Using Special Effects
by Julie Lyonn Lieberman
Hello Everyone! Welcome to the first edition of “Lyonn’s Roar!” I am going to start this month with a discussion on using special effects.
I can remember touring back in the 80s with a lousy pickup on my violin while plugged into a daisy-chain of small stomp boxes: phase shifter, chorus, harmonizer, and echo. Concert preparation included testing every battery in every box, testing every cable, and then sending a prayer to Apollo, the god of music, that nothing would go wrong during the concert. Carting all that stuff, including the amp, gave me strong arm muscles but I wouldn’t want to return to those days. Today, I travel with my lightweight, excellent-sounding NS NXT violin and one single effects unit.
In the late 1980s Mark Wood, a then little-heard-of rock violinist, introduced me to a palm-sized box that changed everything. I’d driven out to his home in Long Island to interview him for the first edition of my Improvising Violin book. He showed me his Zoom: One-hundred special effects neatly packed into one little unit. After our meeting I went out and got myself one. I’m now touring with my fifth generation and though I still use Zoom, other companies (Digitech and Boss, to name a few) offer their own units.
Bowed string players got into this game late because amplification for acoustics preceded the introduction of solid-body bowed string instruments. In other words, if you plugged an amplified acoustic into a phase shifter or wah-wah pedal, you would hear the original acoustic sound and the effect simultaneously. This created a watered-down result.
In addition to the multi-effects processor, you will need three cables. One to plug from your instrument to the “in” on your effects unit, the second from the “out” on your unit to the amp, and the third as a just-in-case spare (always important). I recommend that the cable that plugs into your NS has at least one 90 degree bend or elbow-shaped plug to keep the area between your body and the instrument uncluttered and to prevent accidents. Straight-shaped ¼” plugs stick out and tend to catch on things. It’s also more difficult to securely rest your instrument in its case or on a flat surface when you need to free your hands.
Make sure the cable that’s attached to your instrument has a kill switch (also called a circuit breaker). This button enables you to turn off the sound output while tuning or warming up in public. Our friends from D’Addario/Planet Waves offer a good quality cable of this kind.
How to Add Individuality to Electric Spice
Some studies cite that there are over 250 million guitarists in the world. If that’s true, then probably more than half of them own special effects. So, millions of kids, adults, and pro’s use the same sound-enhancing gizmos. How then, can we each build a signature sound? I love working with Zoom because it enables me to alter my favorite effects to my taste and then store my modifications in a separate storage bank. Zoom provides control over tone, volume, and the effect itself. While tone snobs prefer dedicated stomp boxes because multi-effects boxes use digital signals to emulate the original effects, you won’t have this flexibility when using separate units. For instance, if you don’t like a factory-supplied echo-echo-echo-echoooooo, you can alter it to echo-echooo. Or lengthen and quicken it to ech-ech-ech-ech… well, you get the point.
One last point: I tend to lower the treble and boost the bass a little to eradicate bow noise. I also like to boost mid-range a bit. Remember, the majority of effects units were developed and eq’d for guitar, not bowed strings, so while your NS instrument provides excellent tonal settings, you might need to compensate for the effect processor’s settings.
I hope you enjoyed my first installment, and that it gave you some great ideas to enhancing your sound and performance. For more information on the full line of NS stringed and bowed instruments, visit www.thinkns.com.