Effects presets

Effects presets

Almost all effects processors come with presets. Most have more than a dozen, some even have hundreds. The number of presets is sometimes even used as a promotional line – as if it’s a selling point. Surely if some presets are good, then more is better? Right?

Effects presets have their uses. They can be good for quickly exploring the range and scope of a processor, to hear what it’s capable of doing. In some cases they’re a good way for the manufacturer to demonstrate the processor’s best features. In some cases they can speed up the production or engineer process if the engineer finds a preset that’s close to what s/he is after, and adjusts it from there to reach the final settings.

So what’s wrong with effects presets?

Effects processors, by their very nature, rely on the input signal for their sound. Their output depends entirely on the sound coming in. The ‘effect’ that an effect processor has on the sound is relative to the sound itself. It makes no sense for the settings to be determined by someone without hearing the input signal. To drive the point home:

  1. It’s like adding salt to your food without tasting it first. How do you know how much salt to add, or if it even needs salt?
  2. “Bright Snare” preset? What snare? What style of playing? What song? What mix? Oh, it’ll sound good with any snare? Really?

The exception here is for effects that change the sound so much that they effectively become just as important as the source sound. The obvious example of this is guitar amp simulators, but equally applies to a lot of creative distortion, filtering and delay effects. These types of effects are as much a part of the sound as the original sound source, and their presets function similarly to synthesiser presets – there is often as much artistry in how it’s played as in how the sound is designed.

Ultimately, you have to do what’s best for the music. Using presets will only get you partway there.


PS. As a side note, a lot of fun can be had by by incorporating presetless effects into your workflow! The best example of effects without presets is guitar pedals – particularly analogue pedals. Or things like this and this and these.

    • thomas
    • July 7th, 2010

    All my favourite effects do not have the ability to store presets, but none of them live inside computers… c’est la vie!

  1. @thomas
    I think the most fun effects are the ones that aren’t in a computer. The stranger-looking and more hands-on, the better!


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