Turning a Jackhammer into a “Ghost Train” Sound Effect

November 4, 2015 — Leave a comment


A lot of noise has been coming from my neighbors the past couple days. They’re removing the tiles from their outside walls and floor to put in new ones. Since they’re attached to concrete/bricks, the only way to remove them is by using some type of electric jackhammer. So I decided to gather some sounds from their work. [Un]fortunately, everything didn’t go as planned.

My DR680 has a broken screen, so I’ve been using my stealth kit when the need arises. I used a Naiant Tinybox that supplied phantom power and gain to my 416, which was all fed to a Nagra Lino. I don’t normally use this setup for anything other than ambience recordings, so using it on a source this loud caused my first problem. I should have started at low gain, but opted for mid gain first. (Mind you, this all happened rather quickly. The workers were mostly done for the day and were cleaning up. I asked them if they could use their tools a bit for a recording. They graciously said OK)

A quick glance at the Lino’s meters showed I was OK…or so I thought. After some time I looked down and noticed it kept hitting -6db and never went higher. I realized the Tinybox was clipping! I took it down to low gain and all was well. But I missed a lot of good material.


After using the big Hitachi (pic at top) he switched to the smaller one. It didn’t sound nearly as nice.

2015-11-04-16.06.55They left a nice little mess. I got a couple nice wheel-barrel dumping tiles into the pile sounds

After it was all said and done, I went back into the studio to have a listen. As expected, a lot was clipped, though it didn’t sound that bad surprisingly. I ran some of it through RX’s declipper and it helped a lot. Overall it sounded a lot better, but lost a lot of the low-end grunt. Before and after picture here:


Here’s a sample from the clipped version

Ghost Train



I’ve always like playing around with sample rates. Slowing things down is so damn fun. I took the two above versions of the jackhammer and changed the sample rate by 1000%. Immediately I heard a train. I adjusted the volume and played around with the EQ a bit. The clipped version provided most of the low-end and the de-clipped version most of the high-end. Though slowing it down this much left very little “high end”.

I chopped it up and tried to make a beginning, middle and end. It was still missing something, so I added some stereo reverb to give it a little more space. Lastly I used a preset in PSP Nitro called “Watch out!” which added a little movement to the train – kind of a “pumping” feeling. Without it the train sounded somewhat dry and lifeless. At times the pumping got out of control, so I used automation to keep it in check.

That’s about it. Just me playing around with a recording. Thought I’d post it up and maybe it’d be useful to someone.


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