I'm going to need some lightning hit sounds in the next project and I guess I'm going to settle with library samples, but out of curiosity would like to know some tips for making at least "cartooon believable" lightning hit sound effects with everyday items.

I'm aware of general thunder trick with huge metal sheets, but that's more like thunder ambience, than single lightning hit. I'm going to record some small tesla coils in next weeks and probably could use sounds from those, though I wouldn't call tesla coil an everyday item :) I've also considered making some plasma balls in microwave oven, which I think could be useful as a very short attack part or as an electric layer in the tail. Hard to tell since all the videos of such plasma balls I've seen have been recorded with very low sound quality.

Any ideas of what else could work?

If someone has done lighting hit sound without using any lightning recordings I'd be interested to hear what you've used and how it sounds like.

  • 4
    As a comment, I find this type of question to be exactly what SSD was created for. More like this, please! Mar 14, 2014 at 14:30

5 Answers 5


As some of the recordings of thunder and lightning out there are so incredible I don't think I would ever try to re-create this from scratch for practical purposes, but I guess it makes for a good theoretical challenge. In terms of taste, I would only use a bit of the electrical buzz type sound you will get from your teslas. Essentially you are looking for a large cracking sound with some distortion, but I think the thing that's really going to make it convincing is working on the decay/reverb as this is what makes the recordings so intense - the amount of energy and complexity of the space. Maybe multiple reverb layers and subtle delays could help create this.

  • Indeed it's the complex decay that makes lightning strike feel good. Did some tests with some very pitched metal sheet to concrete impact sounds and huge reverbs and it sounded somewhat like lighting strike decay, but was way too smooth. For some reason using delay didn't come into my mind. Going to test some delay lines with invidual reverbs tomorrow.
    – sauli
    Mar 15, 2014 at 11:28

Only thing I can think of that might come close is hitting a large metal garage door with a heavy metal object like a hammer. That'll give you the sharp attack of a lightning strike and the reverb from the garage should give you an interesting decay. Careful you don't break the door though!

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    This one made me smile, since our studio is in a side room complex of a garage and a collection of hammers are among my favorite tools :) Not sure about hitting the door though and the garage has awfully loud ventilation.
    – sauli
    Mar 15, 2014 at 18:34

Having found myself standing next to a lightning strike in far-too-close proximity, I think I can help characterize the sound of it.

There are about three distinct characters to the sound. First, there's a sound like the uncomfortable squeak of two glass objects being rubbed together with grit between them...similar to fingernails on a blackboard...

Next, (simultaneously) there's a sound like a baseball being thrown very hard and fast into the center of a large sheet of suspended flat tin roofing, but only the "attack" portion of that sound.

Finally, just following, there's the thunder report, which has a very fast attack and rise, and sounds like a cannon going off, but with lots of high end "crack" instead of low end "boom" though it does have huge power bands in the low end.


an instant electrical discharge, transferring a huge amount of energy through a "tunnel" created by the electrical breakdown of air as insulator. more details at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrical_breakdown

interesting little project ;)


I was walking on a back country dirt road near Algonquin Park about 5 in the morning, very quiet. Suddenly lightning hit a tree about 75 feet away and a large branch was split partly off the trunk.

To re-create the sound I heard, you could try the following. For best results you will need access to a Cooper Time Cube device. For secondary results you could use a vacuum cleaner hose.

You will be making a large "pop" sound, such as you might by using a finger in your mouth like kids do, but producing a much bigger sound. The Time Cube type of reverberation will lengthen the sound and give it the multi-hollow reverberation similar to what you hear by listening to things through a vacuum cleaner hose.

Obtain a large rubber stopper for laboratory apparatus and a 2 foot (or so) length of straight stiff ABS pipe. The stopper has to tightly fit inside the pipe. Drill a hole through the stopper, fit a bolt through it and attach some light cable to the bolt. Clamp the pipe vertically, spray WD40 into the pipe, covering every bit of interior surface. Feed the cable down through the pipe and insert the stopper into the top of the pipe. Close the top of the pipe with an abs cap and cover the seam with duct tape. Attach a cement block to the cable at the bottom of the pipe.

  • Start recording.
  • Drop the block onto a pillow.
  • If the stopper won't travel, shorten the pipe.
  • If the sound is too deep, shorten the pipe.
  • Repeat procedure with shorter lengths of pipe for experiment.

Play the sound through the Cube or through a vacuum cleaner hose. Multi-hollow reverberation should extend for about 2 seconds.

That should take care of the "CRACK" sound.

There was no sound of the lightning striking the tree, only the CRACK of the air column and the Splitting sound of the large branch as it peeled partly off the trunk.

In place of the tree branch, you might use the sound of objects being knocked flying. A pile of tin cans being knocked down a cement incline might demonstrate this effect. This is a bit of work. If successful, you will achieve some originality.

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