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Non-MIDI synthesis - some thoughts

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Explorer, Oct 21, 2010.

  1. Explorer


    Jul 4, 2010
    I'm a huge fan of non-MIDI guitar and bass synths, and have recently been spending a lot of time with them.

    I know that the SYB-5 and SYB-3 are famed for tracking badly... but I'm wondering how people are using them.

    When I use a guitar/bass monosynth, I normally palm-mute the strings right on top of the bridge, so that there are no other stray pitches, or even harmonics from the struck string, to confuse things. I get fairly fast tracking and some neat sounds. (My main instruments have EMG active p'ups, in case you were wondering.)


    I quite like the new Markbass Super Synth, although its lack of a square wave is a bit disappointing. Having thought about it, I hooked up the SYB-5 to a chorus pedal (chorus is the key to getting a dual-oscillator or more hollow sound on square wave), and fired it up. It sounded very good, and even better when I ran the SYB-5/Groove Regulator 1 combination through the chorus.

    I then realized that I should just freeze the SYB-5 filter to a fixed position, done by plugging in an expression pedal and trying out different positions.


    I also can add a filter pedal right after the SYB-5, like a Digitech Synth Wah or Bass Synth Wah. Neither of them are really synths, as they contain no oscillators, but they can be dialed in to give classic synth attacks and envelopes. One other pedal, the Ibanez SB-7, sounds just like the attack and hold characteristics of something you might hear off the soundtrack of "Escape from New York," or any other '80s movie which didn't have a soundtrack budget. *laugh*

    Running the SYB-5 through something like these pedals sounds amazing. Using the palm-muting, it tracks as well as my Super Synth, and, if I use modes 10 or 11 on the SYB-5, it's not as sensitive to noise from ringing notes.


    The two other pedals which deserve mention here are the Electro-Harmonix HOG and POG2. Among other effects, the Attack/Decay slider allows removing that clicky spike from the attack, getting an even better synth sound.


    At this point, I suppose the only thing which could make this cooler would be using either putting the HOG after the synth chain to use the Freeze mode, or just putting an EHX Freeze pedal after the synth chain in order to emulate the hold of the Taurus.

    As it is, picking up the cheapest clones on the market of the Boss SYB-5 and the CE-5 (Behringer BSY-600 & CO-600) and adding a synth wah pedal would make a neat little piece of bass synth kit for about $150US. Adding the Freeze pedal isn't necessary to get use out of it, but it would extend the usefulness of the combination.


    I'm very happy with the results so far. I've tried other bass and guitar synths, and have been less than impressed with the results. As much as I like the HOG and POG2, I've been just as disappointed with the EHX Microsynth and Bass Microsynth.

    And, for the record, the above experimentation/combination will in no way curtail my SAS. *laugh* As it is, the SYB-5 and the Super Synth won't cover the whole upper range of my instrument, with tracking ending at C5, so they don't do everything I might want.

    I have the Pigtronix Mothership on the shelf waiting to be put through its paces, and I have one other classic synth on the way... although that will be sent out for refurbishing as soon as it arrives, so that any possible problems will be fixed before I have a chance to exacerbate them through gear lust and lack of patience. *laugh*

    I'm also curious about the Wave Machine and P.W.M. pedals from MWFX. It could be that they just do things like clip waves to square them up like the EHX MS gear, but they might sound really great.

    Has anyone else been working pedal combinations for old-school analog synth sounds?

    (Incidentally... first time starting a thread! I hope it's of interest!)
  2. DerHoggz

    DerHoggz I like cats :| Inactive

    Feb 13, 2009
    Western Pennsylvania
    Super Synth is all square waves IIRC. The EHX are running oscillators too I believe.

    The MWFX are pretty intriguing.

    I like the idea of the "modular" synth pedal setup too.
  3. The EHX has no oscillators. It is just a fuzz, octave-down, octave-up fuzz, and the filter section.

    I don't find the Boss's tracking as bad as everyone else seems to. I very rarely have a problem with it. However, I have taken to using the Behringer clone over the Boss. The Behringer has a feature where the filter sweep is turned off altogether when the decay knob is turned up to max, which the Boss doesn't do. That is very nice, because then you can get the pure oscillator tone without the laser beam.
  4. Explorer


    Jul 4, 2010
    Going backwards in responding, I thought the Behringer responds as the SYB-5 does to setting the rate to maximum. I was thinking of going by a local shop and giving the BSY600 another try. It was trying the Behringer which decided me on buying the SYB-5 in the first place. It was also that brief experiment with the BSY600 which made me decide to use an expression pedal with the SYB-5. I could be wrong, but it felt like using the combination of the Decay/Rate knob and the Frequency and Resonance knobs gave a slightly different result from using an expression pedal with the Behringer.

