For the last 8 or so years I’ve been the happy owner of a line 6 spider-II amp. It’s got all the bells and whistles for playing at home and experimenting with effects; tremolo delays to chorus flange, huge reverbs to over the top distortions, it was great for experimenting with different sounds. However, although it was good fun, as I began to perform more with bands and backline hire became more commonplace, I was hit with the issue of ‘How do I recreate my effects without my amp and FBV shortboard?’ This was a problem as all the effects I had made were saved on my FBV shortboard that only worked with my amp. So the conclusion was, I needed a pedalboard that has all the effects I need to stop me relying on the seemingly random array of amps I kept getting faced with.
But this was easier said than done, I’m a student, meaning money’s tight. So at this point I was faced with 3 options; buy a multi-effects pedal and be done with it, buy a ton of cheap pedals that half do a load of different things, or hone down my sound, workout what it is I want to do and invest in a few decent pedals. Needless to say I opted for the latter, as although multi-effects pedals are fun, I wanted the maximum possible control over my tone, which in my opinion is still best done with carefully chosen stompboxes.
So with the decision made to select a few decent pedals, I was now faced with deciding which effects were most essential to the sound I wanted. This decision is of course personal to everyone, but the first pedal that I felt was crucial to have on my board was a nice overdrive, not a distortion, an overdrive. Which brings me nicely on to a point I wanted to discuss: analogue vs. digital. Despite the fact that my line 6 gave me the chance to try out a whole load of different effects, it is a digital amp. As a result, it just cannot replicate that incredible sound of naturally overdriven tubes that I crave so much. So when putting my pedalboard together this was a priority. If analogue overdrive is something I feel I need, then it doesn’t make sense to have a digital multi-effects pedal giving me an imitation distortion/overdrive, which for me just doesn’t cut it.
As I began to think about my sound I realised that I didn’t actually have much at the centre of my sound. I messed about with some crazy things here and there, but primarily I used an overdrive and a delay to try and create those anthemic solos or atmospheric clean sounds. So the hunt was on for a good analogue overdrive, and a decent delay.
After a lot of reading reviews and spec sheets and watching demo videos I had narrowed it down to a few pedals. However, I can never bring myself to buy part of my guitar setup; be it an amp, pedal or the guitar itself, unless I have personally played it as well as others to know it’s the best (I can afford) for me. Naturally then I spent a ton of time in different guitar shops trying different ones out and the two pedals I decided on were the MXR GT-OD as the overdrive pedal and the Boss DD-3 for the delay.
Now let me explain myself before someone rightly points out that the Boss DD-3 is a digital delay after me banging on about wanting to keep things analogue. I did very nearly end up with the MXR Carbon Copy which is a brilliant analogue delay pedal, but when playing with both pedals The DD-3 seemed to just give me that extra bit of control over the sounds I could get.
However there is another sneaky little feature of the DD-3 that swung it for me over the carbon copy. The carbon copy has a ‘true bypass’ much like the GT-OD that a lot of people see as a necessity in the best pedals. This is because it simply means your signal travels straight through your pedal unaltered when it’s not in use, which naturally you would think is what you want from a turned off pedal. However, the DD-3 has what is known as a ‘Buffer’ circuit meaning that when the pedal is disengaged the signal passing through it is boosted. The reason boss pedals have this feature is simply because the further a signal has to travel down a wire, the more signal is lost (normally the top end) by the time it reaches the amp. For me my axe of choice is a PRS SE custom 24, which has passive humbucker pickups. Passive pickups mean that my guitar has a ‘high-impedance’ output and as a result, once the signal has travelled through my guitar, down my lead, zigzagged its way through my pedalboard then travelled to the back of the stage and into my amp, a considerable amount of signal has been lost. So having the BOSS DD-3 in my setup means I can overcome that effect by giving the signal the boost it needs on its way to the amp.
By this point it feels like I’m nearly there; a stripped back simplistic pedal board that can give me my essentials regardless of the backline. Although in addition to the overdrive and delay there is a feature on my FBV Shortboard that I used to use an awful lot, which was the ‘stomp’ pedal. This gave a boost of gain allowing me to standout slightly when transitioning from chords into a solo for example. So I began experimenting with simple gain boost pedals and even toyed with the idea of building one myself, as they’re probably the most simplistic of pedals. However, when I stopped and thought about what I wanted from my ‘boost’ pedal I realized that a gain boost probably wasn’t the best option. I wanted this next pedal to up the volume slightly, increase the sustain, make it squeal that bit more and allow slightly more sensitivity. With this in mind, a compression pedal seemed the logical conclusion. Then inevitably the process began again; reviews, videos, discussions, forums, other guitarists, hours in music shops and so on. Eventually the pedal of choice was the MXR dyna comp. In fear of starting to come across as a bit of an MXR fan boy, it just had everything I needed in terms of simplicity and tone.
Now the tone is in place, all that is missing to make the pedal board set for gigs is a decent tuner. I’m not going to go into too much detail about tuners, but in my opinion, for visibility, sensitivity, and price; the pitchblack chromatic tuner by Korg is a no brainer.
Next step: order of pedals. With such a small amount of pedals, the order doesn’t take much thinking about. In order to make the most of the delay it needs to be at the end of the setup, as not only do you want to delay the overdrive not overdrive the delay, the buffer is best used at the end. The tuner also wants to be as close to the guitar as well so that it receives the maximum possible amount of signal. In addition to this, in my opinion it works best to compress the overdrive as opposed to overdrive the compression. Therefore in the case of this setup, my initial order was guitar -> tuner -> overdrive -> compression -> delay -> amp. However after road testing my setup in a few different venues, I found that feedback seemed more likely to occur if the guitar wasn’t being played whilst the compression and distortion where engaged. This was an issue in some songs where I couldn’t afford to be effectively tap-dancing across my pedalboard. Therefore my solution/compromise was guitar -> compression -> tuner -> overdrive -> delay -> amp. Not ideal, but this way I could use the tuner as a ‘mute’ for the compression and the effect of placing it first, in my setup, seems to have only a subtle effect on my tone.
So there we have it, throw in a Jim Dunlop wah I was given as a gift and you’ve got my best efforts at making my optimum road ready pedalboard on a student budget.