Line 6 recently updated Helix to version 2.30, created a new Helix Edit application, and updated Helix Native. So its time for another update of my goto patch. Helix has change a lot in the last year adding snapshots and a number of new amp and effect models. As a result there have been some significant changes to my goto patch I’ve been using for live gigs the last couple of years. I also added a JTV-69S to may rig, and updated its pickups with Amalfitano Daytona pickups. After some fine tuning of the setup and a new nut, this has become my goto gigging guitar.
The new Line 6 Helix amp modeler is an awesome device, capable of creating a wide range of really great tones for acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass and vocals. However, it can be quite a challenge figuring out how to put all this capability to work for your particular needs. The factory presets are a good place to start, auditioning each one to get some ideas. But these factory presets are generally designed to demonstrate the device’s capabilities, and can be a bit over hyped and impractical for gig use.
In this post I’ll describe some different approaches to setting up electric guitar patches in Helix. Then I’ll go into some detail on my updated goto electric guitar parch, covering the reasoning behind what is placed where in the signal chain, and how each effect block is configured. Of course the tone that works for my playing style, guitar and FRFR amp may not be even close to what you are looking for. But the thought process might be useful in helping you come up with your own tone.
The previous update incorporated some of the things I learned Analyzing Joost Assink’s SRV Little Wing Patch into my Electric Guitar patch:
- Use a Studio Tube Pre instead of a Low and High Cut EQ for controlling drive and as a mid-focus EQ. This not only provides a warmer tone, but adds the flexibility of getting some distortion from the Studio Tube Pre that isn’t possible with the Low and High Cut EQ.
- Moves the Amp and Impulse Response blocks to path 1B so that most of the mono blocks are in Path 1, and to make room for more stereo effects in Path 2.
- Added another Studio Tube Pre after the Amp and (speaker) Impulse Response blocks to warm the tone a bit.
- Added the LA Studio Comp at the end of the chain, just before the Looper to further warm the tone and add a tiny bit of compression on the final result.
This updated version makes the following changes:
- Use of Line 6 Litigator instead of the US Deluxe Vib amp model
- Changed the IR to one I made myself
- Use of tube preamps before and after the amp/IR blocks for drive voicing control
- Red Comp in stead of Deluxe Comp compressor because it provides compression more suited to guitar
- Teemah! and Minotaur for overdrives
- Parallel path for Leslie
- Using snapshots for open tunings, acoustic and Leslie in the same path
Hope you find the update useful.
Approaches to Patch Design
Most guitar players use a number of different guitars, pickup combinations, tones and effects in different songs or even in different parts of the same song. This adds interest and color to your playing that helps maintain the audience’s attention. You can do a lot with just the right pickup selection, and using the guitar volume and tone controls. But Helix gives a wealth of other choices for distortion levels, effects, amp models, and synth effects. How do we setup patches to organize all these capabilities so they are ready and easy to use in a live setting?
There are two broad approaches to designing patches: Stomp mode: get the most out of each patch (includes snapshots), or Preset Mode: make each patch for a specific purpose. These two approaches correspond to the Helix Stomp Footswitch Mode and Preset Footswitch Mode respectively. In stomp footswitch mode the footswitches are used to control 8 or 10 (Stomp Mode Switches global setting) effect settings while in preset footswitch mode the footswitches are used to select between 8 different patches. The Preset Mode Switches global setting can be used to provide a combination of both with one row of stomp switches and another row of four presets.
Stomp mode minimizes the number of patches and reduces patch switching within and between songs. The idea is to design the patch to reflect your playing style and the range of tones you need. Then you use just one patch, getting different tones by turning effects blocks on and off within the patch. This is very similar to how you would setup a typical guitar amp and pedal board. You might have two speaker cabinets or two amps to get a range of tones, but that’s it. You would typically have one pedalboard that contains all your effects in a fixed order. Then you change tones primarily through bypassing or turning on effects in the pedalboard.
Helix can be used this way too. But there are some challenges to address:
- Although each main path has its own independent DSP, and can contain up to 16 blocks (not counting inputs, outputs, splits or merge blocks), its still pretty easy to run out of DSP in one of the main paths.
- There are at most only 10 stomp footswitches available within a patch. If you have more than 10 effect blocks in the patch, you’ll need some external MIDI controller to control bypass on some of the blocks
- Mono blocks sum their stereo inputs. So any stereo effect block before a mono block is lost and just wastes DSP
Helix now supports snapshots within a patch to support changing configurations within a patch. Snapshots are a special case of Stomp Mode where a single footswitch can change up to 64 parameters in the block. Snapshots can’t change or reorder blocks, they can only be used to change parameters in a preset. This allows you to configure the preset for very different purposes within the patch, and switch to them immediately without any pause, and without loosing reverb and delay tails. So snapshots extend Stomp Mode with the ability to change and store a large number of parameter changes for later use.
