One of the first things you’ll learn as someone wanting to record music is that clipping is 100% undeniably and entirely awful.

Clipping is the nasty, harsh distortion sound you hear when you crank something up way too loud. If you crank your amp to 10 and try to record it into your audio interface you’ll likely hear awful noise and a red LED or two telling you to back off before it calls the cops (that’s not what that light means, don’t worry).

But did you know it can actually be used in a much more pleasing way to add punch and thickness to your tones?

Let’s talk soft-clipping.

What Is Clipping?

Clipping as a concept simply refers to the state of a soundwave. An untouched sine wave will look like the top image here:

The bottom image shows what happens when that sine wave is “clipped” at the top and bottom. This would result in an audible distortion quality. Clipping occurs when the volume of a signal exceeds the maximum available volume threshold.

This kind of clipping can be very unpleasant and flat out unuseable when not done properly, such as simply raising the input gain on your interface too high, so it’s recommended that you avoid this at all costs when recording.

However, overdrive and distortion are also forms of clipping, so there are positive forms that can be used for a musical purpose.

A Clipper Plugin

A software clipper can be thought of as an extremely transparent version of overdrive or distortion, and in many ways is more similar to compression and distortion.

A peak clipper will ease into this clipping and provide a very natural kind of distortion, giving a transparent sonic signature compared to the unwanted clipping of simply cranking your input gain.

You can think of it like a very simple compressor that also adds a bit of bite and grit at the same time.

How To Use It

To illustrate its usefulness, let’s look at a few examples.

1) Simulate Active Pickups

If you’ve got some untouched guitar DI’s lying around and just wish they had a bit more edge in the performance you can apply some clipping before you reamp them. A little bit of clipping will add some pre-distortion and bring the pick attack forward, giving a very similar sound to if the performance was done using active pickups.

The best part is, you get the punch and consistency of active pickups with all the qualities of a guitar recorded using passives.

Pro tip: if you love the sound of an amp but can’t get quite enough gain out of it this is a great way to do it!

2) Even Out Resonant Frequencies

Every guitar

3) Bring Instruments Forward

One of the most important instruments in any mix will be the snare drum, but sometimes it’s tough getting it to cut through a mix properly. If you’ve dialed in your snare tone and compression just the way you like it but can’t seem to EQ things in a way that gets it sitting on top a subtle bit of clipping can fix that in a heartbeat.

The Possibilities Are Endless

A clipper can be an incredible solution for all kinds of problems, and deserves a space in your plugin arsenal right next to a compressor or limiter.

Not only can they solve practical problems but as we illustrated through simulating active pickups, they have incredible creative applications as well.

Grab yourself a clipper and start experimenting!