Presets: A Quick Start – Not a Good Head Start

More often that not, beginners are lead to rely a bit heavily on presets programmed-in by the manufacturer, and usually get stuck with a tone, that initially sounds great, only to be criticized by others later.

Why Presets Exist

Presets are first and foremost programmed-in to show, the effects processor’s capabilities.  For this reason, some presets may be an extreme demonstration of the product.  More often than not, I find this to be true in budget gear where presets tend to demonstrate extremities – such as the loudest; the brightest tone; the best distortion – more of black or white argument.

The second reason of course, is to give the user a quick start and aid in the shortening of the learning curve.  That is, a quick start but not necessarily a good head start.

While this may be advantageous, it is not meant to stop the user from the process of discovery and learning.  More so, how they function individually and when hooked up in different configurations and algorithms.  I am of the opinion that, it is this initial contentment that makes beginners stop experimentation and learning.

To the contrary, the reverse seems to be true with high-end gear.  Although its range of performance would far exceed than that of a budget one, it is not in these ranges that they function best.  They function best somewhere in between the lowest-to-mid settings or mid-to-highest settings.  Certainly more room for experimentation!

I am not for a while denying, the usefulness of presets.  But, its use is in giving the user a quick start. Not to get stuck with it.

What to do with Presets

A better practice would be to sample some presets to get a taste of the capabilities of  the processor. Start by learning more about each of the individual effects: How they work and what effect it would have on your program material.  Then, deconstruct its algorithms and settings to learn how they work.  For example, do you compress first then drive? Or, drive first, then compress?

That said, one of the first steps would be to set a proper gain structure along the chain.  This is so because the processor could only process, the quantity and quality of what goes in it, which then it processes for output.  If you are a guitarist, you might want to read my earlier post: Guitar Tone Tutorial.

A Good Head Start

I would recommend any one using effects to learn and master:

  • Pre-amps and Amps (though not categorized generally as an effect, this is where it all starts)
  • Frequency and Amplitude based filters, such as:
    • Graphic EQs
    • Parametric EQs
    • High Pass Filters, Low Pass Filters and Notch Filters
  • Envelope altering dynamic filters, such as:
    • Compressors
    • Limiters
  • Time based filters, such as:
    • Delay
    • Reverbs
    • Phasers, Flangers, etc. (hmm… where did that come from? :D)
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, thank you.  I hope it is was productive.  Please do leave a comment with your thoughts.
  • Pingback: Mohamed Ashraf()

  • Like these audio/technical posts. I play with audio software now and then just for fun. But one thing that I, and I’m sure many others, struggle are using compressors properly. I can understand it’s a huge area, but hey your posts would make a good online resource for many 🙂

  • @primary0 (Ashraf): You’ve highlighted a good point there. Learning to use a compressor effectively is not that straight forward and would require:

    1. Good monitoring devices (monitors &/ headphones)
    2. Good critical listening skills
    3. Knowledge of dynamics
    4. Knowledge of compressors and compression techniques
    5. And a lot of practice

    Faya suggested to me that I do a tutorial on dynamics here. I’ll try and post something on this subject as well. Thanks.

  • Faya

    I’ve gone the ‘presets road’ a few times and couldn’t agree more.Couple of things I’ve learned is :

    1. Reading (and re-reading) the manual helps a lot to get familiarize with the UI and the functions and get enough courage to go past presets 🙂

    2. Picking a preset as a rough guide on a track your well familiar with and tweaking it to satisfaction.

    3. The most important function in a plugin for me is the ‘BYPASS’ switch.

    • Yes, reading and re-reading the manual is of utmost importance. And when that’s not enough, Google, forums and blogs help me too.

      BYPASS is a very important button, in A/B-ing (comparing) how it sounds with the effect on and with the effect off.

      Tks for sharing some great tips!