Use stomp mode if you have a signature tone that just uses different distortion levels and a fixed set of effects. Don’t use stomp mode if you’re playing a wide range of styles in a cover band, it will be too hard to make one patch do everything.
Preset mode minimizes the number of blocks in each patch, and uses different patches to create different tones. Each patch is designed for a specific purpose either for a section within a song, or for different songs. Patches are often ordered in setlist and banks to allow fast switching from one tone to another. Once a patch has been selected, the Mode switch (FS12) can be used to temporarily switch to stomp footswitch mode to control the blocks within the patch. In this case you’re much less likely to run out of footswitches to control the blocks since the patch is designed for a specific purpose. You can also use the Preset Mode Switches global setting to have a row of four stomp switches and a row of four patches. This may be very convenient for Preset Mode since you can quickly switch between four presets in a bank for different sections of a song, control up to four effects blocks within the patch, and use the bank switches to select the next song in the setlist.
Like stomp mode, preset mode also has some challenges to address:
- It takes some time to switch patches, this has to be done carefully within a song
- Helix doesn’t support effects trails between patches, so synth, reverb, delay, and other effects might be cutoff abruptly depending on when you switch the patch
Use preset mode if you are playing in a cover band and have to reproduce very different guitar tones, possibly with a Variax, need to switch patches within or between songs, don’t need too many effects in each patch, and can deal with the patch switching delay.
The rest of this post explores a patch built using the stomp mode. This works well for me because I play three different instruments in my acoustic band: mandolin, acoustic guitar and electric guitar, and use a Variax JTV-69S in my rock band. I use a patch for each instrument and only change patches when changing instruments. Helix is great for this because of the I/O flexibility – I can leave all three instruments plugged in at the same time with only one instrument active in each patch.
Although there are no rules for establishing the order of amp and effect blocks in your signal chain, there are some guidelines that work well in practice. Here’s a few best practices that may be useful in guiding your tone setup:
- The larger the room, and the louder you play, the less effects, especially reverb or delay you need.
- Use delay instead of reverb for ambiance, especially in a larger room, to avoid washing out the tone and to fit better in the overall mix.
- Simple ambiance can be achieved with a slap-back delay of 125 to 175 ms with no repeats. Blend to taste. Shorter slapbacks can often be left on all the time.
- Smooth out the guitar sound, and blend into the mix better using 500 ms delay with a few repeats. Especially useful in a three-piece situation.
- Most guitar players play in mono – but that’s changing with digital amplifiers. Before the amp effects are almost always in mono while after the amp effects (often in the recorded track) are usually stereo.
- Overdrive, reverb and delay are timeless while chorus has an 80’s feel. Use sparingly and with caution.
- Minimize cable length and use low-capacitance cables to get the most out of your guitar.
- Use the minimum number of effects in the signal path that you need at any point in time to avoid killing tone.
- Use the minimum amount of distortion needed for the song. Too much just washes out the guitar and has no articulation.
- It can be useful to stack distortion blocks to increase sustain. However, distorting an already distorted sound can loose articulation and make the guitar tone less distinct. Try to get the distortion you need from a single source if you can: different distortion blocks, amp gain or poweramp distortion.
- Use EQ before distortion to cut bass to reduce mud, and another EQ after distortion to cut treble to reduce ice-pick. Increase bass and treble cut with increased distortion.
A typical effect chain starts with tone shaping effects and ends with ambiance effects.
Static Tone Shaping: Tone shaping comes first, including guitar tone, volume and pickup selection. This is followed by compression to control pick attack and sustain.
Dynamic Tone Shaping: Next comes variable tone shaping devices like Wah Wah, phase shifter, or Uni-vibe, possibly Flanger too. These are modulation devices, but modulate phase or tone more than frequency, and therefore can go in front of distortion. Of course in the old days, all effects were at the front of the amp, so we’re use to hearing them this way too.
Distortion and Overdrive: Overdrive, gain staged for different boost/distortion and voicing levels. One should be for controlling metal lead distortion, and another for creating the overall amp sound. The second should clean up well when turning down the guitar volume. This section can also be handled completely by the amp if it has sufficient gain staging options. Cartographer is a good amp model for this because it has two Drive controls and two Bright switches to control the gain and distortion voicing. Use it with snapshots to setup different gain staging configurations that could eliminate the need for distortion pedals. Using overdrive pedals however can give more control over the amount of distortion and overdrive, as well as the tone shaping or voicing. Use a tube preamp and/or EQ before distortion to control the distortion tone. Use a tube preamp and/or EQ after distortion into a clean amp to do a simple volume boost for clean or distorted tones.
Amplifier: The guitar amplifier would typically come next, and usually includes the speaker cabinet and mic. This allows all the modulation and ambient effects after the amp to be “in the air” and not overly impacted by the amp itself.
Modulation Effects: Mod effects like flanger and chorus come next. These effects modulate frequency and usually work best after distortion. More classic tones came from pedals before the amp which provided most of the overdrive. This can result in a less articulate tone, and reduces the impact of the effect. In some cases, these effects were produced in the studio after the recording, especially flanger for a more pronounced effect that is operating on the distorted signal rather than being distorted by the overdrive.
Flanger might go before or after distortion depending on how pronounced the effect should be. Chorus would generally be after distortion in order to simulate doubling or Leslie effects.
Ambient effects: Delay and reverb effects go last. Usually Delay comes before reverb. Use a slap-back delay for clean ambiance, and a longer delay with repeats to smooth out the overall tone.
Its a good idea if you are using multiple patches to organize the stomp footswitches as consistently as possible between patches. This makes it easier for you to remember where each effect footswitch is located. Helix has the scribble strips, which certainly help identify what a footswitch does. But you don’t want to have to look down at the pedalboard to find an effect switch in a live situation. Here’s a few guidelines:
- Put the footswitches in signal chain order from right to left. This corresponds to how many people organize their analog pedalboards, with the Wah at the far right. Reverse this if you are left handed or prefer to use you left foot to control the Wah
- Use consistent footswitch assignments between patches to make it easy to find the right footswitch
- Name the footswitches with generic effect names, not the specific default Helix effect model names. Again this is to provide consistency between patches and make it easier to recognize the effect from the scribble script
- Put effects you change most often in the lower row, they’re easier to get to in a live situation
- If you use the Looper, put it on FS7 so its right next to the Record/Overdub footswitch after you switch to Looper mode.
Here’s my typical footswitch layout:
I use this same layout for mandolin and acoustic guitar, although the Overdrive and Distortion effects are very different.
Electric Guitar Patch
With the preliminaries finally out of the way, we can now get down to the actual patch details. This is my goto electric guitar patch. It designed primarily for Americana, Blues and Rock styles, and using a Stratocaster (or single coil pickups). Its based on a Fender style amplifier, but takes liberties with the speaker model to get the desired warmth.
The intent of this patch isn’t to copy any particular artist or song tone, although it is certainly inspired and informed by many great players, in particular Matt Schofield. Rather it is my own preferred tone, with enough variation in distortion and effects to cover a wide range of songs. I play in a typical club cover band, around two to three times a month. I don’t try to recreate the exact tones, or necessarily play the exact solos of the songs we’re covering. Rather I take some liberties and interpret the songs in my own tone and style, making sure to focus on the hooks. This makes it more fun for me while giving the audience the spirit of the song with enough variation to make it interesting. I deeply respect people like Richie Castellano who can accurately recreate the tones, effects and exact leads of so many songs. I can’t do that, and I don’t necessarily want to.
Because of dynamic DSP limitations, and the number of effects in this patch, I have put the “before the amp effects” and amp on Path 1 and the “after the amp effects” on Path 2. The output of Path 1A is sent to Path 2A which has no other input. The output of Path 2A is the Multi output, so the 1/4″, XLR, Digital, and USB 1/2 outputs are all active simultaneously. Note the pictures are from Helix Native because its more convenient to capture them.
In this configuration, Path 1 has most of the mono blocks including before the amp effects, and a couple of mono effects that go after distortion, but before the cabinet. Path 2A is mono for the Cali Q Graphic EQ, the IR block, and Studio Tube Pre, then stereo after that. This balances the DSP load between path 1 and 2, and provides extra DSP room on Path 2 for other expensive stereo effects like the 145 Rotary or 3 OSC Synth. The only issue is that there aren’t enough footswitches to control all the effect blocks in this patch. As far as I can tell, Patch Edit Mode, does not currently support block bypass. I have raised this issue with Line 6. If Bypass was available as a mappable parameter, then you could use Patch Edit Mode to control seldom used blocks that aren’t assigned to a footswitch. Another alternative is to use a MIDI controller such as the FCB1010 with the Eureka Prom to provide extended footswitch controls.
