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Sonic Layering

Using layering of effects to craft your own sound

Creating your own sound is akin to putting your own twist on a classic recipe. A lot of this, a little of that, and hopefully you come up with something tasty. One option I believe we don’t explore enough is combining multiple versions of our favorite sounds. The following examples illustrate a few possibilities of this sonic layering technique.

I generally use three delays in my rig: a single repeat short digital delay (175-350 ms) for solos, an analog delay (350-500 ms) with a few repeats for clean sounds, and a long tape delay (500 ms or more) with piles of feedback for ballad solos and effects. The wet/dry mixes range from 15 percent on the short delay, to as much as 70 percent on the long delay.

Each delay is fine on its own, but if you combine two units, you can create polyrhythms. Or use all three delays with a volume pedal for orchestral swells. (Using multiple delays yields richer sounds than you can get with a single tapped delay.) To explore different textures, experiment with the order of which delay feeds the next. Try running all the delays into a looper to create an ambient backdrop.

You could connect everything in mono, but this multi-delay technique really takes on a new dimension in stereo. That said, unless your delay is true stereo, you probably have a dry output and a wet output, so for flexibility, use a mixer—ART and RJM make great ones small enough to mount on your pedalboard. Take the first delay’s wet output and feed it to the next delay unit. From the second delay, the wet output feeds the first input on the mixer. The dry out feeds the third delay, and both of the third delay’s outs go to the mixer. You can now pan the delays on the mixer as you like, then route the mixer’s outs to your amps. The cool thing about this setup is that your delay units can feed each mixer output as opposed to many stereo setups, which only route the dry signal to one side and the wet to the other.


Want a great Leslie sound? My multi-unit combination includes a rotary effect with controls for EQ, overdrive, and horn and drum speeds, a phaser for a Doppler effect, a slow chorus for swirl, and—if you’re not using an expression pedal to control the rate on the rotary unit—an optional vibrato effect for warble.

Most rotary pedals have two outs: Hi for the horn and Low for the rotor drum. In my setup, Hi feeds the phaser and Low feeds the chorus. One of the stereo outs from the chorus feeds the vibrato unit. The rotary is 100 percent wet; the other pedals are mixed to taste.

Depending on the result you want, you can set the rotary to a fixed speed, or use an expression pedal to vary the speed. (See the April 2010 "Guitar Tracks" for more details.) I usually set the phase at a lower depth and higher rate, while my chorus is the opposite. My vibrato is usually set at a really high speed and medium depth with a lower overall volume.

For Shoegazers

For many players, the coolest and most desirable chorus is the Dyno-My-Piano Tri-Stereo chorus. It uses multiple independent speeds and depths to create a non-static, super-broad sound. But by combining multiple chorus pedals with short "doubling" delays and pitch change or detune effects, you can go well beyond this to create sounds that would make the Cocteau Twins smile … well, almost smile.

Here’s how to route your effects: The stereo out from the first chorus hits two more choruses, one on each output, and these also split out to stereo and feed a mixer. Each chorus should be set differently from the others. For chorus effects, the general rule is the lower the rate, the higher the depth. From the stereo mixer, one side feeds a pitch shifter (10 percent wet) while the other side remains unaffected. Feeding all of this to delay or reverb units creates a lovely, lush tone.

When combining effects, my preference is to not stack the same make and model of pedal or processor. Different manufacturers use different components and designs, and these variations offer more sonic dimension than you’d get using several identical units. This principle applies whether you layer pedals, plug-ins, floor processors, or rack processors.

Robert Williams
Sweetwater Sales Engineer Robert Williams has terminal G.A.S. He also has years of experience as a guitarist, engineer, video editor, and broadcast automation integrator at sites across North America and the UK. Contact him at