It all began with the Roland JP-8000, “way back” in the 90’s. And, still to this day(likely for many years to come), the beloved supersaw is still widely used in the production of many genres of music. Why? It is extremely versatile and, digital or otherwise, is one of the most unique and distinct sounding instruments(it is, after all, a synthesizer) in all of music dom.
A supersaw is a group of sawtooth waveforms(in the context of electronic music production, a group of what are called “voices”) that are detuned from each other, creating a typically huge and wide sound. Why do supersaws sound so “big”? Thank the detuning for that. When you take, say, multiple voices of a saw wave, and you start to detune them, it is actually putting each saw slightly out of tune. The purpose of this is to mimic the sonic character of a live instrument. Think about strumming a chord on a guitar. Unless you have incredibly meticulous finger placement(you don’t), the resonance, timbre, timing of each string will vary slightly. That is essentially what that detune knob on your synthesizer is doing. And so, supersaws tend to have a lush, wide, and very organic sound – perhaps the best thing about making supersaws? They can be applied in all sorts of ways.
These are two great examples of what you could do with supersaws. During the “drop” in the Illenium track, you’ll notice that the saw synths are very warm and rich sounding, with lots of airiness. A great deal of attack is applied to them, resulting in a subtle build until they tail off. This approach gives your supersaws that organic sound I previously mentioned. Very smooth. In the other track(if you aren’t familiar with the incredibly talented producer Seven Lions, I highly suggest you check him out), the supersaws here are absolutely enormous. In contrast to Illenium’s saws, these have very little to no attack on them – they just explode right from the kick drum. Doing this with your supersaws results in a massive burst of sonic energy, opposed to the more subtle, softer ones in the previous example. Seven Lions’ saws are also very wide, and with multiple layers stacked onto each other – this is what many EDM producers do to fill out the frequency and stereo spectrums, resulting in what we call the “wall of sound”.
So, there you have it. The same sound wave, applied for very different results. This is only the surface of what supersaws are capable of doing. So get in your DAW and saw away!(I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself).