Look who’s back!
So, one of the old time classics seems to be coming back to use in modern pop productions, and for those of us who have a certain love for the 80s sound, well, that’s a blessing!
Yeah, I’m talking about no other than the Gated Reverb Effect, and in this tutorial, I’m gonna take you to an old-school journey on how to achieve and design your own gated reverb.
Let’s check it out…
A bit of history.
So, until the early 80s, all reverbs came through room mics, or chambers, which took a lot of real estate, or smaller -yeah, that’s correct, I’ve said smaller- plates, or the most humble solution, springs.
With new digital technologies being affordable, AMS digital reverb appeared in 1981, and now, a reverb unit did not have to be as big as a room, it just fitted in a 19” rack.
As with every 80s digital box, digital reverbs had a sound of their own, certain qualities that were not possible with plates, or springs or rooms or even chambers.
Oddly enough, the first time-gated reverb was heard, was not through one of these box’s preset. It was a bit of a mistake during the recording of a Peter Gabriel album with Phil Collins (who else?) playing drums.
Seems that engineer Hugh Padgham accidentally left the console’s talkback mic opened and went straight into the tape, blending with the dry drum sound.
In most consoles, talkback mics are really poor quality mics, super compressed and with some serious gate applied in order to just listen to the producer or engineer talking through it.
Drums coming out of the control room speakers, bouncing through the walls and coming back into the talkback mic, being heavily compressed and gated, blending that with the mic’s drums Phil Collins was playing gave a very short and compressed reverb with its tails being suddenly killed by the gate. This was a whole new sound no one ever heard before!
With a bit of reverse engineering the mistake, it could be replicated easily, and soon, with digital reverbs, it came in the for of presets.
…and that sound just dominated the 80s drums.
Second comeback. What will you need?
Now, with that sound being hip once again. it’s pretty easy for you to design your own gated reverbs.
You’ll just need three plugins:
… a Reverb plugin
… a Compressor plugin
… and of course a Gate plugin
One thing to keep in mind for this trick to work is that the Gate should have a Side-chain circuit to be triggered from external sources. In this case, the same source that will feed the reverb should be triggering the Gate.
Let’s say we wanna do this on snare drum and toms (typical use), then we create an aux return where we will insert the Reverb, then the Compressor and finally the Gate – it’s important to keep this order in the chain for the effect to work properly.
Now, we create aux sends from the channels we wanna send to the Gated Reverb, in this case, the Snare channel, and Toms Channels.
Now, let’s bypass for a couple of minutes the Gate and Compressor so we can set up the Reverb.
Choose the algorithm you like the best, and let’s have a decay of 5 seconds just to be sure. We can also add some pre-delay if we want to, but, I’d suggest using small values, like less than 20ms, but never more than 40 ms.
Now that we’ve got this long reverb going, is time to take the compressor out of bypass and set it up.
Set the compressor to the fastest possible attack and the slowest release, and now, just crush it!
Remember you are compressing just the reverb, not the drums.
Set the gate
Finally, it’s time to set the gate. First of all, set the tracks feeding the reverb to be the Side-chain, in this case, Snare and Toms.
To do so, I use an aux send to take them all to the same bus and then, that bus will be the side-chain that triggers the Gate.
Then, lets set the attack to fast and the release, should be kinda fast too, like 50 ms or so, then, set the threshold for the gate to open and close, something like -20 dB for the gate to open and -23 dB for the gate to close, should work.
Of course, this is just a guide, and you should set each value to your taste.
One other cool variation is to use a non-linear reverb and not use the compressor at all.
Another cool variation is to use room mics instead of a reverb plugins, but then, of course, drums should be recorded in a big room.
Anyway, these simple steps will get you going, so go ahead and experiment! I’d love to hear some of your results!