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Discussion Starter #1
Hello my friends,

As always, thanks for being a great bunch of guys with super-helpful suggestions always, and for being patient with an intermediate-level player like me.

I'm playing solo at wedding receptions with pre-recorded accompaniment, using the equipment listed below in my "signature" text.

I have had lots of songs, over the years, that would sound much better with a harmonized solo, especially on the chorus (e.g. Kenny G's "G-Bop"), not to mention songs that are well known for being sung entirely in harmony (e.g. most of what the Mexican pop band, Maná, releases). Consequently, as I play songs like this on the sax, if I could quickly press a pedal to turn the harmony on and off, it would seem to be a better approach than using a unit controlled by hand.

I don't know anything about harmonizers or pedals, but, for years, I have been wanting to buy one, and I am finally beginning my search.

I used to see some kind of big TC Helicon harmonizer around town, that folks were using for singing, about as big as a loaf of bread, with a simple design of about ten buttons across the face, as I recall. It was a free-standing unit with a cheesy gray plastic casing--not a rack unit or pedal. (Sorry- I cannot find a picture online to show you)

Then, years later, last week, I was at a music store, and saw the smaller TC Helicon Harmony G-XT pedal unit (VoiceTone) for $230. It had never occurred to me that a harmonizer came in the form of a guitar pedal, but it makes sense. (That may be old news to guitarists) This unit was about one third the size of the bread-loaf harmonizer, which made me wonder whether it also had FEWER FEATURES than a typical harmonizer?

Incidentally, I had just bought a TC ELECTRONICS Hall of Fame mini guitar reverb pedal, to take to small events, to avoid hauling my bigger mixing console and cables, but now I see that some harmonizers actually include built-in reverb effects. Well, theoretically, there are some songs where want lots of reverb, and others where I want less, and that would be unrelated to the harmonizing, so I hope they don't go on and off simultaneously.

In fact, I could either sell my reverb pedal, to have one like this, or else keep the reverb pedal and buy a harmonizer that did not include reverb, if it were cheaper, but I would not know how to connect both of them at once.

I don't want to buy a device that is more expensive than I can afford, and loaded with features that I will never use (whatever those may be), at the same time, I don't want to buy an OVERSIMPLIFIED harmonizer (if that is what this Harmony unit is), if a more versatile model is available at a comparable price.

I don't even know what features to look for, but here are some things that come to mind:

Realistic sound

Do I have to set the key for each song, or do these harmonizers adapt automatically to whatever I am playing?

What to do when the key is not major but minor, or starts minor, has the chorus in major, and ends in minor, or viceversa?

Can I plug an XLR mic cable directly into it?

Can I daisy-chain it to my reverb pedal, and stomp either to bypass the other?

What if I have two key changes, midstream? Do I have to bend over and re-set the key quickly?

Are there better brands out there, for the same price?

Are the bigger harmonizers somehow outdated now? Have they managed to fit all the same features into smaller formats or pedals?

I just want the best harmonizer for the money, especially good for saxophone use, at less than $250, if possible. If pedal formats are somehow very limited in features than free-standing models, I might opt for the free-standing model, but if they cost twice as much, I might opt for a limited model.

What model do you recommend that I buy?

Thank you so much for your patience with me, and for all the tips and suggestions (and warnings) you may have to offer.

-Erik
 

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Discussion Starter #2
[First post got duplicated here by mistake. Today I removed it]
 

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Just a guy who plays saxophone.
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$250 plus for anything I’ve seen that’s good. Boss, TC, Zoom...there’s more but I’m drawing a blank. You really have to decide what features you want/ need to narrow down your options. And yes, lots of pedals have a few to tons of other effects and whatnot on board and have more than one control switch to allow independent use of more than one effect at a time. I haven’t played around with any of them enough to give meaningful advice on making a selection, but there are a lot of fun options on the market. Have fun and be prepared to either use the effects loop on your board or run through some kind of preamp setup (with phantom power if you use a mic that needs it) to get a good signal into your pedals.
Fyi: sweetwater has good video demos on most pedals (and other products) they sell. Of course they aren’t done using saxophones, but you can get an idea of what’s possible.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thank you for the good lead.
 

