F. Reid Shippen’s Secret Plugin Tricks

 

 

 

On most plug-ins, what you see is what you get—the controls behave as labeled. But occasionally, there's more than meets the eye, or should we say, "the ear." Engineers working on hardware processors and consoles sometimes discovered additional functionality that was possible because of unintended quirks in the circuitry. Because many plug-in emulations accurately emulate the original circuitry, those "hidden" functions are often available in the software versions.

In this free excerpt from the video F. Reid Shippen Mixing Dierks Bentley's "Drunk On A Plane" (pureMix Pro Members can watch the full video) Shippen lets us in on several such functions on a couple of plug-ins, the UAD Helios 69 Legacy and the Neve 88RS Legacy.

A view of the Pro Tools Edit window from Shippen’s mix.

WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?

We pick up the action with Shippen processing an electric guitar melody line with the UAD Helios 69 Legacy EQ plug-in. There are a couple of hidden functions involving this plug-in, he explains. The first one involves the midrange gain control: When it's turned between 10 and 15, it adds a lot of character to the sound. He proves his point by dialing in such a setting and playing the audio.

Here's a UAD Helios 69 Legacy plug-in, with Shippen's settings from the video.

A second "trick" with the same plug-in involves the Bass frequency-select knob. Shippen explains that when you turn it above 0, even with the Gain knob all the way down, it adds thickness to the sound in a pleasing way. He says it's a great way to add fullness to a guitar track.

He mentions that at first, the UAD emulation didn't reproduce this quirk, because the software designers felt that was wrong for the bass to be boosted if the gain remained at zero. However, in subsequent versions of what's now called the Helios 69 Legacy plug-in, it was put back in.

BELIEVE IN THE NEVE

Shippen next demonstrates a technique for EQing acoustic instruments that uses the UAD Neve 88RS Legacy channel strip. It involves cutting high end using the high-cut filter, and then replacing those highs by boosting the high-frequency band of the equalizer. He says it tames the high end and therefore leaves room for the other instruments in that frequency range (which there are plenty of in country music—fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel etc.), while at the same time allowing the articulations of the instrument it's inserted on to come through.

He demonstrates the technique on a mandolin track. Shippen explains that this behavior of the 88RS EQ was initially discovered on Neve VR-series consoles. He says that he doesn't use the dynamics section of the plug-in for this setting (presumably he's using a different compressor), and almost nothing on the rest of the EQ. He says the high-cut should be set to about 8.5kHz, and the high-frequency setting should be between 8 and 12kHz, whatever sounds best for the instrument you're processing.

The cut-and-boost technique Shippen demonstrates was originally discovered on a Neve VR console.

FURTHER EXPLORATION

In the video, Shippen uses the older, "Legacy" versions of the two UAD plug-ins, which are still available, but have been replaced by newer emulations. UAD redesigned the Helios 69 with a nifty new GUI that's much larger and vertically oriented, rather than horizontal oriented. The midrange Gain knob no longer has the numbers on it, which is more faithful to the original hardware, of which there are both rackmount and 500-series versions.

The new version of the UAD Helios 69 has a spiffy new GUI, but can you do Shippen's "tricks" on it?

Truer to the hardware version, the new UAD Helios 69 doesn't have numbers on the gain controls, so setting it between 10 and 15 as Shippen did on the Legacy plug-in, which has such numbers, isn't as easy. You can still approximate Shippen's settings on the new plug-in, however, and it still sounds excellent. Shippen's second trick, the fattening by turning the bass frequency knob to 60Hz without gain boost doesn't seem to work on the new version, for whatever reason.

UAD includes the Helios 69 Legacy plug-in when you purchase the new version, so you can still get it if you want to do Shippen's tricks. What's more, according to UAD, the newer version features an even closer circuit emulation of the original and contains UADs Unison Technology, which, among other advantages, allows you to track through it if you have an Apollo interface.

UAD's new version of the Neve 88RS adds a Neve mic preamp emulation. Like the new Helios, you can track through it with an Apollo. You should still be able to do Shippen's "cut and boost" technique with it, since it closely mimics the circuitry of the original console channel strip which the technique was developed.

GIVING IT A TRY

We decided to try Shippen's tricks for the UAD Helios 69 Legacy and UAD Neve 88RS Legacy plug-ins on some other tracks to see how they sounded.

Example 1: This guitar example was recorded DI and has a Scruffham S-Gear 2 amp and cabinet emulation of a '57 Bassman inserted on it, as well as the Helios 69 Legacy. You'll hear the section play three times. The first time is without the Helios plug-in. The second time is with it on—with the midrange gain turned between 10-15 and the frequency set to 3.5. The third time the "no gain" bass boost is engaged as well, to fatten it up.

The next three examples feature acoustic guitar and mandolin tracks that are processed with Shippen’s “filter the highs while boosting them” technique using the UAD Neve 88RS Legacy. Each example plays twice: The first time without the EQ and filters in the plug-in bypassed, and the second time with them active.

Example 2a: The acoustic guitar only.

Example 2b: The mandolin only.

Example 2c: Both together.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

One final note. Although most plug-ins don't offer hidden tricks like those Shippen showed, you can get maximum benefits from any plug-in by thoroughly learning its functionality. If your use of a plug-in is limited to selecting presets and making small tweaks, you probably won't be harnessing its full power.

It's beneficial to work with your plug-ins even when you're not doing an actual project. Think of it like practicing an instrument. The more you understand the features and behaviors of your plug-ins, the better you'll be at using them to manipulate your music to meet your creative vision.

Start by reading through the whole manual. Boring, perhaps, but useful for understanding what all the knobs and buttons do.

Next, record some tracks of the type you might use the processor for—or use old tracks from previous projects you've done—and put the plug-in through its paces. Experiment with all the controls and see how they affect the sound. If the plug-in is an emulation of a hardware processor, Google the original and find out what you can about how it was used and what it was known for.

If you have a relatively large collection of plug-ins, consider only using a select group of them regularly, until you've gotten really comfortable with their functionality. For instance, if you've got three channel strip plug-ins in your collection, pick your favorite and use it exclusively until you know it backwards and forwards. Sometimes having too many processors to choose from can make you into a "jack of all trades, master of none."

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