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Thrash: Metal Rhythm Guitar

v1.0 Documentation and Instrument Guide

Introduction

Blaze new trails in the sonic inferno ignited by the arsenal of articulations afforded you in Thrash DI!

That mandate made little enough sense that it could have come from a PR packet. I used to review metal, and I remember one press release that claimed the band’s new album ‘ripped up the blueprints for necro-grimness’. Now, that is some fine PR nonsense. But, I digress…

Use this library to make metal! It can probably make other things, but I had metal in mind when I recorded all this stuff, and so it is most at home in those blasphemous, brutal halls. I used a six-string guitar, a Schecter Blackjack C-1 with Seymour Duncan pickups, in recording this library. I know all the kids these days like their seven and eight and whatever string guitars, but you don’t need more than six to be heavy. I did include a drop-D in addition to the standard E and up, so you’ve got plenty of range to riff in. As the library’s name would suggest, the guitar was recorded direct, with no amplification or effects… so if you start playing and are confused because it sounds like a grandpa’s guitar, now you know why. Amp it up!

Before you hammer out some metal with your new weapon of sonic warfare, note the following:

  • Installation: The archive with the files uses .rar compression, so extract it with WinRar (for Windows) or UnRarX (for Mac). Keep the folder structure intact, and drop it into your library.
  • License: Use these sounds however you like in your personal projects, as instruments or sound effects. Don’t repackage them or resell them. That’s all there is to it.

Special thanks and devil horns to Adam Hanley of Icebreaker Audio who wrote the scripts for the library and brought my crazy idea for the Riffmaker to life.

The Instruments

MAIN

As you may suspect, this is the instrument you will be using most of the time. It includes powerchords, staccatos, and single note sustains, along with various playing techniques.

The keyboard is divided into the Rhythm zone and the Lead zone, separated by a set of keyswitches and the black ‘note-off’ key.

GENERAL ARTICULATIONS:

POWERCHORD SUSTAINS: 4xRR. Striking a velocity over 110 in the rhythm section yields a mighty powerchord sustain. Lower velocities play staccatos as outlined below.

SINGLE NOTE SUSTAINS: 4xRR, 2 velocity layers. These form the bulk of the Lead section, and are played at velocities beneath 118. Above that threshold is a selection of vibrato articulations and slide-ups detailed below in the STYLE: LEAD description.

GUI CONTROLS

The Main patch GUI includes the following controls:

  • STYLE: RHYTHM
    This area has several buttons which correspond to the keyswitches at F0, G0, A0, and B0 on your keyboard. They select between three stacatto styles (displayed in red) and offer a special on/off switch for staccato harmonics (the green key).

