Delays and Reverbs

Shoegazers are certainly known for having a lot of pedals (have a peep at this shot of Kevin Shields’ pedalboard) and, as the next key foundation of the sound, I thought I’d look at some plugins that get close to some of the more sought-after shoegaze delay pedals.

You don’t need the most complex DSP reverb or boutique handcrafted-in-Portland delay pedals to get the shoegaze sound; often cheap compacts and bundled delays can get you close. Interestingly, here’s Kevin dispelling every myth about the ethereal tag MBV are often filed under:

Firstly an absolute staple in many boards is the Memory Man from Electro Harmonix, which you can see here on Lawrence Chandler of Bowery Electric’s board. The Memory Man is an analog pedal known for its crusty sound and lush modulation. Logic’s Pedalboard Delay pretty much nails the sound:

I’ve tweaked the preset it comes loaded with by adjusting the Time, Feedback and Mix to suit my needs. I’ve keep the Dirt and Flutter high and been liberal with the Lo and Hi Cut filters to keep the sound as boxed-in as possible.

Next up is the Digitech PDS-8000, a digital 8-second delay sampler known for its grainy sound; it was used by many guitarists of the era, in particular Kevin Shields and Neil Halstead of Slowdive. Earlier this year SoundToys released a free plugin, the PrimalTap, which I think gets pretty close to the sound. It also has a handy feedback loop.

Jumping over to Ableton Live now, I’ve recorded four basic arpeggios into the Looper plugin at 91 bpm. To simulate the lo-fi sound I’ve added a Redux plugin at 12 bit with half the sampling rate. I’ve set the time to 329 ms (1/8th note at our tempo) and used the Multiply to reduce the sample rate of the repeats (set to 8x). I’ve driven the input and adjusted the feedback and mix so as to not swamp the sound:

A lot of the early shoegaze sound would be made using a combination of analog and digital delays, pedals and rack units to create complex sounds. Units such as the Yamaha SPX900, Roland SDE-1000, Ibanez HD1000 and Alesis Midiverb were common in racks around this time.

Here, using four sends, I’ve created a big wash of cascading delays: Send A uses the aforementioned PrimalTap patch; Send B is using Live’s own PingPong Delay, set to 3/16ths;

Send C is Live’s Filter Delay; and for Send D I’ve used an Audio Effects Rack with four instances of Waves SoundShifter with +12, +7, -5 and -12 semitone tunings, respectively. This is running into Live’s Simple Delay and then the four sends are balanced with the dry signal:

Finally, the Alesis Midiverb II had a particular preset (Bloom, presets 45 through to 49) known for its use by Kevin Shields and others. Let’s start of with the dry sound. Using the same clean fuzz tone for Only Shallow, I’ve recorded something a bit like To Here Knows When.

The chords are G, D, F and C power chords with the top three strings left open and the guitar is tuned to EADGBD:

It’s okay, but it’s not perfect. I’ve inserted an instance of the excellent and reasonably-priced Valhalla Shimmer on a send. Using a tweaked version of this preset (designed to emulate Bloom) we’ve got a much thicker sound:

The Mix is set to maximum because it’s used as a send/return and not an insert. Moving the Diffusion to 0.618 makes the reverse effect kick in and I’ve adjusted the Size to work better with my tempo.

If you’re still searching around for inspiration, FiveWays from GuitarGeek has produced an excellent guide to stompbox and rack units for ambient music and Andy Othling has made a great YouTube playlist of some extra shoegaze/post-rock tips that’s well worth checking out:

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