HornFX is a unique resource for the horn player looking to use effects. Our reviews, rankings, articles, artist pages, and effects databases are specifically geared to inform any horn player about what effect might best provide the sounds and capabilities they are looking for. Any one pedal can perform differently and have different applications from a saxophone, trumpet, or trombone perspective, and it is our goal to give the most comprehensive, complete, well thought out information and advice to the pedal seeking horn player.
Talk to any guitarist or bassist for two minutes about their pedals and you will quickly realize that the world of effects is one of never-ending experimentation and opportunity. But the more you learn, you will begin to realize that in spite of your friends’ wealth of knowledge, much of what he or she knows may not apply to you as a horn player for a variety of reasons. The number of professional horn players utilizing some sort of effects pedal setup is steadily growing, but it is still a vastly unexplored frontier. This makes the horn effects world an exciting but difficult one to navigate for those of us interested in maximizing our live performance potential.
There are many different effects available that will sound great with any wind instrument, if used intelligently and correctly. It can be an overwhelming task to parse through that vast array of possibilities to find the effects that are right for you, so to simplify the initial process, one should ask themselves two crucial questions:
1) How much of the natural sound of the instrument you are do you want to maintain?
You can make your horn sound like the strangest most futuristic synthesizer with the touch of a button, but you then lose your specialized edge, your voice. We at HornFX like to believe that horn players are highly specialized musicians, hired mercenaries if you will. We are expected to play our own instrument in a way that adds a unique timbre, emotion, and energy. This can be as another layer in a wall of sound, or even a performance-defining solo. That's what the employer expects.
If you come to the performance sounding like a theremin or an electric guitar, you might not have the gig for very long. Chances are that you were hired because you play a wind instrument. However, if you come to the gig and present yourself to the artist or band as a highly polished horn section with a vast array of possibilities that, most importantly, remain honest and true to the sound of the instrument, you might keep the gig for far longer than you thought!
Some other horn players may wish to pursue a more avant garde solo career that requires them to be able to mimic and create a far wider range of musical sounds that leave leave behind the more traditional sounds of their instrument. HornFX can certainly help you in your endeavors as well! While pedals exist that can take the horn player in either direction and many are reviewed on this site, most of our experience focuses on ways to enhance and improve the traditional sound, but not change it completely.
2) How do you want your setup to work?
As of right now, the effects world is geared towards guitarists and bass players. Keyboard players are also catered to, but so far, there are few if any effects pedals created specifically for use by horn players. This presents in interesting challenge that can be approached in many different ways. Pedals and effects units are not generally designed to be used with a microphone, as their connections are not immediately compatible. Mic preference is important. Some players prefer clip-on microphones, while others prefer a mic and stand. Some prefer wireless, while some only use wired. Most microphones use an XLR output while most pedals use ¼” inputs and outputs. How does one get their signal from the microphone to the pedal? There are a multitude of ways you can do that, from using a wireless mic that has a ¼” jack built into its receiver, purchasing a direct XLR to ¼” cord, an XLR to 1/4" impedance converter, or even some sort of pre-amp or signal converter.
A good term to become acquainted with is impedance: microphones tend to be low impedance, while amplifiers and pedals tend to be high impedance. However, most sound boards in performance venues are low impedance as well. So to get the best quality signal, it may be smart to convert your low impedance microphone signal to high impedance as it goes through the pedals and back to low impedance as you exit, depending on whether or not your signal is going directly into an amplifier, monitor, or the sound board itself. In a live performance, you will need to find some way to convert your signal from ¼” back to XLR to run into the snakes on stage (they can very rarely take a ¼” cord in large venues, but if you’re running your pedals at your own gig to a mixer you can go in ¼” if you so choose). But remember, this keeps your signal at high impedance so you may not be maximizing your signal. This is not the worst thing in the world; really just something of which to be wary, as it will somewhat alter the output signal. Many musicians utilize either a DI box or a pre-amp, both of which perform the added function of converting your signal back to high impedance for the board.
Once you have answered those two questions, your journey can begin. The work you do between the mic and your output signal is the fun part: the choice of what pedal(s) to throw in there and what order in which to put them. This is the point where you get to explore your own ideas and thoughts about where you want to take your sound. Two quick pieces of advice for the beginner:
1. Decide what specific effect(s) you are looking for and create the perfect sound in your head before you begin your search.
2. Start small. Pick 1-3 functions you've always wanted to try and buy one simple pedal for each sound. Use these pedals in as many ways you can think of until you think you've done almost everything possible and understand them completely. Then, buy another pedal :)
The pedal world is a never-ending and beautifully diverse one, and we hope HornFX helps you in some way to navigate and become familiar with this world. Remember to always keep an open mind and don’t hesitate to keep some notes on similar pedals, noting what you like and dislike about each, favorite settings, patches, and anything else you might think valuable to remember. Good luck and enjoy the journey!
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