Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pedal Power

There are a lot of different ways to get your effect pedals into your (guitar/bass/keyboard) signal path. Today I thought about explaining a few of these ways.

I'll detail some “gigging musicians” routes to take, as well as some of the other types: like for the stage, and most home recording set ups.

I would also like to list some of the pedals that I feel we should all have in our effect rigs. Weather you are at home, on stage, or in the studio, we all like to obtain that certain tone that defines who we are.

Effect pedal setups.....

Coming up through the ranks I learned a few ways that folks used to add effects to all sorts of signals. The most common method, for live shows, way the inline method. The simple method of guitar in one side of the pedal, and the amp out of the other side, seemed just fine for most. Musicians would “stomp” on their pedals in order to turn them on and/or off as they needed to. This must be the most common method used today, until you get to a certain point in fame anyway.....

Once we can afford more musical toys, ahem, gear, then we learn some other ways of switching our pedals as we need them. Think about a pedal board with as many switches on it as you might need, that runs all of our effect pedals. These “multiple effect triggering pedal boards” can turn multiple pedals on and off as we need them, and you can set up “preset patches” of pedals to be turned on and off and then dedicate a simple on and off switch to trigger them from the pedal board. These make life easier if your sound is derived from several pedals at once, and/or if every song needs a unique assortment of pedals to propagate their own tone.

Next on the list are the effect loops.

This is a great way to go for anyone that has a killer amp tone right off the get go. Perhaps all you need is a slight effect introduced into your rig. You just love the amp tone as it is, but perhaps adjusting one thing here or there is all you wish to do from song to song. The problem is that you cant seem to dial in your desired tone by using the “inline pedal method”, because each attempt leaves your tone “too effect laden”. An effect loop will give you a lot more control over just how much effect is being heard by the crowd. The only downfall that I know of, for effect loops, is that not every amp has an effect loop. Sometimes you must find that one amp that you know delivers “your dream tone” and has an effect loop.

Lastly, I should discuss A/B rigs. This is where things can get expensive.

Imagine having an amp and cab with all your favorite effects set up so that you are getting that killer distorted tone that you just love. Now imagine setting up a second array of amp, cab, and effects for a clean channel. This is a two amp system which is switched between the two with an A/B selector switch. You might wish to have both sounding at the same time too, like Andy Timmons does, each one complimenting the other.

Pedal envy......

Some home recording enthusiasts will lean towards getting, and then using, all in one pedal boards. These can be a rack unit, or even a modeling type of amp. The only things that I don't really like about going this route is that they never seem to sound authentic enough for me, and they can be troublesome to program. However, it can be cost effective for you to go with this type of system in your home studio.

Common; more individual pedals, when used correctly, can be all you will ever need
Here is some of the most often used effect pedals, that I feel everyone should at least have in their gear closet.
First of all, the stage tuner pedal. This has a bright, well illuminated display readout so we can read it from a standing position. Perhaps the most important feature here, is the true bypass feature. You don't want the crowd to hear you tuning up, or tuning to an altered tuning, after each song. These pedals take your instrument out of the loop, so to speak, and allow you to make adjustments in quiet.

Second on my short list is a good boost pedal. Basically any pedal that increases your instruments output voltage will work. These pedals do two major things. First, they increase the out put in order to make up for voltage drop along our miles and miles of cables. The second thing these pedals do is to boost the signal of your instrument in order to “ever so slightly” overload your amp. Any amp in this world sounds better with just the right amount of boost. The sound that we are talking about here is a slight warming up and note definition, right up to a true tube breakup.

Third on the list is the all powerful compressor. We all know that compressors reduce the attack, or the first “picked” part of a note. But what else are they good for? Well, these gems take the dynamics of a piece, and reduce them down to a steady pouring out of notes. The highs and lows of a progression come down and come up in volume, and just flow better. The overall sound of a mild compressor in your signal path will just add a professional quality to your sound. Think about this pedal as a smoother upper, and a cleaner upper, for your instrument.

Wah pedals are just the coolest guitar and bass pedal on the planet. Everyone loves a great “wah driven” song from time to time, so please have a wah in stages' your real estate. “If your gonna play in Cali, you gotta have a wah in the band” , sorry, could not resist myself.......

Some say that the most often missing effect pedal in everybody elses' pedal board is a volume pedal. The volume on your instrument is great for adding definition to, or taking the bite out of the output. But what if you wish to keep the exact sound of your rig the same as you get louder for the chorus, and mellow down for the verses?

Volume pedals are not expensive to purchase, but can add a sense of professionalism to your act. Volume pedals can raise and/or lower your “summed” output signal and that means adding dynamics to your gig. Building up to the chorus and then coming back down to the verse can move a crowd to “that place they are looking for”. Plus, these pedals can come in handy when an “impromptu” jam session makes itself available; as to allow for your guests to better stand out as they supply a solo or riff of their own.

The last pedal that I feel fits into this “mandatory pedal” list is an EQ pedal. Funny, I don't have one of these, but most folks do. A lot of heavy metal and some recent popular rock acts have used EQ to define their tone. Acts that tune their guitars way down or play baritone instruments add EQ quite a bit. I find that between the instruments pick ups, volume and tone knobs, the amps various settings, and the array of pedals that I use, I can obtain a good quality tone. However, I do add some additive and/or subtractive EQ to my guitar tracks as I record. Maybe I should take this good advice and add an EQ pedal to my recording effect array just to avoid this addition of an EQ later on in the session.

Personal pedals.....

Next up are the effects that define who you are.

Lets face it, some music genres call for a distinct sound. When you think about different types of music, what effects do you hear? We all can name a famous band or musician and then name the effects used to make them stand out; most often by name brands.

What tones do you need to have? What pedals do you need to have? The answers are questions that you need to ask yourself. Are you in a cover band? Do you play your original music out in clubs? Do you record at home? Do you write and play any one style of music, or do you write all types of music? These are the money questions.

If you think that you might like a mild chorus, delay, flanger, distortion, whammy, etc, then add it to your stages' real estate space. I can't tell you which of these effect pedals to purchase, nor will I tell you how to get a sound like someone else has.

Getting another musicians tone is a great place to start your quest for your own tone, and simply knowing how to get those certain tones that you heard is a great way to learn. Plus, if you are in a cover band, getting the right tones and effects is all to important. Crowds really behave differently when you can “sound just like the original”. I wish I could tell you how many times someone has made a point to let me know that they loved our cover of “that particular song”, as we sounded so darn close to the original.
Point is, you just gotta find out for yourself.
Start a weekly effect pedal trade program between your band mates, and/or your friends. Hang out at your local music store trying out every pedal they have. Research the ways in which famous musicians get that special tone that defines their sound. Trying to sound like someone else is not a “cop out”, it is very good practice!

Doing “blindfold tests” can be great fun, and an important learning tool of the trade. Put on some of your favorite songs and think about what effects you can hear. If you can, see how close you can come to getting “their sound” for yourself. As you do this, try listening closer and closer to the originals for the little things like compressors and overdrive/boost pedals. They are being used by a lot of folks!

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