Flanger Pedal User’s Guide
Flanging is the aural cousin of the phase-shifting effect, using a time-based method to create similar interference. Like a phaser, the flanger begins by splitting the signal into two pathways. While one is unaffected, the “wet” signal is delayed by an amount indiscernible to the human ear (usually less than 20 milliseconds). This places the waveforms of the dry and wet signal out of phase resulting in varying degrees of destructive and constructive interference. Since flanging uses time-based delay instead of the phase-shifting of specific frequencies, the peaks and notches are spaced along the harmonic series in a comb filter. The entirety of the signal is affected, but the level of interference varies relative to frequency of each harmonic. A low frequency oscillator is used to sweep the delay from zero to the set maximum at speed of the players choosing. Therefore the amount of interference increases and decreases with the oscillation. This results in a “wooshing” sound similar to that of a phaser.
The earliest flanging effects were originally accomplished in the studio by mixing two copies of a master track into one input while manually slowing down one of the tapes by gently placing a finger on the tape’s reel. This technique was invented by Les Paul (of the eponymous guitar) in his garage and was first issued as a recording on the track “Mammy’s Boogie.” It wasn’t popularized until the late 1960s, when psychedelic artists such as The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix began using it as a studio effect. Analog models were developed for stage use after the same bucket-brigade chip used in an analog delay was invented in 1969. Today digital flangers are also a common option.
Common Flanger Controls
Depth- Sets maximum amount of delay of the wet signal and, as a result, the maximum amount of interference created when the signals are combined.
Rate/Speed- Sets the speed of the low frequency oscillator, which controls how quickly the effect moves between unaffected and the maximum amount of delay.
Feedback/Resonance/Regen- Like the phaser, a set amount of the wet signal can be fed back through the delayed path to intensify the interference.
Level- Controls the amount of the wet signal mixed back into the dry signal, therefore setting the intensity of the interference.
Boss BF-3- An updated version of the ubiquitous BF-2, this digital pedal allows control of the mode of flanging. On top of standard flanging, “ultra” mode allows for more intense flanging. The “gate/pan” setting provides Leslie-style effects. “Momentary” mode causes flanging only when the pedal is being depressed by the foot. In order to fit in the standard Boss casing, Manual (Level) and Resonance knobs are stacked on top of each other. This is a very versatile pedal in a simple design with a small footprint on your pedalboard.
MXR M-117- This analog flanger was a favorite of Eddie Van Halen. With four knobs, it is a fairly straight forward pedal to use, but allows for a wide variety of flanging sounds. A great choice for a beginner looking to experiment with flanging effects. The MXR M-117R is now available as a reissue.
I’ll be using the MXR M-117 for these examples as the X-Flanger in Amplitube is a digital model of the original. I’ve compiled them from message boards to find what other players are using. All values are expressed as though hands on a clock.
Classic Flanging- Manual: 12 Width: 5 Speed: 11 Regen: 9
Using a the maximum interference depth and a moderate sweeping speed, we can really hear the interference caused by the phase cancellation. This one will work to spice up a funky chord section or give attitude to an improvisation.
Subtle- Manual: 11 Width: 3 Speed: 12 Regen: 4:30 (minimum)
Turning the feedback all the way down gives a much smaller notch in the spectrum. This sound would work well for a moderate rock power chord section.
Strong- Manual: 11 Width: 12 Speed: 12 Regen: 2
Feeding more of the wet signal back through the delay widens the notches in the frequency. This is great for a searing solo.
Signal Chain Placement- As a modulation effect, flange should be placed after any filter or gain-based effects (i.e. wah and distortion), but before any ambient effects (delay or reverb). As such, if the player is using overdrive or distortion from the amplifier, the flanger pedal should be run out of the effects chain.