    Interesting. Markbass must have released an update, because the lack of a square wave has been discussed prior here on TalkBass, and mine doesn't have square wave either. How does the Markbass Super Synth square wave sound? More importantly, where did you find the update?

    I seem to recall that the EHX MS and BMS just clipped the signal for the square wave, instead of doing pitch detection and then triggering an oscillator. Hold on a moment...

    "SQUARE WAVE - Controls the output volume of the Square wave. Intensity of this voice is also determined by instrument attack or volume. In all other respects it operates in a similar fashion to a standard distortion device."

    That description sounds like clipping to me.

    They *do* look cool, don't they? The thing is, there are no retailers around me that sell them, and my gut tells me that there isn't really an oscillator inside, if only from looking at the price. That would just make it like the numerous other effect pedals which claim to be "synthy," but which are really just some sort of clipped fuzz.

    Not to say that wouldn't be cool. It's just that I already have some decent stuff which actually sounds like a synth, and getting something sputtery doesn't intrigue me.

    Giving this a little thought, though... hold on... I want to try something...

    Now *that* was cool.

    There are so many pedals which are not advertised as "synth" pedals, but which manage to output waves which are close to those of classic oscillators. One such pedal which works well with active pickups is the Zvex Mastotron, which has a variable pulse width control.

    Sounds great as a sound source prior to and after filtering. Without filtering, it sounds even better with the POG2 taking off the click of the attack.

    And now, I have to wonder about running the Mastotron through modes 10 and 11 on the SYB-5, just to get the different filtering possibilities and the use of the expression pedal.

    (I should look into finding a one-knob expression control, a pedal without a treadle. I'm sure someone must make something with the same resistor value as the M-Gear EX-P or the Roland EV-5....)

    Me too.

    I used to do sound synthesis, both playing and sound creation, as my main musical venture. I could probably still dial in a decent sound on demand on the initially-daunting Yamaha DX7.

    For whatever reason, I never really gave much thought to what modern pedals are available, nor how they could be used like parts of a classic modular. My overlooking the Mastotron as an oscillator shows that I need to look at my pedal shelf like pieces of an old modular, and possibly to evaluate what I could be missing. I guess my Musket v2 will be next to try....

    Of course, all this thinking about synthesis and bass/guitar was kicked off by my deciding to learn how to use the Boss GT series all the way down to the ground, and that decision was inspired by a series of posts on the GT forum about using a GT-10 as a form of synthesizer.

    Anyway, thanks for knocking a few things into a new shape. Cheers!
  5. Explorer


    Jul 4, 2010
    Oh! One more thing!

    The simple building blocks behind synthesis, and where they can take you, were the brilliant subjects of the Synth Secrets series by Sound on Sound Magazine. You can find the whole series online, starting with the May 1999 installment, here:


  6. Explorer


    Jul 4, 2010
    On classic analog synths, one can get a "fatter" or more synth-y sound by having two oscillators slightly detuned from each other. The fact that two analog oscillators are already slightly out of tune from each other was highly prized at the point where the digital synth revolution started to take hold, and continues to drive the production of monosynths in this day and age.

    It took me until today to realize that the POG2 allows me to use the Detune slider for that same effect.

    So, not only will the POG2 2 allow me to add oscillators one and two octaves below and above the initial oscillator, but I can double those oscilators with the movement of a slider. What's really weird is that I just ran a cheap old Casio keyboard through the POG2 with what was initially a cheesy sawtooth... and I'm sure everyone at the old Oberheim Abbey would have been amazed at what came out the other end. The sound of ten analog oscillators for less than $300... not shabby, eh?

    ryansalmond likes this.
  7. I acheive an alright synthy tone with an octave>fuzz>envelope filter w/ expression and play high on the neck.
  8. Explorer


    Jul 4, 2010
    iadNJ, if you have a chorus pedal, run it after your filter, and tell me what you think....

    Tonight I looked at some Mellotron emulation settings I use on the POG2, and realised that I'm not getting much use out of the filter. I ran -> POG2 -> chorus -> big hall/cave/church reverb with more reverb than dry.

