Music producers are always looking for a signature sound to set themselves apart. And while you indeed can find excellent ways to use VSTs or write chord progressions in a way unique to you, there is no faster way to set yourself apart than by combining things that shouldn’t go together.
One such example is using guitar pedals alongside hardware synthesizers.
Most guitar players know the fun and exciting world of guitar pedals, but few producers know the vast amount of creative, boutique guitar pedals out there that can turn sounds from standard Moog or Korg synths and turn them into sounds that nobody has ever heard before.
So let’s dive into our favorite effect pedals you can use for hardware synthesizers. Note that this is incredibly subjective, and as a producer of more ambient house music, many of these pedals will lean towards reverbs, colorizers, and delays. But let’s dive in…
Electro-Harmonix Superego Synth Engine
If you’re a fan of unusual sound design from your hardware and VST synths, you’re probably interested in the Electro-Harmonix Freeze pedal. The ability to sample a small section of sound and then change it with effects pedals – effectively allowing music producers to turn these pedal boards and hardware synths into modular units – has kept adventurous producers and hardware enthusiasts excited about the possibilities.
The Superego’s ability to generate tones typically only possible with studio trickery is immediately impressive. The latch mode is handy for sampling your synth sounds on the fly to build a backdrop texture and ambient soundscapes. Think of this as a shortcut to Brian Eno’s ambient soundscapes you can access just by playing a few notes on your synth as you hit the switch and then playing melodically over the captured sound.
This pedal is perfect for anyone dedicated to exploring new tones and textures. If you’re someone who loves transforming their analog synth sound, the Superego is a great place to start.
Boss RE-20 Space Echo
If you want to add some off-kilter quirkiness to your analog gear, this guitar pedal must be on your radar. The sonic profile of a tape echo is obviously due to the quirks of the tape medium and its transport mechanism, making for some truly unique effects when you modulate it.
You can also use the RE-202 to create different sound effects depending on how you adjust the Wow & Flutter knob. A higher setting will make the sound more like a machine that’s out of kilter, while a lower setting will add a realistic modulation to the analog sound of your synthesizer.
The Saturation knob will increase the level of both the repeats and the dry sound to help add a new layer of complexity and warmth to your already gritty source signal. The RE-202 perfectly captures the sound of a Space Echo while offering way more capabilities than an original Roland RE-201. If you’ve ever wanted a Space Echo in your setup but thought it would be impractical, now you can do it with complete confidence.
Electro-Harmonix J Mascis Signature Ram’s Head Big Muff Pi
The J Mascis Ram’s Head Big Muff Pi gives you the rich fuzz tone that J has used as his sonic core for decades. It’s a perfect balance of thickness and clarity.
This pedal has quickly become my go-to on my Korg MS20, as the unique resonance of the filter on that specific synth screams when it’s rath through the signature fuzz and flavor of this guitar pedal. If you’re looking for a fantastic coloration and fuzz pedal for your synths, this is a cheap and unique option to add that grit and coloration to your sound.
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Eventide Space Reverb Pedal
This synth pedal is outstanding, mainly because it offers much more than reverb, including a modulator, delay, distortion, tremolo, and compression. The sound quality is excellent, as with most pedals for synths that Eventide makes. It also doesn’t seem to add any unexpected noise (it will amplify any existing noise when using the Reverb EQs to boost treble or at a higher gain setting with the distortion).
This is a game-changing effect, mainly because hardware synths have so many points in the chain that anything can introduce noise to the signal. Having the luxury of even reducing one of these points can be a game changer.
Adding on to all of this, this pedal has a bunch of great presets that sound amazing on synths. You can easily make adjustments on the fly with the knobs, which is crucial when adjusting other synth parameters in real time. The ease and flexibility this pedal offers make it one of the best guitar pedals to use when playing hardware synths.
Strymon Timeline Delay
There’s no doubt in my mind that the Strymon is one of the best delay pedals on the market. I’ve never seen it leave my production studio since I got it. Connecting it directly into my Macbook through its onboard MIDI to USB interface is a dream come true as well, opening even more creative doors to my workflow outside of just processing my analog synths.
This machine has a lot of different uses and produces different sounds depending on how you play it. What makes it so unique is that you can get precise on dialing in the exact delay you’re searching for or random and off-grid with its analog delay. There are plenty of options for tape delay, which is my favorite kind.
I haven’t scratched the surface yet, but from what I can tell, the Timeline is worth checking out if you ever get the chance. It’s great for keeping your delays in perfect sync with your DAW.
Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets Resynthesizer
Infinite Jets samples your synths as you play them while tracking the dynamics of both notes and chords. It then uses two channels of endless sustain to offer Blur, Synth, Glitch, and Swell effects. The chords fade from one to the next, creating giant washes of ambient textures, glitching granular loops, filtered synthesizer sounds, violin-like fuzz, distorted delay and vibrato, and more. It’s some crazy stuff!
You can use ten variations, and two users save slots for your favorite settings. You can even plug in an external expression pedal to control many features. The Infinite Jets is constantly evolving, almost in real-time, and it’s hard to recreate any of the sounds it produces. It’s also very inspiring and unforgettable at staving off boredom. These controls result in so many sound variations that it’s hard to categorize this pedal as our favorite kind.
Overall, this means that you can get an almost infinite number of options that are truly impossible to recreate. This pedal is right for you if you’re into wild and hacky sounds in your productions.
Walrus Audio Lore Reverse Soundscape Generator
The Lore joins the Walrus Audio roster of reverb and delays pedals to provide complex ambiance and soundscapes for any genre that thrives off texture and detail. Walrus defines it as:
“[It’s] an ambient creation machine built around reverse delay and reverbs,” – Walrus.
The pedal has two DSP chips that work together in series. This allows for different combinations of delay and reverb, with a lot of interaction between the effects to create some of the most complex atmospheres you could want in a track.
What makes this so powerful is that the music I make with my synths and keyboards is all dance-focused, which gets all of its impact from having just a few elements in the track. This pedal helps create all-encompassing sonics from just a few ingredients, and it’s quickly becoming the secret sauce to my music production workflow.