For this patch I have the Noise Gate on the input turned on with a minimum threshold in order to eliminate noise while still retaining the subtle dynamics of your guitar. I mostly play the JTV-69S, and use the Daytona magnetic picks a lot. So they can generate some noise. Generally I don’t worry that much about a bit of noise, but the noise gate tames it pretty well between songs. If its real bad, I can always use one of the models to get super quiet tones.
Wah: Chrome Custom
The first effect in the signal chain is the Chrome Custom Wah. Of all the Wah Wah pedals in Helix, this one sounds the most musical to me. Its before the compressor to deal with any odd peaks when using the Wah with a clean tone.
- Position: EXP Pedal 2
- Fc Low: 300 Hz
- Fc High: 2.0 kHz
- Mix 100%
- Level: 0.0dB
- Footswitch: EXP Toe
Compressor: Red Squeeze
I use to use the Deluxe Comp because it gives a lot of control that can be used to reproduce other compressors as needed. But I found the Red Squeeze works a bit better for guitar and is simpler to use. The Red Squeeze models the MXR Dyna Comp compressor which has 36dB of compression, very fast attack (5 msec), very slow release (1 sec), and high compression ratio (10:1 or more). This is well suited for guitar and provides very nice sustain as well as the funky attack. Kinky Comp is another good choice (and uses less DSP).
The compressor is mostly used on very clean tones just to even out the guitar dynamics a bit, and make clean tones stand out a bit more for solos. It’s placed before any EQ or distortion effects in the signal chain so it sees the dynamics of the guitar itself, not the output of most effect blocks. The compression ratio is set very high, which seems to work well on electric guitar. The Level is set for makeup gain and a tiny boost for clean leads. I keep the Mix at 50% so I can get the sustain from the compressor while retaining some of the guitar’s dynamics and making the pick attack sound more natural.
- Sensitivity: 5.5
- Mix: 50%
- Level: +0.7dB
Drive: Studio Tube Pre
I use two Studio Tub Pre’s, one before distortion and another after distortion to control distortion voicing. The Studio Tube Pre before distortion to provides some low cut to control bass mud, while the one after distortion provides some high cut after the IR to control treble ice-pick. This block is tied to the Drive footswitch (along with the Amp Drive control) and is normally off.
The Studio Tube Pre sounds good and is a flexible means of adding some early distortion through its Drive control, and a mid-focus EQ using a combination of the Low Cut and High Cut parameters. By adjusting these two parameters, you can control the width of the mid-focus EQ and where it is positioned in the frequency spectrum.
In this case the high cut is kept off because the block doesn’t add any distortion and I want to preserve the guitar high frequency response when the amp is just starting to break up. See the Amp block for more details.
- Gain: 4.9
- Polarity: Normal
- Low Cut: 90 Hz
- High Cut: Off
- Level: 6.8dB
- Sensitivity: Line
Before going into the details of this block, we have to consider gain staging. Since this patch is based on patch mode, and we want to get a wide range of tones out of the same patch, we use gain staging to control different levels of distortion. I like to have four gain levels in a patch like this one: Clean, Drive, Overdrive, and Distortion. Each of these gain levels increases distortion and uses various tone controls to control the distortion voicing.
- Clean: the amp master volume is set pretty high (or all the way up) so that any initial distortion comes from the power amp section, not the preamp. For the Clean tone, the Amp Drive control is set just below any noticeable distortion
- Drive: this adds enough Amp Drive to just get the amp clipping. Its for typical Blues tones where the distortion is coming from the power amp and the sound is warm, full, expressive, and reacts dynamically to how hard you pick. Clean and Drive are controlled by the Drive footswitch where the Amp Drive switches from 3.6 to 4.2. Recall that when the Drive switch is on, the Studio Tube Pre Low Cut is increased to 90 Hz to reduce the bass going into the distorted amps. Fender-style amps really seem to need this base cut. Without it, the distortion gets muddy and a little nasty sounding.
- Overdrive: This adds the next level of distortion, usually for heavy blues leads. A distortion model is used for this additional distortion in order to control the voicing. Some treble cut will be needed at this distortion level to keep the tone aggressive, but still reasonably warm. This gain stage should clean up well when rolling back the guitar volume control.
- Distortion: This is the most distorted tone in the patch and is used for heavier, closer to Metal leads. Again it uses a distortion model to control the distortion voicing.
- Insane: You can also combine any of the three Drive, Overdrive and Distortion tones to get increase distortion with different voicings. This is a lot of flexibility from three footswitches and one amp.