    • PALM MUTE (G0): 11xRR, 3 velocity layers. This is a heavily muted set of staccatos. They were played with the meaty part of the palm resting on the E string to dampen the release, allowing for a crisp and chunky short burst of aggression. The velocity layers correspond to the thickness of the powerchord. Low velocity keystrokes are played on a single string, the middle as a powerchord dyad (a perfect 5th) and the upper velocities are a triad (root, 5th, root)
    • HALF MUTE (A0): 11xRR, 3 velocity layers. These were played with less pressure on the palm muting the E string, resulting in a less gated, more flowing staccato. They still have a pretty short release, but more connectivity than the very distcint palm mutes. The velocities map out the same as the palm mutes.
    • OPEN (B0): 8xRR, 2 velocity layers. This set has a longer release and fuller sound, and is more intense particularly as you go higher up the fretboard. I originally recorded these for the old free version of Thrash DI and thought I’d include them here as well.
    • HARMONICS (F0): 8xRR, 1 velocity layer. These were played by palm muting the E string and playing harmonics on the fretboard with the left hand, lightly touching the string with the fingertip just over the fret. Note that these operate a bit differently than the other staccatos. Instead of working like a regular keyswitch, these override whichever set is selected until they are turned off. So one press of F0 turns them on, overriding all velocity layers of the current staccato set, and a second press of F0 turns them off again. Also keep in mind that not all notes on the fretboard have a strong harmonic sound. I recorded them all anyway, through the rhythm sections range. Even the notes that don’t have the crazy squeal can be mixed into a normal riffing pattern to add a little humanity or character.
  • CC64: SUSTAIN
    Sustain is off by default. I find that when used, it can add fluidity to riffing in the rhythm section and enables easy repetition of the sustained powerchords. It can also smooth out staccato patterns, letting the release flow right up to the next note’s start. When sustain is on, the two black note-off keys will stop the sustained note. Additionally, the note-off key at C3 cycles through four note-end noises.
  • CC1: UPSTROKE
    Use the mod wheel / CC1 to activate this essential metal technique. With the mod wheel up, a staccato upstroke will be added to the release of every downstroke. This produces the classic fast chugging heard in many metal riffs. With the mod wheel down, you get only downstrokes. Careful timing or editing the MIDI data after the fact can yield triplet patterns and other cool feats of riffology.
  • SOLO MODE LOW & HIGH
    These switches activate a monophonic solo mode in the rhythm and lead sections, respectively. You should almost always leave the rhythm section solo mode set to ‘on’ since that section is already playing chords. The High solo mode, though, can be useful both on and off. If it is on, your lead lines will flow more readily and sound crisper when notes are connected. If set to ‘off’, you can play polyphonic chords or other overlapping notes.
  • STYLE: LEAD
    Thrash DI offers you three styles of lead accents, which play when you hit velocities between 118-127. These are chosen via keyswitches at G2, A2, and B2.

    • VIBRATO, LIGHT (G2): This vibrato was played with the fingertip pressing down on the string behind the fret for a fairly subtle but musical effect.
    • VIBRATO, HEAVY (A2): A more intense, crazier wobbly vibrato played by pulling the string in a clawlike manner that yielded a wider change in pitch.
    • SLIDE-UP (B2): These slide up to the note you play from the nut (the place where the fretboard meets the headstock of the guitar). The start of the slide is sort of indistinct, so they can be used as a sort of faux legato transition in a lot of cases. These are also presented in their own patch, where the pitch wheel controls the speed of the slide making them more adaptable.

TREMOLO

Black Metal guitarists rejoice! You no longer have to risk tendonitis or your arm falling off. Just use these looped tremolo powerchords and single note sustains and you will be spared the agony of having to play them all the time.

The powerchords come in two flavors: your garden variety 5th dyad and the extra-evil 3rd interval. Use the keyswitches at A0 (5ths) and B0 (3rds) to swap between them. The 3rds start at F#1, though I left the 5th of D1-F1 on there as well.

Both the single string tremolos and powerchords are set up to pick a random starting point in the loop to begin at, which means you won’t run into trouble with repeated notes. The loops generally run between 10-12 seconds each, so you don’t have to worry about it sounding bad if you hold down a note for a good long time.

DIVES AND RISES PW SPEED

Enjoy this fine spread of tasty dives and rises. Use the pitch wheel to speed up or slow down the samples to fit your composition.

HP ALL PW SPEED

This patch presents hammer-pulloffs in both half-step and whole-step varieties. Swap between them using the keyswitches. Use the pitch wheel to speed up or slow down the speed of the articulation.

SLIDE-UPS PW SPEED

These are the same slide-ups from the Main patch, but with the added control of having the pitch wheel control the speed of the slide. It really makes them a lot more useful and versatile.

PINCH HARMONICS

A perennial favorite of people who like squealy noise, this articulation will be familiar to nearly everyone who listens to metal or hard rock. Use the pitch wheel like a whammy bar to bend these into submission.

HARMONIC SWEEPS

I heard this technique in a Gojira song (though I’m sure a million other bands have used it) and thought I would record some. It is played with the left hand’s index finger laying across the harmonic sweet spot on frets that produce a strong harmonic, then sweeping the pick down or up. They sound pretty cool, but like any very distinctive gimmick sound, don’t use them too much or you’ll wear them out.

