Ring Modulators – what?
One of the most esoteric and underestimated FX is certainly the Ring modulatior effect.
It’s basically a signal-processing effect in electronics, related to amplitude modulation or frequency mixing, performed by multiplying two signals, where one is typically a sine-wave or another simple waveform. The sum and differences of those two frequencies is the ring modulation. These frequencies will typically be non-harmonic, so the ring modulator can create some very dissonant sounds. For this reason, ring modulation is not a widely used effect.
It is referred to as “ring” modulation because the analog circuit of diodes originally used to implement this technique took the shape of a ring.
Ring modulators are mostly used in synthesizers and a ring modulator module was a common feature on early modular Moog synthesizers. The ring modulator went out of fashion with the advent of all-in-one synthesizers and sampled-based synthesizers, but has returned as a feature in digital modelling and software synthesizers.
It was a very commonly used effect in early electronic music, when analog oscillators were only capable of generating waveforms with a predictable series of overtones. One of the best-known applications of the ring modulator was its use by Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to produce the distinctive voice of the Daleks in the television series Doctor Who.
But some guitarists are also known for using this type of effect.
A ring modulator effect is added to the guitar solo in the song “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.
And Lee Ranaldo, of Sonic Youth, also uses a Moog Ring Modulator pedal, the Moog MF-102 Moogerfooger, in his FX chain.
Today, one of the best and most affordable Ring Modulator units is the Electro-Harmonix Frequency Analyzer pedal (below)