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I have tried a few (boss multi fx pedal, Boss Vocal pedal, Line 6 helix). At the end of the day, they all sound fake. I only use an octave now and it sounds fat, but I use it sparingly and only in sould/rock numbers as a substitute bari.
Perhaps others may be able to chime in, but yes, you need to set key for each song, and the computer chip is not always great at accurately detecting and sending a signal that matches the harmony you want.
Honestly, people like well played sax more than unnatural/robot sounding harmonies.
 

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ErikJon -- It sounds to me like what you want is a TC VoiceLive processor. It's designed to be used with a microphone/XLR signal (as opposed to an instrument/TRS cable signal), unlike most guitar pedals, and it's good for harmonizing within a key, unlike say the Whammy pedal which will harmonize one parallel interval at a time. (You wouldn't be able to harmonize well in 3rds or 6ths with a Whammy, for example, because it won't alternate between major and minor intervals where necessary... it's perfectly fine for perfect 4ths, 5ths, or octaves though.)

A lot of horn players use the VoiceLive processors with good results, and they're good for clean, transparent effects. When I use pedals I prefer the electronification of my sound, so I usually use lots of guitar pedals through a preamp/effects loop and blend them with my organic sound. The VoiceLive will probably be a lot cleaner and easier to use than the kind of thing I do! It's worth a look for exactly the application you're considering.
 

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I have given up on using harmonizers. The only way to make them work, is to make specific settings for specific parts of songs. Even within a single song there are often key changes that make it difficult to use a harmonizer in more than one place without having to bend over to dial in another key, or switch to a next preset. If the setlist gets changed, the presets get mixed up. Unless you are sure the band plays the same setlist in the same way every time, harmonizers take too much attention away from making music. At least for me. I’ve tried to make them work many times.
 

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I have given up on using harmonizers. The only way to make them work, is to make specific settings for specific parts of songs. Even within a single song there are often key changes that make it difficult to use a harmonizer in more than one place without having to bend over to dial in another key, or switch to a next preset. If the setlist gets changed, the presets get mixed up. Unless you are sure the band plays the same setlist in the same way every time, harmonizers take too much attention away from making music. At least for me. I’ve tried to make them work many times.
It sounds like you’re looking for using it on everything/ the majority of things you play...I’d say that’s overkill for any effect on any instrument, no?
As an effect they can be very useful and easy to dial in with a little practice, like, oh...I’d really like a third above or sixth below on this bridge that’s in E minor. One pre-song adjustment and you’re there. I bet it takes less time than your guitar player takes to tune back up.
 

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You know what? I just noticed your signature has garageband.

You could just use a Garageband plugin (and many others) for this assuming you might be using your computer on the gig. If not it may well be worth looking into this, or using the Apple app Mainstage which is designed for live use.

It might be a new way of working but could save money and a lot of hassle eventually
 

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Mainstage is OK but not as good as a good dedicated processor.
It is easy to use and native to Apple.
 

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I have given up on using harmonizers. The only way to make them work, is to make specific settings for specific parts of songs. Even within a single song there are often key changes that make it difficult to use a harmonizer in more than one place without having to bend over to dial in another key, or switch to a next preset. If the setlist gets changed, the presets get mixed up. Unless you are sure the band plays the same setlist in the same way every time, harmonizers take too much attention away from making music. At least for me. I';ve tried to make them work many times.
It sounds like you';re looking for using it on everything/ the majority of things you play...I';d say that';s overkill for any effect on any instrument, no?
As an effect they can be very useful and easy to dial in with a little practice, like, oh...I';d really like a third above or sixth below on this bridge that';s in E minor. One pre-song adjustment and you';re there. I bet it takes less time than your guitar player takes to tune back up.
Harmonizers are probably okay for pop kind of music. Instead of a harmonizer I prefer an ehx freeze pedal for instant harmonizing
 

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Jon Hassel has made some exquisite albums using electronics built around a harmonizer. (highly recommend Dream Theory of Malaya, and the 4th world music album he did with Eno.) i started playing around with Pitch Proofs free app a few weeks ago. it eats cpu, but i really like what it can do for flute and sax.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I apologize, as always for not responding sooner.

