Do you want to learn how to create your own pluck synth sounds on your favorite synthesizer? In this quick guide I will teach you how.
Pluck Synths are Great!
Short and plucky sounds are incredibly useful in music. They can provide driving rhythms, running sequences, and little sparks of details in your music. And their short and light character means they will not take up too much room in the mix.
What are Pluck Synth Sounds?
Pluck synth sounds are basically the equivalent of a plucked string. If you pluck a guitar string or violin string for example, you get a sharp and short attack. A pluck sound.
It is also very common to mute the string with your palm as you pluck the string, which basically shortens the tail. And you can vary how short and snappy the muted pluck becomes, with the pressure of your palm.
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How to create Pluck Sounds?
Your sound design options are almost limitless. However, to create short, snappy, pluck synth sound you can use the following fundamentals:
- Amp Envelope
- Filter Envelope
- LFO Routings
- Unison Mode
- Space FX (Delay and Reverb)
Step 1 – Shaping the Sound
The first step is to actually shape the sound into “a pluck”, mimicking the sharp percussive attack that you hear when plucking a string.
This is mainly done with the use of the envelopes on your synthesizer. The envelopes shapes a parameter over time using 4 settings: Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release.
This is how an ADSR-envelope work:
- Attack Time
The time it takes for the parameter to go from the starting position to its peak position.
- Decay Time
The time it takes for the parameter to go from the peak position down to the sustain level.
- Sustain Level
The level after the initial peak. If set to 0, the parameter will “die” after the decay time.
- Release Time
The time from after the decay time position to the final state of the parameter.
How to set the Amp Envelope
For a plucky sound you want the sound to start instantly with a sharp attack, and very fast decay which creates a short peak in the sound. This is basically what a pluck sound is.
So you set the Attack Time on the Amp Envelope to a very short setting near 0. Then the Decay Time also very low, because you want a short peak in the start of the sound to create the pluck.
For the sustain value you need to decide how “muted” the pluck should be. Start by having it at 0 which will create a very short snappy sound without any tail. And then you can increase it if you want some more depth.
The release time is similar to when you let a guitar string ring out after you plucked the string. Again, for a super short and pluck sound you can start with 0, and increase it to your liking.
How to set the Filter Envelope
When plucking a guitar string you also get a very short burst of sharper overtones, which means it is brighter at the very pluck.
You can mimic this by briefly opening up the filter very rapidly during that pluck part of the sound.
Basically you can set the Filter Envelope to a similar setting as the Amp Envelope. Then you increase the knob that controls how much Filter Envelope will control the filter frequency. Often it is called “Amount” or simply “Env” and is most often located in filter section.
Just make sure the starting setting on the filter is not already at max, because then the filter envelope will not have an effect.
Step 2 – Adding Variation
When you pluck a guitar string you will get tiny variations in every aspect of the sound every time you pluck the string.
To create variations and movement in synthesizers you can use an LFO, which stands for low frequency oscillator. Basically it is a way to introduce a cycling movement in any parameter on your synthesizer.
This movement can be set to a specific speed which can be synced to a note value if you want a rhythmic sense. However, in this case you probably simply want a slow movement to introduce some tiny variations every time you play a new note.
How to use an LFO?
First you need to decide what parameter you want the LFO to control. Remember, you are adding a cycling movement to this parameter.
Then you need to set up the LFO settings for how you want to affect the parameter you route it to.
On some synthesizers you have more than one LFO to use. Which means you can have different settings on different LFO’s, and route them differently.
Sometimes you can also route the same LFO to several synth parameters, which can add even greater complexity to your final sound.
LFO routing examples:
- The Waveform Tuning
Adding tiny variations in the pitch for every note.
- The Filter Cut-Off Frequency
Creating variations in the frequency spectrum.
- The Envelope Parameters
For example adding tiny variations to the decay time and sustain, so that not every pluck sound is of 100% equal length.
Step 3 – Adding Depth & Width
You might want to spread the pluck synth in stereo space, and make the final result deeper and wider. Perhaps even push the sound back in the mix.
The main ways to do this is with:
- Waveform Layering
Using 2 or more waveforms panned far left and right.
- Unison Mode
This creates extra duplicates of the waveform, pans them in the stereo space, and introduces tiny variations in the tuning. Similar to an ensemble, which creates a wide, rich and fat sound.
Adding a synced echo to a note value is a very common way to add depth to pluck synth parts. For example an 1/8th note delay, perhaps even in stereo mode with a ping pong delay preset.
Short sounds like a pluck synth work great with some added reverb. In fact, the shorter the sounds, the more you will hear the depth and space of the reverb.
Create a Pluck Synth Sound
Congratulations my friend! You have now learned the main foundations and techniques for creating and shaping pluck synth sounds.
Here is your Final Project
Go ahead and practice your sound design skills on synthesizers now, by creating your own pluck synth sounds. You can also start by finding plucky type presets in your synth to analyze their settings, and use as a starting point to make your own customizations to. Try creating the following 3 types of pluck synth sounds:
- Short & Snappy Pluck Sound
- Warm & Deep Pluck Sound
- Wide & Spacey Pluck Sound
My name is Mike, and I wish you great success on your journey in music! =)
My name is Mikael “Mike” Baggström, and I am a composer, sound designer, artist, video creator, coffee lover, and true nerd…
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