discover the one that works best, or unearth a surprise new sound you weren’t expecting.
To get a confident pad sound, consistency is key. Play as dynamically steady as you can. Consider a tremolo pick with some force, holding the pick lower on the guitar itself, near the end of the neck and where the body starts. Ultimately, it’s going to be your creativity that shines through, so be sure to experiment until you find a way to create an even and unvarying tone. Of course as you’re creating pads, you don’t need to worry about being perfectly in synch with the rhythms. Just focus on playing the guitar in a way that will eventually create the pad theme. While recording or practicing, you only need to play up until you’ve captured what you want. No need to continue till the end of a song – only if the key changes, or if you want to add additional notes should you have to continue. We’ve found it best to play for a while, copy and paste the best bits, and add an extended crossfade between the pieces to avoid unwanted editing distractions in the recording itself. Long, saturated sound is what you’re after – as it’s a pad you’re creating.
Plug-ins to morph the guitar
You’re now at a place where the fun begins through changing the guitar tones into lush pads and ambient atmospherics. For this, you’ll be using plug-ins or effects to make this happen. We recommend waiting until after you’ve recorded the guitar to begin trying out different plug-ins, in an effort to try many variations and make big and small changes with ease. Start with an EQ plug-in, such as ENHANCED EQ.
Begin with lows set around 120-200 (or possibly 300) hz. Trust your ears to come up with the frequencies you prefer. We also recommend at least an 18dB / octave curve on your high pass in order to truly design a brilliant pad sound. To filter out the higher frequencies and sharper tones of the guitar, a low-pass filter is also useful. We like to set its range around 18-24dB/octave and close to 2.5-3hhz. Now engage the two bands of the EQ and simply start playing around with the sounds until you capture what you’re after with the filters.
Once you’re ready for the next step, turn your attention towards compression. It’s encouraged to use a compressor with attack and release controls, such as SOLID BUS COMP. The speed in which you set the attack will change how the pads sound, ie. quicker for when the guitar picking has unevenness, and slower when you want to melt the sounds into a flatter dynamic. The rule book is unwritten with making pads out of guitars, so of course try any ideas you may have.
Then move to employing a delay plug-in, such as REPLIKA XT. Depending on how your recording came out, you might not even need it. We’ll leave the use of delay up to your own creativity and sonic vision – there are many options and it’s worth trying many. Stereo delays, slaps, and more can really make the guitar turned pad sound turn heads.
The last step in this process is of course the use of reverb. Again, the plug-in you choose in entirely up to you, but reverb is important as it also helps remove some unwanted sound of the pick hitting the guitar strings. We do recommend a long or even modulating reverb for the more ‘wave like’ pad like themes, and suggest starting with a long setting of at least a few seconds with the mix set up top.
Let your imagination lead
Now that you know how to turn an ordinary acoustic guitar into a brand new pad creating machine, the sky is truly the limit. Experiment, create and record as much as you can until you find a pad sound perfect to your musical voice. And once you’ve mastered pads with guitars, try the same method with even more additional and unexpected instruments.
This article was originally published on TheLoopLoft here.