The characteristic feature of any drone is a very long and continuous tone that may last through the whole piece. It may be either sustained or repeated. The difference is in the tools we use to achieve the required effect. If we want a sound to be sustained – we make a string vibrating for a long time. If we want a sound to be repeated – we do it with a help of different effects.
We sustain the sound by picking a string multiple times or using a bow / ebow / sustainer / feedbacker / amp feedback. We can rub a string over a fret with a finger or rub it with a steel screw driver. When we repeat a sound we use Delays, Reverbs and Loopers. In practice we combine these tools – sustained tone and effects.
Sustainiac / Sustainer
Continuous rubbing a fret (vibrato)
Drill, fishing reel, metal surfaces etc.
Since drones are usually correlated to low tones we would probably think of using pitch shifters and octavers. Overdrives and distortions are also widely used to make drones more expressive.
In one case we would prefer to have a smooth and soft attack, in another case the attack may be harsh continuous picking washed away by Delays.
Here are the examples of sustained drones played with an Ebow. I will play it in this order: Clean sound – Octaver – Delay – Delay & Reverb (2 settings)
Now let’s look how we can make a droning sound with the help of a Cello Bow. I will play a guitar with Distortion in this order: No effects – Delay – Delay & Reverb – Octaver – Octaver & Delay – Octaver & Delay & Reverb
You can rub a string something that has a rough surface (screwdriver in my case). I will add some Distortion and Compression and play it in this order: No effects – Octaver – Delay – Delay & Reverb – tweak Reverb settings
Now I will simply rub a string over a fret (as if I play expressive vibrato). Keep in mind that a guitar will be more responsive if you add some Distortion and Compression again. I will play it in this order: No effects – Octaver – Delay – Delay & Reverb
With the help of a Looper we can layer sounds to make them even more expressive and dramatic.
The first drone consists of 2 unsynchronized loops. I will play a short drone with an Ebow and then add some melodic line with a screwdriver. Note that first of all I will record an empty loop and overdub it with an Ebow drone. This is a trick that ambient guitarists use a lot to avoid drop outs in sound when they stop recording a loop and start overdubbing.
The second drone consists of 3 unsynchronized loops. I will start with “rubbing” notes that build E chord. Then I will add a short low drone with an Ebow using the same trick with an empty loop as above. Finally I will add a melodic line.
At the end of this tutorial I’d like to show you a creative way of using guitar pedals together with a Looper. For this video my signal chain will be like that: Guitar -> Looper -> Reverb -> Delay. First of all I will record a loop of shredding distorted guitar. Then I will tweak effects settings to get something really unusual. I’m sure you will like it)
Playing drones is a very meditative exercise. No wonder that drones are traced back to shaman and other spiritual practices. Read more about Drones in ABC section.
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