Some amp models (e.g., Soldano SLO-100 or the Solo Lead model) have clean, crunch and overdrive channels that support gain staging, distortion levels and voicings. However, these channels can’t be changed within a patch (no scenes in Helix). Other amp models like Cartographer have multiple Drive controls that along with the Master volume provide a wide range of gain staging options. Using the distortion models gives more control of both the distortion and the voicing, so that works best when using patch mode.
Teemah! is used to create the Overdrive tone, and is controlled by the Overdrive footswitch. Gain is set to provide additional distortion for blues leads while Bass Cut and TrebleCut are used to provide additional bass and treble cuts for higher gain distortion voicing.
- Gain: 4.0
- Bass Cut: 2.1
- TrebleCut: 5.7
- Clipping: Center
- Level: 5.2
I use to use the Compulsive Drive distortion model is used to create the Distortion tone, controlled by the Distortion footswitch. Compulsive Drive is based on the Fulltone OCD. This is a very nice, and very flexible boutique distortion pedal that is a real Helix gem. This patch uses Compulsive Drive to get a nice creamy distortion that just sings. Combine it with the Drive footswitch to increase amp drive and low cut to get a bit more distortion with a slightly different voicing. However, I’ve recently switched to using Minotaur. The motivation for the switch is I’m tending to use less distortion, and Minotaur is a bit more mid-focused and cuts through better without having to have so much drive. I’m also using a different Hi-Gain patch that use Cartographer for more saturated distortion tones, so I don’t need them in this patch.
- Gain: 7.9
- Tone: 4.8
- Level: 6.5
Scream 808 (Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer), and Vermin Dist (Pro Co RAT) are also very good choices for this block. These have different distortion characteristics, and voicings.
Modulation: Script Mod Phase
Next in the signal path are modulation effects that change tone or phase of the signal. These can be placed before or after distortion. Their effect is a bit more pronounced after distortion, so I’ve placed them here, between the distortion pedals and the distortion created by the amp. That’s a compromise that attempts to get the benefits of both approaches. I keep the rate slow and the mix down to keep the phaser effect subtle. This make the effect usable in a wider range of situations.
- Rate: 1.9
- Mix: 39%
- Level +1.0dB
Modulation: Ubiquitous Vibe
I use to own a UniVibe and loved the effect. Previous models in earlier Line 6 products weren’t that great, but the Helix Ubiquitous Vibe model seems dead on. This is just one of those effects you might need sometimes, especially for Hendrix tones. Its also useful when you want some tone modulation, but chorus is too much. The rate is controlled by EXP Pedal 1 (when the following Volume block is off) with the min and max values set to mimic the typical speeds of a Leslie speaker. Note that the min and max are reversed (min is 8.0, max is 1.2) so that then the effect is turned on, and the EXP 1 pedal is all the way down, the rate is slow. Lamp bias controls how the effect ramps up and down.
- Rate: 1.2 – 8.0 (Controlled by EXP Pedal 1)
- Intensity: 6
- Mode: Chorus
- Lamp Bias: 2.7
- Mix: 50%
- Level: 0.0dB
Distortion: Tycoctavia Fuzz
This is the odd effect that you might need for Hendrix tones. I don’t currently have this assigned to a footswitch, so it has to be controlled by selecting the block and pressing the Bypass switch. Seefor a great demonstration of a UniVibe and Octavia. You might also be interested in his Guitar Effects Survival Guide course. I found it very useful.
Volume: Volume Pedal
I added a Volume Pedal right before the amp block in order to provide some foot control of the amp drive. The volume range is limited to 38% to 100%. This way I can turn the volume down a little bit with the EXP 1 pedal, but don’t risk turning it all the way down if it gets stepped on by accident.
Amp: Line 6 Litigator
I’ve been using Fender amps for many years and at one time owned a Deluxe Reverb and a Super Reverb. I should never have sold them, but there you go. I never thought anything could displace the US Deluxe Vib model, but Line 6 Litigator has done it. This amp model has the additional gain and voicing for distortion that are missing from the US Deluxe Vib. It breaks up well at that critical junction where the power amp is just starting to clip.
There are a lot of choices on how to configure an amp and speaker model:
- Amp+Cab: automatically loads the matching cabinet for an amp, but allows the cabinet to be change. The lowest DSP load for an amp and a cabinet.
- Separate Amp and Cab models: allows the placement of effects between the power amp and cabinet, supports two cabinets in stereo. Uses more DSP.
- Amp and IR: lets you choose other cabinet models. Those from Redwirez, OwnHammer and Rosen Digital are very good and there are a lot of free cabinet IRs on the Web.
