Guitar Pedal Guide: What is a Flanger Pedal?
Even though it is remarkably popular, there are still many people who don't know what the ‘flanging' effect actually is, or how and when it should be used. That's why we are here today to shed some light on aforementioned issues, so let's get straight to it.
Brief history of Flanger
In order to understand the flanger pedal we first need to explain the ‘flanging' effect. Essentially, before this effect came to the convenient format of pedals, it needed to be achieved manually.
This technique was revolutionary at the time, and obviously it came to life by accident. Audio engineers and producers during the ‘70s and ‘80s polished it; however, it was sparsely used and experimented with even decades before.
For flanging to take place, veteran producers would need to identical guitar tracks. They would play them simultaneously, leave one untouched, and press a finger on the second tape's rim.
This would slow the track down a bit, but it would also alter a portion of the guitar's tone in turn. When these two tracks would be played at the same time, the tone would be delayed at varying intervals.
Modern-day flanger compared to nostalgic analog flanger
Achieving a flanging effect on a tape reel required a lot of skill and practice; even that would not guarantee desired effects, which is what the developers of flanger pedals wanted to (and did) address.
Modern flanger pedals completely eliminated the unpredictability of the original flanger effect; even the most basic pedals nowadays offer superior accuracy and vast customization potential in terms of tweak-ability.
However, the biggest advancement in the flanger technology is the fact that it is readily available in a live setting. Old-school musicians needed to rely on backing tracks if they wanted a speck of flanger in their tone; on the opposite end, today's musicians can easily utilize it in live shows and in recording studios.
Diversity in flanger pedals
The current market of flanger pedals features hundreds upon hundreds of different models; each of them offering a different tone, controls, and design.
The schoolbook example is Boss's BF-3 Flanger; outfitted with plain controls, such as depth, rate, and manual, it's a go-to pedal for both professionals and beginners. More advanced models include Strymon's Orbit and Nebulus's Empress; these pedals feature standalone built-in gates and sub-modes, as well as highly versatile controls.
Regardless of the model we take as an example, Flanger pedals of today are significantly more versatile than flangers of the past decades (especially manual flangers in tape-reel studios).
What can you do with a Flanger pedal?
The versatility of flange pedals is nearly limitless; they can accommodate players at all skill levels as well as cater to any music genre or playing style. However, using them properly takes some trial and error; more precisely speaking, learning how different pedal controls respond to each other will help you tackle the pedal's learning curve.
If we take TC Electronic's Vortex as an example of an all-around flanger pedal, we can provide some examples of different tones and effects that can be achieved:
1. Filter – with feedback at 12 o'clock, speed and delay at 14 o'clock and depth at 15 o'clock, you can find a rich, slightly modulated and filtered tone
2. Rotating speaker effect – keep the speed and feedback, but add a bit of delay time to introduce extra buzz and modulation to your tone
3. Resonator – cut off the speed knob completely and ramp up the delay time and depth. This will result in sluggish modulation and remarkably saturated tone
4. Achieving chorus on a flanger – max out the delay time and feedback knobs while keeping speed at 11 o'clock and depth at 13 o'clock. This way you will be able to replicate the ‘chorus' effect on a flanger pedal
Each pedal offers a different level of responsiveness and reactivity, so you should experiment as much as you can with different models.
When not to use a flanger?
Even though the main purpose of the flanger pedal is to enrich your sound and EQ, there are still some scenarios where you should use it sparsely or not at all.
A good example of a situation where a flanger pedal is not called for regards completely clean guitar sections. A flanger pedal will always alter your tone to certain extent, and in this particular case you don't need any extra saturation to your tone.
Another example relates to guitar harmony sections. For instance, if one guitar is playing the basic melody without the flanger, the harmony notes would seem a bit ‘off' if you were to use a flanger (or vice versa).