Craig Anderton on Technology: Make a 'Sparkler' Sound Enhancer

Let’s enhance your dry electric and acoustic guitar tracks by constructing what I like to call “The Sparkler”— a sophisticated audio “brightener” that adds definition without treble equalization.
By Craig Anderton ,

Let’s enhance your dry electric and acoustic guitar tracks by constructing what I like to call “The Sparkler”— a sophisticated audio “brightener” that adds definition without treble equalization. Here’s how…

Basic Setup

The Sparkler needs to be a parallel effect. Tracktion and Studio One Pro V3 allow parallel effects routing within a channel. Although several amp sims can do parallel internal routings, only Guitar Rig has the needed modules. So, in most situations, you’ll need to set up a bus and insert the Sparkler as a bus effect. Use the guitar channel’s send control to feed some signal to the bus with the Sparkler. Because this bus terminates in the master bus (like other mixer channels), you can add the effect by turning up the Sparkler bus fader.

How It Works

First, the signal goes through a steep high-pass filter that leaves only the very highest frequencies intact. Next up is distortion, which synthesizes harmonics from those high frequencies. An amp sim with a cabinet won’t do the job, because the cab reduces highs. A plug-in designed to emulate a tube or preamp sound is ideal, or try using an amp sim’s distortion stompbox, and bypass the amp/cabinet. Finally, mix this processed signal with the dry signal.

Th e Sparkler Effect in Guitar Rig

Use the Split tool to create a parallel path (Fig. 1). The Pro Filter is in Split A, set to HPF (High Pass Filter), Cutoff at 10kHz, Resonance at 0, and slope at 100% 4-pole. The Skreamer provides distortion. Turn Drive up all the way to hear distortion, because the input signal is low level due to the high pass filter taking out most of the signal. Use the Split Mix to add a taste of the Sparkler sound.

Fig. 2—Sparkler implementation with Cakewalk Sonar.

The Sparkler Effect in Sonar

Figure 2 shows a typical DAW implementation, with a 24dB/octave high-pass filter preceding a Tube Saturation module. (Note: With Sonar, select Type 1 distortion, because Type 2 doesn’t process high frequencies.) While similar to the Guitar Rig implementation, the option for steeper filter slopes, a cutoff range that extends above 10kHz, and a gentler distortion algorithm also make it suitable for program material.

Tweak Time

As you tweak the Sparkler sound in isolation, grab only the highest audible frequencies, and avoid harsh distortion—you want just a hint of breakup. You’ll likely need lots of Send level to the Sparkler bus to compensate for loss through the high-pass filter. Steeper filter slopes work best with lower cutoff frequencies (but don’t go much below 8kHz), while shallower slopes usually need a higher cutoff (above 10kHz). Finally, listen to the main track and bus output, then find the sweet spot between an inaudible effect and an obvious one—and now your guitar is sparkling

More Online! Check out an audio example that plays a guitar track, then the same track with the Sparkler, then the sound contributed by the sparkle processing by itself.

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 youtube.com/thecraiganderton.

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