    POG2 was set to only use 2 octaves up, and the attack slider was set to around halfway.

    I set the Q to a bit less than the halfway point (if you have one, experiment with this), and messed with the Q slider while tapping the G string at the second fret. At some point... I got the timbre of a female soprano voice.

    Since the POG2's filter doesn't change shape or size like the resonating chambers in the human head, the formant-like resonance of the filter only sounds good from the open A string to the 12th fret of the high G. Still, though... an angelic choir coming out of my POG2, Verbzilla and old chorus is pretty neat as far as I'm concerned.

    (Incidentally, with the POG2 filter set wide open, the chorus running and no reverb, this was almost the same as the Mellotron flutes I get from the POG2....)


    On the sad side, I found out today that my GT-10 (the guitar version) doesn't track lower than G#1 when using the internal synth. No low synth oscillator on the GT-10, no tracking higher than C5 on the Boss SYB bass synth pedals... what's this world coming to?

    I can't really complain, though. I remember using an Electro-Harmonix guitar synth in the late '70s/early '80s, and the tracking was awful. I'm grateful to have so many choices available to me in this modern age of music....
    Btbp likes this.
  9. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    My typical synth rig consists of a bunch of synth pedals run parallel to get a richer tone.
    The tools I use the most are a compressor right after the bass to even out the signel and improve tracking, and an Ibanez LF-7 to tweak synth tones with low and high pass filters.
  10. AleemRadunzel


    Jul 8, 2009
    i think you have really hit the nail on the head!

    people get the tone generator sybs, or the octave-env filter "synth" pedals (the EHX springs to mind) and say

    "why doesnt this sound like a synth" or "why does it sound flat"

    and i myself thought this till my organ player showed me the layout of his sh201 synth.

    the initial tone has sweet FA to do with the end output on a synth.

    phase, chorus, vibrato, trem, attack, polyphony , Ring modulation, white noise generation, Filters, bit depth and sample rate are all of equal importance to the final tone.

    Im really liking the idea of a modular board, although live would be imposible, it would be a handy studio tool. could even run the keys through it!
  11. RickenBoogie


    Jul 22, 2007
    Dallas, TX
    I too don't think the SYB-5 is as bad as some say. I use one with an exp pedal, as well as an octave, another filter, and either chorus or flanger. It may not have a huge range of sounds, (the Boss), but what it does, it does well. The key is really using an exp pedal with it, opens up alot of possibilities. Otoh, I've also re-introduced an analog keyboard mono-synth back into my rig. Sometimes, no matter how cool it is to play synth bass with a bass guitar, nothing else will do. Both bands I'm playing with currently rely on the more spacey and ambient sounds of a keyboard synth, and in one band, there's another bassist anyway.
  12. Wasted Bassist

    Wasted Bassist

    Nov 11, 2008
    Fargo, ND
    Just a note on the mwfx PWM. I'm not sure if they're using the exact same schematic, but I built a pedal not too long ago that could get a bunch of the tones that one had. I'll try to find the site it was on to post it. Sounded pretty ballsy on bass at the right settings.
  13. Explorer


    Jul 4, 2010
    A long time ago, I saw a performance on TV of Stevie Wonder. There was a dude playing what looked like a tiny 1-to-2 octave keyboard synth for bass. He had all 10 of his fingers on the keyboard for some of the runs, and it was cool to watch him work the keys for the unbelievably funky bassline.

    Yes, there is definitely nothing like a keyboard synth for bass when that is called for.

    Even though I wasn't actively thinking about it when I started this thread, I've found a lot of inspiration in the Effectology series over at Electro-Harmonix, including some of the more spacey/ambient sounds. It's surprising that I forgot about this, because the first great ambient synth sound that grabbed my attention was a throwaway at the beginning of one of the videos, using just the Freeze mode on the HOG run through an Electric Mistress on Filter Matrix. That was when I started combining pedals, both EHX and not, for fuller effects and sounds.

