Top 5 Tips For A Lofi Guitar Tone

As much as we all love a big clean guitar tone, sometimes you just want to get a little dirty. Here are the best ways to add lofi dynamism to your sound through crinkles, warbles and imperfections.

Cian Hodge

Cian Hodge

Lofi (short for low-fidelity and sometimes spelled “lo-fi” or “lo fi”) is a popular sound most often used in indie rock, hip hop and alternative pop – but features in loads of songs across a vast spectrum of music. You can apply lofi to all different kinds of instruments, and it works especially well with synths and guitars to give your sound a kind of old school, DIY production vibe.

What is lofi?

Let’s get the most obvious “meme-able” source of lofi out the way: listen to lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to (a quick Youtube search will do the trick) for the most on-the-nose example of what it’s all about. In practice, there’s a much wider scope for lofi to bring out new textures or themes in a song.

How would you describe lofi? When applied to a guitar, the aim is to usually recreate the unique sound of a warped vinyl record. Truthfully, there are countless takes on the effect. Lofi often incorporates forms of vibrato, tremolo, delay and light overdrive or fuzz. Sometimes it’s thin, warbly and abrasive like Mac DeMarco. Other times it’s soft and rounded like Tycho or Hoogway. It can also have a bit of a higher gain kick to it, used by Boards of Canada and Covet to varying degrees. It’s equally adept at carrying a song or providing dynamic nuance.

Most of the ideas below work well with both guitar and synth. Don’t be afraid to experiment; lofi is all about finding new ways to create atmosphere through the gear you have at your disposal.

1. Lofi and modulation pedals

There’s a guitar pedal for absolutely everything and lofi is no exception. What you get from a dedicated lofi pedal is the unmistakeable sound of a warped vinyl. They normally do a bit of everything: vibrato, compression, delay and crunch just to name a few. This is the perfect option for players after a simple lofi-in-a-box solution.

Boutique originators ZVEX make the Instant Lo-Fi Junky, which for many is the absolute gold standard. It nails the seasick vibrato trails and is able to heavily compress your tone. Other great shouts are the Caroline Megabyte and its variety of filtering effects, as well as the Cooper FX Arcades with the lofi card inserted to give you eight flavourful sounds.

Featured Lofi Pedals

2. Tape delay

A key component in most lofi is delay, but not just any delay: specifically that of the tape variety. Like any other analogue style effect, tape produces tonal imperfections which suits the under-produced, quirky aesthetic of lofi. Real tape delay can be on the expensive side, so a digital guitar pedal will do just fine.

Red Panda are the boutique masters of this realm and incorporate all sorts of time-based tomfoolery into their Tensor and Particle pedals. The Strymon Deco gravitates a little closer to natural vintage tape, while the Electro Harmonix Attack Delay and higher-end Mel9 expand into new emulation territories. If you’re just looking to get a delay on the board, the Tone City Tape Machine is the clear pick.

Featured Tape Delay Pedals

3. Valves and Speakers

A valve amp is a must-have for the most authentic of lofi tones. Stick with real tubes where you can, as solid state amps tend to sound quite sterile – not really the vibe we’re after here.

Some amps and amp brands naturally suit lofi, with Vox being the major player. You can get a very thin, boxy tone out of the classic AC15 because of its combination of preamp, power amp and smaller speakers in combo models. Alternatives include the Orange Rocker series and Supro Delta King.

EL84 valves are the common choice for a lofi amp. The low clean headroom makes it easier to your saturate your guitar signal at lower volumes. This gives you some nice tonal variety if you balance the gain to spike with heavier picking. In the speaker department, large speakers generally means a larger sound. So let’s keep them small for lofi, no bigger than 10 inches in diameter. From there, it’s really up to you what speaker you choose. Celestion Greenbacks sound great with their midrange bump and slightly restrained highs.

Featured Amps, speakers and valves

4. Pedal Chain Order

First off, ditch the effects loop in your amp. The effects loop isolates your pedals from the preamp and keeps everything way too clean for what we’re trying to achieve. Those time-based delay and reverb pedals should get a little dirty with an overdrive as they hit the front of the amp.

Try placing your delay and vibrato before a drive pedal. Most guides tell you to place them in the signal chain last, however we’re not after perfection in that sense. The fluctuations of vibrato and the repeats of a delay take on a much grittier edge if you feed them into a mid-gain overdrive or fuzz. This is a great way to recreate the vinyl effect without buying a dedicated pedal and gives you way more sculpting flexibility.

lofi guitar pedals

5. Recording techniques

Go against your natural instincts to make your tone sound “good”. Lofi should come across effortlessly, with spiky peaks and wet-mixed modulation effects. Try positioning your mic central to the speaker cone, wider on the rim, or even further away from the amp than usual. Condenser and ribbon mics are more adept than their dynamic counterparts at detecting the tonal cracks and imperfections you’ve worked to create.

If you’re still not happy with the outcome, it’s time to dive into post-EQ plugins within your DAW. Try applying band-pass filters to remove some of the low and high-end frequencies. Just remember, you want your tone to be listenable so make incremental changes at a time. Heavy filtering can cause serious ear fatigue!

If you enjoyed this read, check out more of our learn articles!

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Cian Hodge
Cian Hodge
Cian is a writer for the Andertons team. He shares his birthday with Muse frontman Matt Bellamy and believes he will one day reach the same level of stardom. Cian is a big metal fan so naturally loves Bare Knuckle pickups and pointy guitars.

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