Keyboard players often
ask me how to get a convincing
guitar sound with keyboards,
but few guitarists ask
how they can sound more like
a keyboard—maybe because
they’re already playing the
instrument keyboard players
want to sound like! Yet guitars
are great for sound design. You
can sample a guitar tone and/or texture to make something
interesting that you can drop
into songs as needed. Here’s an
example: Creating a sustaining,
keyboard-like pad sound. This
is particularly easy to do with a
hex output-guitar, but as these
are still relatively rare, try the
 Insert six audio tracks
in your DAW. Choose a
chord to play, and then record
each string of the chord individually
in its own track. (Note:
an E-Bow works great in this
 Cut off the beginning of
each attack (the part with
the pick noise) to create a more
keyboard-like characteristic. Add
a short fade-in if there’s a click.
Then, trim the clip ends to the
same length. You’ll probably have
five to eight seconds of sound
before the sustain deteriorates.
 Most DAWs have a time-stretch
maximum sustain, use it to
stretch each clip as long as practical.
(Because the sound is relatively
simple, I can stretch up
to 400 percent with the iZotope
stretch algorithm in Cakewalk
Sonar). If your DAW lacks
a good time-stretch algorithm,
zplane’s élastique plug-in (VST,
AU, RTAS) is excellent.
 For even more sustain,
copy the clips and cross-fade
them, one after another,
about every second or so (Fig.
1) until the sustain is as long
 Now, get creative with
signal processing. Distortion
gives a more synth-like
timbre, and flanging each string
independently at different rates
sounds pretty amazing, as does
applying phasing and/or reverb.
 Once there’s a cool sound,
bounce all the clips together
into a single, stereo clip.
Note: You can record additional
chords for a full octave
of pads, but if your DAW has a
quality pitch-shifting algorithm,
you can probably cheat. Simply
copy the existing clip twice, and
then transpose one copy up a
semitone, and the other down a
semitone. (A semitone transposition
does virtually no damage
to audio quality, but the sound
will suffer if you transpose too
far out of range.) You may even
be able to get away with transposing
a single chord to cover an
octave if you’re willing to tweak
the transposed copies with EQ.
This way, you can compensate
for the extra brightness that
happens when you transpose
up, and the extra dullness when
Now you have an octave of
pad sounds you can drag into
a project whenever you need a
sustaining background pad that
serves the function of a keyboard,
but that has the organic, evolving
sound of a guitar.
Craig Anderton has played on
or produced more than 20 major
label releases, mastered hundreds of
tracks, and written dozens of books.
Check out some of his latest music at
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