    I can see how a four-string bass might be a bit limiting. I've hesitated to post here a lot, since I actually play extended range guitar, but since the bottom four strings on the standard tuned instrument are E1 A1 D2 G2, I can look at it as an extended range bass just as easily. My fifth-tuned eight-string runs from Ab0 to A4, so I just call it the monstrosity. *laugh*

    Anyway, that's neither here nor there, as it has nothing to do with the synthesis, but TalkBass seems to have more interest in synthesizer pedals than the good people over at The Gear Page, where most of the discussion focuses on how wonderful analog and boutique pedals are, and on which of a thousand overdrive/fuzz/distortion pedals are the best... without any consideration or mention as to what other gear is in the signal chain. "Which one should I get?" "This one, the one I have!" End of discussion, with no further details. *laugh* At least on TB, it seems the majority of players are hip to different issues, and lot of them actually play places other than just at home, another noise level issue elsewhere. *laugh*

    All right, back to the normal discussion....
    Btbp likes this.
  14. DerHoggz

    DerHoggz I like cats :| Inactive

    Feb 13, 2009
    Western Pennsylvania
    I just remembered incorrectly, they are sawtooths.
  15. khabalah


    Aug 3, 2010
    how come nobodys mentioned moogerfoogers yet?? :bag:
  16. Explorer


    Jul 4, 2010
    ^Maybe because I've never bought one.

    Interestingly, I have tried them, and they just never really floated my boat. Maybe I'll have to take a look at them again.


    I've owned a Beavis Audio Four Knob Rat for a while, but haven't really found much use for it. I've considered getting rid of it... but my recent attempts at getting different-sounding waveforms through fuzz/distortion, instead of triggering an oscillator, had me pull it off the effect shelf. I was fairly pleased with the results.

    The Mastotron is also great for synthy goodness. However, nothing exceeds like excess, and so I'm going to see what other strongly square fuzzes are available.

    The advantage to using the instrument instead of triggering an oscillator is that all the oscillator-based bass/guitar synths only work for certain ranges of notes. That would be great if I played less than 8 strings, but it's nice to have full coverage of the instrument.


    I've just been informed that an eagerly awaited package has arrived, containing... a Korg X911 guitar synth. I was going to just send it on to have the European power supply replaced with US, and to have a sticky switched looked at as well. Will I be able to resist temptation and get the fix going? Or will I be sucked in?

    Or, worse yet, will I be held up at work and not even have time this week to open it?
  17. Swimming Bird

    Swimming Bird

    Apr 18, 2006
    Wheaton MD
    Got an SYB-5 two weeks ago. I am generally pleased with it except: 1) it gets confused on octaves 2) it sometimes gives a chirp when hitting a note. The chirp is extra annoying because I'm running it before an old DOD FX25 and that chirp gets load and intense through a resonant BPF.

    I use it with an expression pedal, trying very hard to get dubstep sounds. It's not awesome, but it'll work until Iron Ether finishes up the Bubble Chamber. I also like using it set to high filter speed before my Copilot Orbit -- it gives me some sweet tremolo sounds.
  18. Explorer


    Jul 4, 2010
    As long as I'm palm-muting the SYB-5, I have no octave or chirping problems, and it tracks pitch down to the ground.

    I was in a music store recently, though, and saw some guy get frustrated because he couldn't use slapping and popping on an SYB. Listening to the guy complaining, I felt like I was witness to that urban legend about the guy who puts on his new van's cruise control, and then goes to the built-in fridge to get a drink. "What do you mean, cruise control doesn't mean it can drive by itself?" *laugh*


    Even though there have been a lot of dubstep topics here at TB, I haven't read any of them in any depth, and until your post motivated me just now, I hadn't listened to any either.

    So, it seems like the main sound of dubstep bass is that lowpass filter with an LFO. I can also see how one would want something which could work along with MIDI clock, so that you could have fast and slow variants which also lock onto the main beat. I guess I'd turn to my AdrenaLinn to get that beat-synched sound. If you have the editor, it's a great box to turn to for all kinds of uses, beat-locked or otherwise. That's just me going for the easiest solution, though; using the AdrenaLinn always feels like cheating, since so many things are so easy to do with it. What are other people using to get that wobble live?


    Just unwrapped my Korg X911 from Jazz Ad. I have decided to be mature and not plug it in at this time. My maturity is enhanced by my being clueless as to where my European power adapter is.... *laugh*
  19. Yo explorer I just tried adding some chorus to the end of my signal chain and damn that sounds a lot more synthy!!! I can't believe I never tried that before. I've never been much of a chorus type of guy but this has definitely changed my mind. This is what I'm running.

    bass>boss oc-2>noise box> moog mf101 w/ expession pedal controlling the cutoff> line 6 m9 chorus> amp
  20. fokof

    fokof One day ,I'll be in the future

    Mar 16, 2007
    IMHO the VB99 is tops as a non MIDI synth processor for bass.

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