Using Guitar Pedals With Synths

Synthesizers are really amazing instruments. Just about anything is possible with them. Years ago you would pay a high price for a synth like the OB-8. Today synths come in all sizes and features and most of them are very affordable. So what can you do to improve the sound and versatility of an instrument that is as versatile as a synthesizer? How about adding guitar effects pedals into the mix?

At first, adding an effects pedal to a synth might seem pointless, given the fact that they are capable of creating so many unique sounds by themselves. But adding the right guitar effects pedal can expand the sound of the synth in ways you might never have thought possible. Imagine plugging a synth to a vintage flanger or phaser? One that has a unique sound and that no one else might have. Think about the creative possibilities that await you when you think outside the box by adding a vintage guitar effects pedal to your synth.

World renowned keyboard player Loren Gold, who has toured with rock legends like The Who, wanted to add a different dimension and tonal quality to his Hammond B3 organ. Loren incorporated an Analog Alien Rumble Seat into the B3’s signal chain and used the Rumble Drive and Reverb effects on the pedal to take his B3 sound to a sonic place it could not go by itself. Now I know that you know, that the Hammond B3 is not a synth, but just think of what Loren achieved by thinking outside the box and think of what you will achieve as well.

Before you select an effects pedal, you need to consider how you are going to connect the pedal to your synth correctly, so that you get the most out of the pedal sonically. Are you using the pedals in a live setting, in the recording studio, or both? Either way you will have to make sure that everything is hooked up correctly and that you get the most sonic bang for your buck. One device that can achieve this, and is a must in this situation, is the EPi (Effects Pedal Interface) by Analog Alien. The EPi is a device that allows you to interface effects pedals with your instrument and other audio gear, in both live and studio situations. The EPi adjusts both the voltage and impedance of your effects pedals, so that they interface properly with any device you are using them with, whether the device is pro or semi-pro.

There are so many effects pedals available today that we would be here practically all year if we listed all of them – and that’s not the intent of this blog post. The focus here is to get you to start thinking about using guitar effects pedals with your synth. So with that in mind, let’s keep it simple and start off like Loren did – by using an Analog Alien Rumble Seat to overdrive and distort the sound of your synth.

First, we’ll start by plugging the synth’s mono output into the main input of the EPi. Then we’ll use one of the EPi’s two insertion points, (insertion “B”), to insert the Rumble Seat into the signal chain. Then we’ll select one of the EPi’s main outputs to send the effected signal to the next device in our chain. If you are sending the signal to a balanced pro-audio piece of gear, you would use the EPi’s balanced +4 dBu XLR output. If you’re sending the effected signal to an unbalanced source, then you’ll use the EPi’s 1/4” buffered unbalanced output. And if you want to send the effected signal out -10 dBu, you would use the RCA -10 dBu output. One of the cool features about the EPi is that all of the inputs and outputs are available at the same time. So you can send the effected signal to all 3 of the EPi’s outputs simultaneously! For more information on the EPi and all of its uses, visit the Analog Alien website and download the EPi tech manual.

You can also expand your current setup by adding a second effects pedal. We’ll use the other insertion point on the EPi, (insertion “A”), to add one of my all time favorite effects pedals – the Electro Harmonix Small Stone. The Small Stone is a fantastic sounding phase pedal that can really add a 3D effect to your synth. The EPi’s insertion points are wired in parallel to each other – meaning that output of one insertion point does not feed the other directly. Each insertion input is fed a direct signal from the EPi’s main input, making them independent of each other. If you want to send the output of one effect into the other, then you would connect them together to one insertion point. If you hook both effects pedals together in series to the insertion “A” of the EPi, and you have nothing plugged into insertion “B”, you can use the EPi’s A/B footswitch to take the pedals in and out of the signal chain. This can come in very handy if you want to bypass all the effects at one time.

In the studio, you can also take this setup one step further by sending the balanced +4 XLR output to your DAW while at the same time taking the 1/4” balanced output of the EPi and send it to a guitar amp that is out in the studio area, or in a very cool sounding room like a bathroom that has tiled walls that are very reflective, adding a natural slap-back sort of echo. Then you can mix both sounds together and record them to your DAW. The possibilities are almost endless when you start thinking outside the box and really let your imagination run wild.

I hope this has helped you and that you start experimenting with using guitar pedals for synths right away. Good luck and feel free to email me with any questions you may have about the EPi and its uses. For more information about the EPi, other Analog Alien pedals and the artists who are in our Galaxy, please visit our website:

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