- Preamp: useful for input directly into a power amp connected to a guitar speaker cabinet, or in some cases as a very flexible distortion block to use instead of a pedal.
In this patch, I use the Amp model and no Cab model because I’m going to use an IR block for the speaker model.
The Amp Master volume is set pretty high so that any initial distortion is created by the power amp, not the preamp stages. The Amp Drive control is controlled by the Drive footswitch to, along with the Studio Tube Pre early in the signal chain, and the one following the IR, support the Clean and Drive gain stages as described above. Recall that the Drive footswitch also controls the Studio Tube Pres to add some a bass cut when the Drive is increased. The tone controls are set for the desired clean tone using the Strat neck pickup. That often results in the bridge pickup being a bit too bright, but turning the guitar tone control down just a little fixes that and provides the overall clean tone.
Distortion tone voicings are controlled by the overdrive and distortion block controls and are set to sound good into this clean tone setting. These tones are pretty warm to suit my band’s particular needs. You might want to brighten them up a little. I raise the bias and the Bias X to provide a good clean tone with a little bit of breakup when digging into the guitar a bit. Reduce Sag to get a tighter tone.
- Drive: 3.6 (Drive footswitch off), 4.2 (Drive on)
- Bass: 2.9
- Mid: 7.1
- Treble: 5.7
- Presence: 3.6
- Ch Vol: 7.5
- Master: 7.2
- Sag: 6.1
- Hum: 5.0
- Ripple: 3.7
- Bias: 6.5
- Bias X: 7.5
Similar to Fender amps, I place the tremolo between the amp and the speaker. I find these tremolo settings to be pleasing and natural.
- Speed: 2.5 Hz
- intensity: 6.3
- WhaShape: Sine
- DutyCycle: 50%
- Level 0.0dB
You can use a stereo auto-pan after the amp for an interesting effect. But I wanted this to be the traditional mono tremolo.
Slapback Delay: Simple Delay
A quick slapback delay can add depth to guitar tones without standing out or contributing to muddy ambiance. I leave this on all the time, but it is configured to be turned of if the long delay after the amp in path 2 is turned on. Mix is set so the slapback is there, but not that noticable when you play.
- Time: 160 msec
- Repeats 0%
- Mix: 21%
- Level: 0.0dB
- Tails: off (since there are no repeats)
Path 2A has another Studio Tube Pre followed by all the after the amp stereo effects.
EQ: Cali Q Graphic
I added this traditional guitar-centered EQ between the amp and IR. Its set flat, but is available for tone shaping if needed. I like this EQ for guitar because the five frequency bands are right in the range for an electric guitar: from 80 Hz, the low E string to 6 kHz which is about the high-frequency limit for an electric guitar.
Leslie: 145 Rotary
The Leslie block is placed in path 2B so that it is in parallel with the cabinet model. I use a snapshot to switch the 145 Rotary block on. Speed is controlled by EXP 1, so the Volume block is bypassed in this snapshot. The 2A merge block controls the mix of the amp and IR tone with the Leslie tone. This balance is usually -60dB so there is no Leslie tone. The Leslie snapshot changes the B level to -16.4dB to blend in the Leslie. Again, headroom is high because the effect (designed for guitar input) is being fed by the amp output.
In an electric guitar setup, the things that touch the air often have a major impact on the overall tone. That starts with the guitar (including pick, strings, and pickups) and ends with the speaker cabinet. Helix provides a lot of cabinet options, including dual cabinet modes. But there are also a wealth of guitar speaker cabinet impulse responses (IRs) on the market and free on the Web that also sound wonderful. Support for IR blocks is one of the distinguishing features of Helix over the POD HD500X. Selecting the right cabinet (open or closed back), speaker, mic and mic position can really tailor the sound.
After trying a lot of Helix Cab models, and a number of my own Redwirez and Rosen Digital IRs, I discovered JOOSTALNICO-G12M-R121-U67 IR.wav from the Helix forum post My Two Rock/Fender clean tone, PRESET+IR by JazzInc. This is a very warm, low-end heavy model that uses a blend of two Redwirez models:
- Basketweave G12M25s, with a Neumann U67 mic 0″ from the CapEdge
- Celestion-blue 12, with a Royer R121 ribbon mic 0″ from the Cap
The warmth comes from the proximity effect of the close mic positions, the use of a ribbon mic, and the U67 which has extended low end. This combination of speakers and mics is still crisp and smooth. Distortion tones are thick because of the bass response of the speakers, but not muddy because of the bass cut before distortion. Those two speakers also provide a warm distorted tone since they aren’t overly bright.
