Run Vocals through Guitar Pedals
Pedals are great… really great. If you’re ever creatively stuck, a new pedal can be the cure. I mean, people build giant boards for a reason, right? But not only do pedals unlock new possibilities for guitar, they can also provide new, experimental approaches to other instruments or even vocals! If you’ve ever tried to run vocals through guitar pedals, you’ve probably run into several odd pitfalls. We’ll guide you through that here!
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How To Get the Right Signal
Lots of artists big and small use guitar pedals in interesting ways, whether on synths, drum loops, vocals, or other sound sources. While it’s easy to run the output of your synth or sample pad through pedals, using them with microphones can be a little more nuanced. This is often due to a mismatch of impedances or features that instrument levels require, but microphone level signals don’t always agree with.
To unpack that a little further, running a microphone into guitar pedal requires an impedance transformer. This ensures that your pedals get a healthy signal and can process the sound properly. Then, you’ll want a DI box to take your pedal’s output and turn it back into a mic level signal since you’ll likely be sending your vocals or miked sound to a PA or mixer of some sort.
So what type of effects can you run your vocals through? Anything you want! However there are some common sounds that make for a good live mix.
Adding some grit to your vocals can really create a nice, punchy and in-your-face sound. A lot of overdrive and distortion guitar pedals have a “midrange bump” meaning mid frequencies are emphasized. This can really help a vocal poke through a mix, just be sure not to over-use this effect and tire out your audience and engineer…
Adding a tap-tempo delay is a great way to add extra lusciousness and subdivided rhythm to your vocal performance. In this scenario, try playing with the “mix” knob of your particular delay pedal to achieve a reasonable amount of delay signal to your dry vocal sound. Adding too much can take away from the performance itself and cause a muddying of your sound source.
Usually at the end of your chain, reverb defines a sonic space where your sound source can be placed. Making a small club sound like a cathedral is always a cool effect, as long as your other instruments on stage don’t bleed into the mic. This makes for an overwhelming mix and lots of potential feedback issues. But that said, there are endless reverb pedals to try, and many with multiple types of reverb on a single pedal.
Dynamics & EQ
Perhaps the most widely used “vocal effect” so to speak is actually just compression and EQ. Taming dynamics through compression is one way to ensure you’re actually being heard while maintaining the dynamics of your performance. It can also help with excessive sibilance so your ’s’ and ’t’ sounds aren’t smacking your audience in the face!
Similarly, EQ allows the possibility of removing excessive low frequencies to reveal more midrange. Similarly, adding some treble helps to reintroduce dynamics after excessive compression. Try combining both a compressor and EQ in different orders to achieve your desired effect!
Of course, you can theoretically run vocals through any guitar pedal to find something experimental and new. And we highly recommend you do!