I have thoroughly read through your answers, guys. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain a few things here and there. I feel compelled to respond to each point indidividually, just to let you know that I read each comment and considered each observation, but I guess that that is not really practical to do.

Anyway, the manager at the music store where I went today had some brief experiences with harmonizers, also, and shared some tips that I had failed to take into consideration.

By all means correct me, if I misunderstood him, but I think he was telling me that harmonizers worked well only when used in conjunction with a chord instrument such as keyboard or guitar, plugged into the device, so that the harmonizer could more correctly calculate what notes to reproduce for each moment of harmony. In other words, if I am just playing one note at a time on the sax, into the microphone, and I have preset the key with the knob, the harmonizer has no choice but to assume that every note is the root of the chord that I want, and that every harmony must be of the same type throughout (e.g., major). So, when I play in the key of C, and I play the note C, it will generate perhaps a major third and a perfect fifth and an octave, or any permutation thereof, but when I play an A over a measure of the A major chord, it will generate a minor third, a major fifth, and an octave, simply because C# is not in the C scale, which will not necessarily be the sound that I wanted for that measure in A major. I asked the man if it would be a big deal just to have one wrong harmony on that brief part of the song, and he reminded me that it would happen everywhere I played the A over a major chord.

Nevertheless, according to the manager, if I were playing with a keyboardist, he could plug into the harmonizer with me, and his own chords would override and correct the harmonizer and remind it that I needed an A major harmony on that one beat (assuming a major chord on the score), in spite of the fact that the overall key of the song is C major.

Otherwise, he said that, I could accomplish the same with a laptop, using Band-in-a-Box, for example (Pete says GarageBand, also), and usurp the role of the keyboardist by plugging the laptop into the harmonizer, and having the software, itself, teach the harmonizer, one note at a time, which notes are more appropriate to harmonize with my melody.

Beyond that, I suppose that more advanced harmonizers allow the user to program the whole song, but that must require lots of time, especially where thirty songs are involved, even if I only want the harmony on the chorus of each song, or on the second stanza, for example, as I had intended to use it. I don't mind re-setting the key by means of a knob on the pedal, at the begininng of each song, and stomping the pedal at the appropriate places in the song, to turn the effect on or off, but I can't imagine having enough time right now to program individual songs, whether on a laptop or on the harmonizer itself, since I am just a hobbyist at this point. I was hoping that the whole process had been just a question of plugging my microphone into a pedal, kind of like my reverb pedal, but it sounds like it might be much more complicated than that.

So, I guess that means that singers, themselves, as well, do not use harmonizers without having a keyboard or guitar plugged into the device first?

Feel free to correct my misunderstandings on any of these points, or if you think that the harmony that one of these pedals would generate, would be "good enough" in spite of a few passing notes with the wrong harmony--especially since it would only be on the chorus, typically, or any other small portion of the song. I do not intend to use a harmonizer with improvisation, but only with melody lines, such as in the chorus, and only on certain songs, particularly on songs that are already well-known for the harmonized parts.

To clarify, I never intended to use the harmonizer to create a "big band" effect or "sax section" effect, but just to add a little color to certain parts of certain songs. I fully understand that the effect should be subtle, and that overusing the effect throughout the song or in several consecutive songs, would be overkill.

So, Henk (above) says that the process of using harmonizers in the context that I need, is more complicated than it is worth. I appreciate that feedback.

Perhaps now that I have clarified my set-up and my expectations, someone else will have some final thoughts for me.

I'm hoping that someone else with lots of first-hand experience will chime in and either say, "Look, Erik, you've got it all wrong. It's simpler than you think. I tried several pedals, and I finally found one that works in the situations you've described...." or else, "Yes, Erik, you are right; if you are going to use a harmonizer as you described, you can fully expect to add lots of work to your preparations from now on, or else, to sound weird by just using default settings with the right key, no matter how sparingly you use the effect, so it's not really worth it..." (which is basically what Henk" seemed to be saying.