Joost created some other IR mixes and I found G12M25s-SM57-Cap-0in-7200c.wav to be particularly good. However, our bass player had an ealry 60’s Tremolux that had a pair of Oxford 10K5’s that just sounded wonderful. So I captured my own IR and have recently started using this.
If find most Line 6 cab models, and most commercial IRs need a fair amount of High Cut when going into my FRFR (a pair of JBL EON10’s). But Joost’s IRs, and my IR for the Oxford 10K5s sound pretty good with almost no low or high cut. I add a little low cut just to remove low frequency stuff that happens when you hit the strings. But these settings have little impact on the IR tone.
- IR Select: 40 (Oxford 10K5 AT4047 Cap-Edge 1.5 in.wav”)
- Low Cut: 61 Hz
- High Cut: 12.7 Hz
- Mix: 100%
- Level: -18.0dB
Note that IR blocks are not stored with the patch, only the index to the IR block is stored. If you have the IR block loaded at a different index, then you’ll need to change the IR Select to the index where you loaded theOxford 10K5 AT4047 Cap-Edge 1.5 in.wav IR.
Preamp: Studio Tube Pre
This Studio Tube Pre is designed to come after the amp and cabinet to warm the tone and provide after the amp low and high cut filters as needed. The effect is subtle, but does seem to improve the overall tone of the patch.
The Studio Tube Pre is set pretty flat and clean so that it does not produce any additional distortion. The low cut is set to minimize any sub harmonics created by the amp, while the high cut is used to control fizz and ice-pick from the gain stages and amp distortion.
- Drive: 5.0
- Polarity: Normal
- Low Cut: off
- High Cut: 8.4 kHz
- Level: 6.7dB
- Sensitivity: Line
All the effects from here on to the output are stereo. The effect order is modulation, delay and then reverb. Line 6 has created a very nice, general purpose chorus model that is very flexible. At one extreme, you can set Speed and Depth to 0 and just get a subtle stereo widening through headphones. At the other extreme you can get a rich 80’s chorus that will carry you away. I use chorus sparingly and with moderate settings. Use Predelay to avoid having the chorus kill pick attack and therefore articulation. Spread is set at 10 to give full stereo chorus.
- Speed: 1.8
- Depth: 6.0
- Predelay: 3.2
- WaveShape: Sine
- Tone: 5.0
- Spread: 10.0
- Mix: 50%
- Level: 0.0dB
Delay: Transistor Tape
This delay adds an obvious long delay or echo effect intended to be more noticeable. The delay is longer, 1/2 sec, and there are repeats. This delay can be used to fill in softer, sparse phrases, or provide even more ambiance in situations where there are fewer instruments and you need some fill. This is a delay setting that would often be used to thicken vocals. The Transistor Tape delay provides some modulation of the delays, giving a wider, richer overall tone without creating a wooshy chorus on the main tone.
The Scale and Spread controls can be confusing, especially since they are not documented that well in the Helix manual. The Transistor Tape delay , like the Mod/Chorus Echo and PingPong delay, has two separate channels of delay, with the output of each channel flowing into the other. The delay Time sets the time for the left channel delay. The Scale parameter sets the delay time for the right channel delay line, as a percentage of the left channel’s delay. For example, if the delay Time is set to 500 ms, and Scale is set to 0, the the delay time is 0, and the right side will repeat at the same time the note is played. If the Scale is set at 50%, then the right side will repeat every 250 ms, or twice as fast as the left. If Scale is set to 100%, then the left and right sides repeat at the same time.
The advantage to using scale, rather than just setting two delay times, is that the rhythmic interaction between the left and right sides is always the same. The proportion between the two different times stays the same even though the delay time has been changed.
Spread on a Delay block adjusts how wide the repeats bounce between the left and right sides. At 0, the left and right repeats are both in the center and the delay is effectively mono. As the Spread increases, the left and right repeats are pushed further apart, 10 is full left to right panning on the repeats.
I have set Scale high so there is just a little delay offset between the left and right channels. WowFluttr is use to add a little modulation on the delayed signal. Spread is set to 5.0 so that the modulation on the delays is partially in stereo. Trails are on since there are repeats that fade out when the effect is bypassed.
