The Recording Guitarist: Sonar's Phaser Construction Kit

June 19, 2012

Fig. 1. The EQ’s Low and Mid band frequency knobs (left) are grouped together and set to record automation, The Level controls are at minimum, and Q at maximum, to produce the deepest notches. Note the two automation sweeps for the EQ knobs in the track at right.
A classic phase shifter creates a series of frequency response notches that sweep together, and it’s easy to emulate this effect in Cakewalk Sonar X1 (Producer Edition), because you can group the controls in its 4-band ProChannel parametric EQ.

To create a four-stage phase shifter like the original Univibe (which produced two notches), turn the Q control for two parametric peak EQ stages to a high value—typically between 10 and 16. Now, turn the level controls of the two EQ stages to minimum (-18dB) to create two steep notches (Fig. 1). I like to set these about two octaves apart, so set one EQ frequency to 500Hz, and another to 2kHz. Choose the Pure or E-Type equalizer mode (with Hybrid, the notches are too narrow to have an audible effect).

Creating the notches is only half the story, however, as they need to sweep together to create that “whooshing” effect. So, right-click on each Frequency control, and assign both to the same group. Now you can automate your Frequency control moves by enabling automation write for the two controls. Right-click on each one, and select Automation Write Enable. To sweep the effect, move one of the controls (the other will follow because it’s grouped). After recording automation, uncheck Automation Write Enable for the two controls, and then check Automation Read Enable.

For an even more intense effect, you can emulate an eight-stage phase shifter by creating notches in all four bands (choose initial frequencies of 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, and 4kHz with Pure mode), and similarly grouping and sweeping them. Make sure the highest and lowest bands are set for peak/notch response and not shelf.

Fig. 2. This setting uses a combination of peaks and notches to create a different, sharper phase-shifter sound.
What’s more, phasers—like flangers— can use positive feedback to create a “sharper” sound (like Electro-Harmonix’s Polyphase). You can emulate this effect by setting two stages to deep notches, then editing two more stages for sharp peaks (Fig. 2). Try initial frequencies of 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, and 2kHz. Use the G-Type mode, then pull the levels back a bit to 15dB for the two peaks, and -15dB for the two notches. Sweep this, and you’ll have yet another kind of vintage phaseshifter sound.

But why stop there? You can also create phase-shifter sounds that never existed— such as three notches and one peak, two pairs of notches grouped closely together but with each pair several octaves apart, and more. You might be surprised at just how many tones you can coax out of the ProChannel EQ.

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