(Incidentally, to complicate things, I am in the middle of a long and complicated move between two cities, and so I am not using a Mac or GarageBand at the moment, but only Windows programs on a different computer, but I hope to get back into it within a couple of years.)
 

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Plugging in a chord instrument may work fine. I’m not sure if a harmonizer will recognize complicated chords or ambiguous voicings, I never tried. If a chorus is in a single key, just set that key on the harmonizer and set the desired intervals. If the musical context is simple, it works. Just be aware that you have to set the key in “C”, not for transposing Bb or Eb saxes. And know some music theory to figure out what the real key of a part is. That’s not always straightforward, for example in Brazilian or Cape Verdian music or even in a blues. That is why I use a Freeze pedal: play a note, freeze it, play other notes on top or below, unfreeze, next note. Instant harmonizing. Of course this is better suited to more creative use than to adding some harmonization to a chorus.
 

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Plugging in a chord instrument may work fine. I’m not sure if a harmonizer will recognize complicated chords or ambiguous voicings, I never tried. If a chorus is in a single key, just set that key on the harmonizer and set the desired intervals. If the musical context is simple, it works. Just be aware that you have to set the key in “C”, not for transposing Bb or Eb saxes. And know some music theory to figure out what the real key of a part is. That’s not always straightforward, for example in Brazilian or Cape Verdian music or even in a blues. That is why I use a Freeze pedal: play a note, freeze it, play other notes on top or below, unfreeze, next note. Instant harmonizing. Of course this is better suited to more creative use than to adding some harmonization to a chorus.
More creative use? A freeze pedal doesn’t work at all for the application of providing harmony while playing live to a track in the manner the OP describes.
 

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I used a TC voicelive for a while. No need to use a keyboard or other midi in to determine the harmony. You can customize the harmonic voicings directly in the device rather then relying on it to automatically determine the voicing (which it can also do). It takes a little more work but it will produce the results you want. It also supports chaining different patches - for example if the tune modulates and you want to change keys, or if the style of the horn harmony changes at some part of a tune you can configure different patches and link them. Then you just stomp on a button and it cycles through the patches in whatever order you set up.

I was one of four horns in an R&B band, and when the other three left the band I tried to recreate the horn section using VL's 4 part harmony capability. I was able to get very close to what we played live. The only problem was that even with the extensive eq capability for each voice, it kept sounding like a section of french horns. it was OK when blended in with the rest of the band, but eventually we decided to can it, and just go with one horn, which 1) ended up sounding better and 2) gave me a lot more freedom as to what I played.

I'm now playing in a jam band and a couple of jazz bands. The only effect I use (using an old DigiTech RP100) is the occasional lower octave voicing with the jam band. I do have a wx5 if or when I want something more exotic - which I rarely do.
 

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Plugging in a chord instrument may work fine. I';m not sure if a harmonizer will recognize complicated chords or ambiguous voicings, I never tried. If a chorus is in a single key, just set that key on the harmonizer and set the desired intervals. If the musical context is simple, it works. Just be aware that you have to set the key in “C”, not for transposing Bb or Eb saxes. And know some music theory to figure out what the real key of a part is. That';s not always straightforward, for example in Brazilian or Cape Verdian music or even in a blues. That is why I use a Freeze pedal: play a note, freeze it, play other notes on top or below, unfreeze, next note. Instant harmonizing. Of course this is better suited to more creative use than to adding some harmonization to a chorus.
More creative use? A freeze pedal doesn';t work at all for the application of providing harmony while playing live to a track in the manner the OP describes.
You are right, it doesn’t work for riffs or rhythmic backgrounds. It does work for creating a pad-like sound with some melodic movement. It’s limited (hence creativity required), but that’s the best I can do.
 

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You are right, it doesn’t work for riffs or rhythmic backgrounds. It does work for creating a pad-like sound with some melodic movement. It’s limited (hence creativity required), but that’s the best I can do.
The freeze does sound interesting for pad/ drone-tyoe things...especially if you can manipulate the frozen note through some other things like an arpeggiator or who knows what else, then play on top of it!
 
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