- Time: 482 ms
- Feedback: 17%
- Wow Fluttr: 2.6
- Scale: 97%
- Spread: 5.2
- Mix: 25%
- Level: 0.0dB
- Headroom: +8.0dB (because an effect typically expecting guitar level is being feed the ouput from the amp)
- Trails: On
Helix has lots of really ok reverbs, we’re hearing HD reverbs are coming. I personally like a very small amount of warm reverb. So I choose the Plate model. I use a short decay to avoid having the reverb make the tone become indistinct. Predelay avoids having the reverb cover up pick attack. Low cut and high cut are adjusted to make sure the reverb doesn’t compete too much with the main dry signal. Mix sets the overall amount of reverb. Trails don’t matter because the reverb is left on all the time, and is not assigned to any footswitch.
- Decay: 4.5
- Predelay: 41 ms
- Low Cut: 90 Hz
- High Cut: 7.8 kHz
- Mix: 28%
- Level: 0.0dB
- Trails: Off
Dynamics: LA Studio Comp
A LA Studio Comp compressor is placed at the end of the signal chain to take advantage of its unique contribution to the tone, even when its not compressing that much. This helps glue the effects together and provides a good controlled signal into the FRFR amp. Again, the effect is subtle, but does contribute to the overall tone. The use of the LA Studio Comp, and the Studio Tube Pre after the amp are intended to duplicate what would be typically be done in a studio when setting up for an electric guitar track.
- PeakReduc: 5.0
- Gain: 5.2
- Type: Compress
- Emphasis: 10.0
- Mix: 100%
- Level: 0dB;
The last thing in the signal chain before the output is a Parametric EQ. This provides the final tone shaping of the total signal path including the effects. It plays the same role an EQ in a recording track would play for final tone shaping to fit into the mix. I also use this EQ in snapshots to provide for an acoustic tone from the JTV-69S with the amp and IR blocks turned off. Like the Cali Q Graphic EQ, the frequencies are chosen to be useful for guitar tones.
- Low Freq: 110 Hz
- Low Q: 0.7
- Low Gain: 0.0dB (may be different in the Acoustic snapshot)
- Mid Freq: 993 Hz
- Mid Q: 0.7
- Mid Gain: 0.0dB (-2.4dB in the Acoustic snapshot)
- High Freq: 8.0 kHz
- High Q: 0.7
- High Gain: 0.0dB (+2.5dB in the Acoustic snapshot)
- Low Cut: off
- High Cut off
- Level 0.0dB (+3.0dB in the Acoustic snapshot to level the volume)
The Looper can be placed at the end of the signal chain so that any effects that were on when the loop was recorded are include in the loop. Playback and Overdub are adjusted so that as overdubs are added, they are reduced in level, leaving headroom to play on top of the loop. If you don’t turn Playback and Overdub down, the loop will become saturated after a small number of overlaps, and won’t leave any room left to hear what you’re playing on top of the loop. See Using a Looper for Solo Gigs for some ideas on how best to use a Looper.
A note on the Helix Looper: the 1/2 FULL speed switch appears to be global. It is not saved with the patch, and remains at its last setting when switching patches. This can be quite surprising since a FULL loop in stereo is only 30 sec long. This may be shorter than most of your loops if they are a full verse or chorus of a song. So glance down when you first use the looper in a patch and make sure the looper is set to be able to accommodate the length of the loop. In 1/2 mode, the looper is twice as long, 60 sec for a stereo loop. This is often long enough for a verse or chorus of a song. But the fidelity of the tone is diminished in this mode. This often doesn’t matter that much because the loops are intended to be background and have their levels reduced anyway.
- Playback: -2.6dB
- Overdub: -4.0dB
- Low Cut: 20 Hz
- High Cut: 20.0 kHz
The output is set to Multi to feed the 1/4″, XLR, Digital (S/PDIF), and USB 1/2 outputs simultaneously. The output Level is set to -1.5dB and is controlled by the Drive switch (FS10). When the Drive switch is pressed, this cut is removed to provide a small lead boost.
I use four snapshots in this patch:
- Standard: puts the Variax input block in standard tuning
- Open G: puts the Variax input block in Open G tuning and switches to T-Model 1 (for Stones tunes)
- Acoustic: sets the Variax model to Acoustic-1, turns off the amp and IR blocks and re-voices the Parameteric EQ for acoustic guitar.
This has been a long post to produce a pretty specific patch. This tone may be useful to you directly, or as a starting point for tweaking your own variant. Or it may not be useful at all. But hopefully the thought process for how the blocks were selected, configured and positioned in the signal chain will be useful. Its like the Scientific Method – its not so much what we discover and learn from the method that is important, after all, things change. What’s important is the process through which we explore and discover those new things. There’s always more to learn. Have fun with Helix, and I hope this helps create great tones for you.
The Mid-Gain patch and Oxford 10K5 IR are available in my Dropbox.
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