Sampling Autoharp and Pan Pipe

Listen to the clip to hear my new sampled instruments in action:

This week I recorded 2 instruments and created digital sample instruments from them. This is the first I’ve done with sampling instruments to be reused with midi. The motivation for this was my coming across an Autoharp in a second hand store. I took the harp home and tuned it up, which is not a quick task but considerably easier than tuning a piano. It was after the tuning that it occurred to me that if I sample it then I can use the sound next time without the need to tune up first! Using the sampled instrument will not be the same, especially on a strummed instrument like this. I didn’t actually sample strums or chords yet, I think I may do a bit of that later but first I captured some single notes. I went up through the range of the instrument in 5ths and captured 8-10 velocities of each note. So I didn’t sample every note on the instrument, that would take a while. The notes between samples I just repitched the sample to fill in and it’s a good result. Very usable. The single notes gives it a particular sound, not immediately recognizable as an Autoharp but a good crisp pluck sound. Much more bite and complex resonance than compared to most guitars, it has a lot of strings that I didn’t dampen so there was some nice sympathetic vibrations going on.

Before working in the sampler I did a little bit of processing on the clips, tuning and trimming the start and end points of course but then adding a small touch of reverb, a little eq, and smooth fades for the cutoffs. Then I mapped them using the multi sampler tool in Logic. The whole process took a good part of a full night, I had to look up some info a few times on how to use the tools properly since it was my first time but now I have an instrument to use whenever I need it.

I’m thinking about doing another virtual instrument sampling strums, but that will take more organization up front to decide how to implement it. Single notes are much more straightforward. The instrument has a limited number of chords that it plays from the push buttons, with one chord selected you can strum it in different pitch ranges too so I need to find a good way to organize those within the framework of a keyboard midi controller. A nice benefit is I can transpose the samples and extend the range of keys that I can play compared to using just the instrument itself, but I’ll be limited in the type of strumming effects I can use with the samples.

Last night I was still on a kick from finishing my first sampled instrument and I was itching to find something else to sample. The perfect thing came to me; I had some 1/2 in. PVC pipe sitting around that I had planned to make a set of pan pipes out of. I cut some lengths of pipe and didn’t get any farther than that. I tried to get a sound out of it and I could do it but it was not easy. Instead of taking the time to try finish assembling the pipes and then learning to play it, which I may never be great at, I can now save myself a lot of trouble by just building up a sampled instrument to use, provided I could record myself getting at least a few good sounding notes! This was still a task but I managed to get some usable tones. Controlling the dynamics on this one was not as much an option, I couldn’t get a quiet sound, so I just had about 3 levels of velocity on most of the notes I sampled. I couldn’t do a very big range either, I think I ended up sampling 4 different pitches and just extended the lowest one over a large section of the bass notes, kind of unnatural but I figure you can push the boundaries and call it experimental.

The end result of the pipe instrument sounds very much like an airy organ, especially played on the keyboard in chorale style and with the artificially pitch shifted bass notes, it’s pretty nice but since I run out of breath fast on these there is not a lot of sustain. I think there is some setting in the sampler to make it loop a section for eternal sustain but it’s very usable without that, and if I’m emulating an actual pan player then it’s accurate.

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