NOISES

Just a bunch of string-changing zips, indistinct whumps, and other assorted noise to add a bit more realism and junk to your tracks… though, really, a lot of metal is cleaned up so much you don’t hear a lot of this. Still, it’s useful to have around in your toolbox.

THE RIFFMAKER

The Riffmaker GUI is composed of a bunch of boxes that you can click in to build sequences of notes which we in the business call ‘riffs’. These melodic ideas form the backbone of many a metal song. You can store up to twelve sequences, all accessible by keyswitch. These patterns are transposed up and down the range of the keyboard.

The Riffmaker is really way less complicated than it looks, and will probably take you all of five minutes to figure out, but it does have a wide range of features and offers plenty of tools to sculpt your riffs.

BASIC OPERATION

  • Build a sequence of notes out of the available articulations.
  • Press a key on your keyboard and rock out as your sequence plays. \m/
  • Use the keyswitches to activate different patterns.

Let’s look at each part of the Riffmaker, from top to bottom.

STEP

This is easy, it’s just an indicator to show which step in the sequence is the current one. Your pattern can be up to 32 steps in length.

UP

The UP row of boxes are used in conjunction with the STAC boxes to give your riff that patented metal chug. If you have a STAC box activated, you can click the corresponding UP box to add an upstroke to the release of the staccato downstroke. This allows for easy creation of fast powerchord chugs and cool rhythmic patterns.

STAC

STAC stands for staccato, and this is where you’ll have access to the delicious buffet of powerchord chunks on offer in Thrash DI. Note that the STAC boxes contain a number (all ‘0’ in the example). The numbers represent the style of powerchord staccato currently active. You can select from three options:

  • 0: Strong palm mutes. These have a very short release and lots of chop.
  • 1: Half mutes played a little more loosely.
  • 2: A more open, meaty staccato with a longer release.

When you activate a STAC box, you will see two selectors appear at the bottom of the GUI screen. These allow you to select the style and velocity of the given staccato. The styles are outlined above. The velocity levels you have available are as follows:

  • L: Light. These are a single-string staccato on the given note.
  • M: Medium. A powerchord dyad, which is a little more crisp than the heavy triad.
  • H: Heavy. A powerchord triad. These are fuller and chunkier. Brutal.

To empty a STAC box, just click in the box again to clear it, or select a LONG or HARM(onic) note.

LONG

To activate a sustained powerchord, click one of the LONG boxes. When you select a LONG box, you will note a LENGTH slider appears in the GUI. This determines (unsurpisingly) how long the note sustains. Play around with it. You’ll get the idea.

If you activate a LONG note, you can leave the following steps blank until you reach the point where you want to continue your riff.

HARM

Click a button in this row to inflict harm, in true metal fashion. Wait… no. This row is acutally there to allow you to activate staccato harmonics. These are played with a light touch of the finger on the string above the fret that follows the note in question.

It is important to know that not all notes on the fretboard produce strong harmonics. That’s why some of the harmonics sound kind of like a dull buzz, while others yield a satisfying atonal squeal. Use the pitch controls to find a harmonic that suits the sound you’re after.

PITCH

This crazy bar thing lets you adjust the pitch of the articulation being played relative to the note you’re holding on your keyboard. Clicking and dragging in one of the pitch slots will make a graphical bar appear as you adjust that column up or down a semitone at a time. If the resultant adjustment puts the note outside the upper range of the instrument, you’ll hear no sound.

COPY / PASTE

These copy the current pattern or paste whatever’s in the copy buffer.

LENGTH

Set how many steps your sequence has (between 1-32) with this control.

SHOW

By default, steps 1-16 are displayed in the GUI. Clicking this handy switch lets you see the rest of the steps you have available to develop your sequences.

NOTE

Set the duration of a step with this dropdown. This only operates on a overall basis, not on a per-step basis. In other words, you are establishing whether your sequence plays quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenths or thirty-seconds.

CLEAR

This clears the whole sequence to start fresh.

LATCH

LATCH is either on or off, and acts as a sustain pedal would, making the sequence play indefinitely. This can be useful when you are building your sequence, so you don’t have to hold down the key on your keyboard to test it.

When LATCH is active, you can press C1 (which is highlighted in black on the Kontakt GUI) to stop the sequence.

RE-START

This control determines the behavior of the sequence if you transpose it somewhere in the middle of its duration. If RE-START is inactive, as it is by default,
the sequence will continue playing through its steps as you transpose the pitch on your keyboard. if RE-START is active, any new keypress will make the sequence start over at step 1.

BANK

The BANK selector chooses which sequence is currently active, and thereby which one is displayed in the GUI. The keyswitches from C0-B0 can also be used to switch the bank on the fly in your sequencer or during performances. You can store up to twelve sequences in the Riffmaker.

Note that Kontakt will save the state of a Kontakt instrument on a per-project basis in your sequencer, so you could have twelve patterns stored in your Riffmaker for a particular project, and make twelve different ones in another project which will be saved along with it. If you want to preserve those patterns for use in another project, I would suggest re-saving the whole Riffmaker Kontakt instrument under a new name for each set of twelve patterns you wish to preserve.

Effects Panel

Each of the patches in Thrash DI has a spectacularly rendered, beautiful bank of wonderful knobs and switches that control various effects right from your instance of Kontakt.

Don’t bother using any of them.

What? You ask, with shock etched on your face. Yeah, I’m telling you not to use the Effects panel on the Thrash instruments. Kontakt’s onboard selection of amp sims in no way stack up to what you get with most commercial amp sims on the market, so I heartily recommend you take a look at the nice graphics we made and then go get a real amp simulator to use in building your guitar tone.

I mean, everything’s here for you and it works just fine if you want to muck around with what Kontakt has to offer. You can probably figure out what all the buttons and knobs do. Who knows, it might be of some use to you, but really… if you want to make some metal, go get an amp sim. There’s a list of recommendations coming up elsewhere in this manual.

If you are planning on not using the Thrash Effects Extravaganza, set the Cabinet to ‘D.I.’ (it is by default) so that it does not color the tone of whichever other effects unit you settle on.

Amp Simulator Recommendations

I’ve used a whole lot of amp sims, and I have my opinions on which will melt the most faces. They may differ from your opinions, or they may meet in harmonious convergence. There is only one way to find out. Keep reading. I present these in no particular order.

  • Guitar Rig 5 – I was not a big fan of GR4, but I have been consistently impressed with the improvements they made for the GR5 update. It still seems a little thinner to me than the tones I get from other amps, but there is a lot to like. Previous iterations of Guitar Rig sounded very digital, but version 5 has improved that considerably.
  • bx_rockrack PRO – This amp sim doesn’t have the endless variety of models and effects that some others boast, but it does offer a really nice, full tone. It’s my current favorite. I like it more for lead tones than rhythm, but as it grows on me, I find more and more uses for it.
  • Overloud TH2 – Crisp, detailed, and versatile… this amp sim gives you a ton of options that cover many genres. A real workhorse, and it sounds great. Lots of excellent clean tones in addition to the overdriven and distorted fare.
  • Amplitube Metal – For some reason, I can’t seem to get anything out of this that I really like. It feels muddy and buzzy, kind of indistinct. It does have a nice harmonizer effect. I am glad I got it on sale for $15.
  • Vandal – I don’t own this one, just played with the demo, but it is a solid all-around amp sim. None of the metal tones really blew me away.

 

The Guitar

Here is another fine picture of the guitar used in Thrash. It is a Schecter Blackjack C-1 with Seymour Duncan humbucker pickups.

Rock On

I hope you have a great time shredding with Thrash DI. Amp it up and let it burn. \m/

- Joel Steudler