I’m not one who likes to talk about gear. I find the those kind of conversations vapid and trite. They usually go something like this:
“So, I see you’ve got yourself a PRS there. Well, you should see what I have. I have two sets of abalone-encrusted custom strap locks, four Russian made stomp boxes, and three Les Pauls. Did I tell you that my amps were custom wired by Leo Fender himself”?
Please stop! I don’t care…at all.
Not even a little bit. Gear to me is a means to an end, not the other way around. So, at the risk of boring even myself, I’m going to write about my pedalboard today.
Order of Operation
The first thing that I think about when setting up my pedalboard is the order in which the pedals are wired up. Effect pedals, like their names suggest, effect one another. Because of this, there are some guiding principles to keep in mind so that your signal is processed in a logical order.
Here are some of those principals:
- Delays and reverbs should be after overdrives and filters.
- Compressors should be first in line after your tuner.
- A loop sampler, if you have one, should be last.
- Delay-based effects like phasers and flangers should be after overdrives.
- Wah-wahs should be after compressors and overdrives but before delays and reverbs.
Dang, that’s pretty confusing. This is how I have my board configured, hopefully it’ll put things into focus:
tuner, compressor, boost, overdrive, envelope filter, delay, reverse delay, reverb, and loop sampler.
I put my tuner first because it doesn’t do anything other than cut my signal when I need to be quiet in a hurry. A signal cut from a tuner, one should consider, works differently depending on where you have your tuner positioned. If it’s first in line, like mine, you’ll hear delay echoes and loop samples after you’ve silenced your signal. If, instead, you have your tuner last, than turning on your tuner will cut your sound off hard–delay repeats included.
I’ve had the same Boss TU-2 tuner since 2001. It’s been a rugged and dependable piece of gear for me for all these years.
Next up is my compressor, a Line 6 Constrictor. It’s a pretty standard issue, no-frills piece that does exactly as it’s told and nothing more. My compressor is literally always on. It’s a core component of my sound.
I have two top-of-the-line overdrive pedals, a Fulltone Fat-Boost and a Fulltone OCD ( obsessive compulsive drive). The boost pedal is great for making my leads stand out, and I use the OCD when I can’t rely on amp distortion. (E.g., when I’m playing an acoustic through a PA system.)
My envelope filter, a Boss AW-3 Dynamic Wah, is kind of a one-trick-pony but what a fantastic trick it is. If you’ve ever wanted your guitar to sound like a quacking duck, then the AW-3 is for you. It’s, basically, an automatic wah-wah capable of an attack that is impossible on a real wah. If you had a wah, it’d go right here, too–after the overdrive. Same hold true for EQ pedals since, after all, wah-wah pedals are just EQ band sweepers.
Next up are my delay pedals. One is a Boss DD-20 Giga Delay and the other is a Danelectro Back Talk Reverse Delay. The Danelectro piece is ridiculous: it’s for making noise, basically. It’s for those times when you want to forget about your responsibilities as a guitarist and just let the pedal do all the work.
The Boss, however, is a big-boy delay. It’s got plenty of adjustable parameters like its own reverse delay, a loop sampler, sound-on-sound, tape echo, etc. Most importantly, the Giga Delay can interface with a Boss FS-5U foot switch for hand-free parameter adjustments. I use the FS-5U to tap tempos. I feel that if you are using a delay pedal and not taping the delay beat in real time that you’re not really doing everything you can to sound as good as you can. This, then, is my advice for guitar players far and wide: tap your delay tempos before soloing from now on.
Next to last is my reverb pedal. It’s an Electro-Harmonix Holygrail. It’s pretty good but it’s only 8 bits so I can here the sound “pixelation” through large PA systems or through studio monitors. It sounds great in most other settings, though, and especially through a guitar amp–which is how I use it most of the time. Like my compressor pedal, the Holygrail is a staple of my basic sound.
Last is my loop sampler. If you have one, you’ll likely want to position it last so that all of your other effects have been processed before arrival, and that only your “sound” is recorded inside the loop sampler. My loop sampler also has a secret weapon: a volume knob. It’s like having a rudimentary mixer at the end of my board because the Digitech Jamman, like most loop samplers, has a volume knob for both the loop level and instrument level. This is fantastic news if you want to control the level of what’s going out to your amp or PA system.
Common Pedalboard Practice
My board may seem large and obnoxious but I stand by bringing this piece of gear to every gig. Put simply, I need my pedalboard. It’s a bit like a security blanket. I know that I play best when I have good tone. Tone, I feel, is everything. If you don’t sound good, than you don’t sound good. My board helps me get the tone that I think sounds great. Here’s how I dial it in:
For my basic sound I’ll have my compressor pushing the reverb pedal with the loop sampler’s instrument level set at unity. This is great for a clean tone and useful for chording or for articulated comping. When I take a lead, I always do so with a three step process: (1) turn on my delay, (2) tap my tempo, then (3) click on my boost pedal. Here’s me doing it:
Notice that I have a two measure grace period before I start soloing. I use this time to do my three step process. After I wrapped up my little lead, I turned everything off in reverse order: boost off, delay off, then tuner on to silence everything.
The Burden of the Pedalboard
I’m not gonna’ lie, this thing is big, heavy, and annoying to carry to and from gigs. I’ve even been injured by it a few times.
It’s bulk and relative danger aside, my board seems to be a necessary evil. I’ve never much cared for the all-in-one, super-light-weight, multi-effects processor type of boards. To me, they all sound bad.
Most pro players know: great tone comes from using individual stomp boxes. And though you may be able to get great tone from smartphone apps, as far as I know, those setups are not hands free—which, of course, is the whole point of a pedalboard.
So, when you see me out gigging, I’ll never be too far away from my pedalboard.