Program the Jordan Rudess Lead Sound on Your Synth
By Jerry Kovarsky
Fri, 11 Oct 2013
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Let’s continue showing you how artists we all know and love use the many synthesizer soloing sounds, concepts, and techniques we’ve been exploring over the last 19 columns—20 counting last month’s analysis of George Duke’s favorite approaches. Up this month: Jordan Rudess. Jordan shared his main lead sound, programmed on a Korg Kronos. I’ll break it down so the concepts are more universal, and please do check out the online audio examples, which turn the words into audible reality.


Conceptual Overview

Jordan uses a Combi (Korg-speak for a multi-program sound) to bring together his main lead sound, and a separate sound programmed to simulate the guitar feedback tones which are brought in by pushing the four-way joystick upward (away from you, called JS+Y) and downward (towards you, called JS-Y). I’ve taught you how you can use additional oscillators to produce these pure pitches, but by using a secondary program Jordan is able to use the oscillators in each program for some cool applications I’ll go over.

Pitch-bend is set up for a whole-step up (joystick right) and a full octave going down (joystick left). There’s no controller assigned to vibrato, nor to LFO-based modulation of pitch; Jordan does that by wiggling the pitch-bend direction of the joystick. He has a switch set up to transpose the sound up an octave, which he can use to play repeated note figures and toggle the octave range up and back down. The switch also toggles the octave of the feedback tones. Jordan explains how he uses these controllers in our Web video supplement to this month’s column.


The Main Lead

The body of the sound is produced by the AL-1 engine in the Kronos: a virtual analog synth modeling engine with dual oscillators, a sub-oscillator, and a very robust complement of filter choices, complex envelopes, LFOs, and modulation capabilities. Jordan is using the effects to get the distortion/overdrive, chorus, and delay, but we’ll turn those off for now so we can concentrate on the main tone. So if your synth has these basic elements (and what good synth doesn’t?) you’ll be able to follow along.

The two oscillators are set to sawtooth waves and are detuned +3 and -3 cents, respectively, to produce a nice slow-rolling detuned character. This is further fattened by setting the sound to unison mode, using three stacked voices with a detune of five cents—the detune is the critical parameter that fattens up the sound. The sound is set to play in mono legato mode, with last note priority so that the most recent notes played will always sound. This also means you can use all the techniques I covered in the December 2012 and January 2013 columns. [We’ve re-linked those at keyboardmag.com/october2013. —Ed.]

A sub-oscillator (an oscillator set an octave lower) is set to a square wave (the AL-1 only offers square or triangle waves for the sub-oscillator). This can easily be recreated on any synth that offers at least three oscillators if you’re synth lacks a dedicated sub-oscillator. It’s brought into the mix using the Kronos’ ribbon controller—modulating the amp volume from zero up to 99—so it can be added to a sustaining note when desired. Jordan doesn’t have a way to lock the ribbon to keep the sub tone in the sound without holding the rightmost edge of the ribbon, but if you were to use a slider or knob to bring it in you could achieve that. It’s all about how close you need physical controllers for other “moves” like pitch-bend and feedback. On the Kronos, Jordan can hold the sub level in place while still reaching all those controls, plus do any needed octave-switching, so he’s covered.


Filters, amp and more

The filter is set to 24dB-per-octave lowpass mode, with the cutoff at about 75 percent and a slight resonance bump (a value of 40 out of 99). There’s no filter envelope control. The amp envelope is set to sound instantly and then rapidly decay down to a middle-level sustain, producing a punchy transient to the sound. See Figure 1 for a generic recreation of the shape. The sound also uses two special Kronos parameters: first up, a Drive stage that adds saturation and overdrive per voice, so it sounds the same regardless of polyphony. As discussed in the July 2013 column, this is a real benefit compared to using an overdrive effect. This may be recreated by any saturation stage your synth has, as discussed in the June 2013 issue. A Low Boost parameter works in conjunction with the Drive to add body to the sound by increasing low frequencies. It’s a tonal shaping tool for the saturation/overdrive circuit, not a general-purpose EQ, so it’s more specific to the Kronos engine.


The Effects Chain

The real distortion character is still coming from an effect, although the amp Drive parameter certainly helps. Jordan is using the “Guitar Amp Model + Cabinet” algorithm as an insert effect, set to “UK Blues.” The input gain is up full, delivering as much distortion as the effect can deliver, and then blended in with the clean sound with a wet/dry mix of 68 to 32. The effect offers tone controls and he has boosted the bass at +78 and the mids at +65, with treble sitting flat, warming up and thickening the tone. He’s also using the Cabinet Simulator set to “Tweed-1x12” with the virtual mic positioned rather far away to add some “air.” As I discussed in the July column, the speaker simulator sucks out a lot of frequencies, which in this case adds great character to the sound.

Moving on to the master (or send) effects, he has a slowly sweeping Stereo Chorus (LFO set to 0.64Hz) with a depth of 40 (depth controls the amount of pitch variation in the effect). The chorus is set to a 50/50 wet/dry mix. The signal is then chained into a Stereo BPM Delay with the main repetitions (L) set to eighth-notes, with a medium feedback, so they repeat in a nice decaying curve. The secondary repetition (R) is set to a quarter-note, with only one hit occurring. What, no reverb? That’s right. Since Jordan plays in some of the biggest halls and venues around the world, the venue is already providing plenty of general ambience to his sound.


More To Come

Next month I’ll cover the feedback tones and some cool extras Jordan has programmed into the sound to add variety to his performance. This sound is a perfect example of so many of the techniques we’ve learned in these columns, but it’s still only a sound. When it comes under the hands of a powerful and expressive player like Jordan it really becomes something magical. So don’t think that getting the sound is the whole picture—there’s plenty of practicing needed to go along with it.

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