You’ve probably got a phaser somewhere in your studio. Maybe several. They can usually be found lurking in your workstation keyboards, your plugin folder, your sampler or maybe your stompbox collection. And unless you’re into trance or psychedelic rock, you’ve probably tried one out, heard a silly whooshing noise and then decided to never use it again.
But phasers can be much more useful than that.
A phaser can be an unexpected secret weapon that gets you out of a difficult situation or surprises your listener. Pull it out again and see what you can do:
- Stereo widening. Seriously. Do it. Turn the feedback way down and make sure the modulation is very slow. It’s a similar approach to using chorus for this task, except that you don’t have to worry about flanger-like comb filtering if your sound is collapsed to mono.
- Subtle motion. Do the above, but set the phaser to mono (either summed inputs or in-phase LFOs for each side). With low feedback and a low number of stages, the sound will be more akin to a subtle EQ. Except the frequency controls for each band have a life of their own. For an even more subtle effect, pull the mix blend back from 100% to 50% or even less. Most phasers can be set up so that you hardly notice they’re there, but you can feel the motion. For an interesting effect, set up a phaser (100% wet, of course) on a send channel, and use it in (very) small amounts on each track in your mix. Your whole mix will subtly shift and turn as one. For a somewhat more chaotic approach, use a separate phaser on each track, with a slightly different LFO time.
- Drum hits. You could use a phaser on a single drum hit, but that’s no fun. If you’re into chopped up breakbeats, however, try applying a phaser to the beat before you chop it up and rearrange it. After you rearrange the drum hits, you’ll lose the characteristic cyclic whooshing. Instead, it’ll sound like you’re chopping up the LFO driving the phaser. It’s a cool effect and can be useful in bringing a boring beat to life or imparting your own sonic signature to a generic beat.
- Vocal effects. Don’t do this too often. But if you’re looking for some special spice for a featured moment (and the usual telephone autotune isn’t making you all hot and bothered anymore), use a phaser. Set it for fast and shallow for a kind of ‘space transmission’ sound. As usual, go easy on the feedback. Rely on the LFO and increase the number of stages to produce a distinctive sound.
Don’t ignore any of your tools – it’s important to bring them out every now and then and see if you can think of some new ways to use them.