If you play the electric guitar, you have a pedalboard. Also, it's probably not a coincidence that the world is on the brink of complete environmental annihilation while there are thousands of models and brands of pedals to choose from and purchase today. Given that perspective, I am completely guilty of contributing to our sad demise. All I can say is, "mea culpa".
What I'm playing through now...
Is the result of many years of experimentation and a lot of trial and error. Things evolved over the years, of course. As it stands now, the board is really a studio or recording board as I don't really play gigs anymore and would never bring such a monstrosity to a gig to begin with - it's just too damn big, etc. and I don't want to be "that asshole" showing up to play somewhere.
However, if I were going to go play a gig, then I'd just bring the main board, the Furman board. (My board is actually made up of 3 different boards sitting next to each other.) If you look at the photo below, the Furman is the board on the right - the one with the yellow compression pedal on it. It's hard to miss.
If I was going to play through only one "dirt box" which is a funny slang term for an overdrive or distortion pedal, then I would probably just grab the AnalogMan "King of Tone" pedal, but I could go (and have) played many gigs with a RAT pedal too.
As you might have already discovered, a lot of dirt boxes sound the same! They just do, but this kind of makes sense, after all, a square wave is a square wave.
Let me elaborate: Years ago I used to play at a weekly blues jam here in Boulder, Colorado. I used to go a lot. Sometimes it was fun. Sometimes... not so much, but that's not the point. The point is, I used to bring a new overdrive/distortion pedal with me almost every week to try it out in a "gig setting". I must have tried out a dozen or so overdrives over the course of only a few months.
Now, what's funny is what the main guy running the jam said to me once after I had been playing that jam for many years. He said, "Gabriel, I can always tell it's you playing because you have such a signature sound."
I said, "Hey, thanks. That's a really nice thing to say." I laughed a little. "But, I bring a new damn pedal with me almost every time I come and play."
He smiled and said that it didn't matter, that I... still sounded like me.
Wow! How fucking cool is that?
That compliment really gave me something to think about. And, after some time it made sense to me. I realized that the reason that I might have a signature sound is because I consistently tweak my gear to sound a certain way.
So, it wouldn't matter if I played through 5 different overdrive pedals. I would still tune each one to try to sound like that ideal sound I hear in my head. And that's when it hit me: We dial in a sound we like no matter what pedal we're playing through. So, chances are you're going to make each one of those overdrive pedals sound the same or very close to each other because you're going for that certain ideal sound or tone you hear in your head, you know, your signature sound.
Boom. How cool is that?
That's when I stopped buying overdrive pedals and stopped changing out pedals on my board every couple of weeks. This was a big revelation for me.
I can just get on with playing and stop worrying about whether or not I'm playing through the correct overdrive pedal or not. None of that shit mattered anymore. I can just focus on music and play.
This is important because I know a lot of guys who have fallen into the trap of constantly buying new gear in the quest to try to find the perfect tone. And then they forget to play music which is sad.
So, don't worry about getting a lot of pedals...
Just get a few good ones and stick with them. Focus on your playing. After all, it's all about making music, not demo-ing gear all the time in an attempt to find the absolute best stuff.
With that said, if you'd like some advice about how to set things up and work on your sound, check out Gilmourish.com. This is a site that has a lot of great advice about guitar gear and building a usable and workable pedalboard. I only wish that it had been around when I first started playing. It would have saved me a lot of time and frustration.
Another fun thing to check out is That Pedal Show. Not only is this a fun YouTube channel to watch, both Dan and Mick really know what they're talking about and can help explain a lot of complicated stuff in simple and direct terms.
IN CLOSING: Don't worry too much about what you're playing through. The music is inside of you. Trust what you want to hear when you play. Trust your intuition and instincts. Try to have some fun and try to stay positive.
Oh, and stop buying more pedals and do your part to save the damn humans! ;)
The Pedalboard: 18-Dec-2017
Here's a picture of my pedalboard as it currently stands at the end of 2017. I've made some modifications and changes since the December 2013 board/configuration. (See below.) Mainly, I've added the following pedals:
- A Fulltone MDV-2 Deja Vibe Pedal
- A Lehle Mono Volume Pedal
- An Electro-Harmonix Nano POG
- A Neunaber "Immerse Reverberator" Reverb Pedal
- A Strymon Timeline Delay Pedal
- A Strymon Big Sky Reverb Pedal
- A Lehle "Little Dual" Amp Switcher
As you can see, the board has grown significantly over the last 4 years. When time permits, I will diagram the pedal order of this new configuration and add more detailed photos. In the meantime, some points worth noting:
- The Deja Vibe comes first before any other pedal. It's the first in the signal chain.
- The Nano POG comes right after the ST-2 (Tone Boost) and right before the BOSS CE-3 Chorus pedal. I like this pedal after my gain stage(s). I think it sounds best here.
- The additional reverb and delay pedals come before the JamMan looper, the big blue pedal on the left.
- I have three (3) delays and two (2) reverb pedals on this board. Holy shit!
- The Amp Switcher comes after the two NB-3 pedals and is the last pedal in the signal chain. This pedal helps resolve the grounding problems (hum) associated with playing through two amps at the same time.
- This, by far, is the best pedalboard and guitar setup I've ever used. It took many years to build and I couldn't be happier with it. I'm one lucky son of a bitch.
The Pedalboard: 31-Dec-2013
Here's the main pedalboard I've been working with for the past four years or so (since around 2009). It's changed quite a bit in that time, but has settled down to its current configuration over the past year or so.
It might look a little complicated, but it's actually pretty straight forward and simple to use compared to a lot of other boards you might find on the Internet. It's also a bit "old school", if you will, in the sense that I don't use a MIDI controller or any kind programmable effects-switching device like a G2 GigRig or Voodoo Lab Pedal Switcher. I have, however, been intrigued by that sort of technology ever since I first found out about it and would like to build such a system someday, but currently, I don't have such a need. Simplicity is good and my main focus is on good guitar tone.
The key to this pedalboard are the four Pete Cornish pedals which have really good buffers in them. The LD-3, a line driver/preamp pedal, is the first pedal I plug into from my guitar. This pedal boosts my guitar signal and also provides some RFI filtering which is essential considering how dirty power sources can be and how lights can interfere with one's guitar pickups, etc. I also have an ST-2 Tone Boost that acts mainly as an EQ pedal which is placed just after my gain stage (the RAT and King of Tone pedals). Here are some sample ST-2 settings.
Then, last but not least, I run a stereo signal through two NB-3 Clean Boost pedals. Again, Cornish does not believe in true-bypass and, instead, uses very high quality buffers and other technology to manipulate and control one's guitar signal. My board sounds very clean and has a really rich tone. I'm very pleased with it and feel very lucky to own such a powerful tone shaping tool. I would feel lost without it!
|Pedal Order||Pedal Description|
|1.||Pete Cornish LD-3: Line Driver (Pre-amp) with Mute switch and dedicated Tuner out which feeds into my BOSS TU-12H tuner.|
|1a.||BOSS TU-12H Tuner: A chromatic tuner.|
|2.||Diamond Compressor: This is a wonderful and natural sounding compression pedal. It's also a sort of 'set and forget' kind of pedal for me these days which means it's almost always on when I'm playing and I rarely mess with it.|
Maxon PT-999 Phase Tone: A phaser pedal.
NOTE: I've got this pedal situated on the board such that I can adjust the speed knob with my foot while I'm playing/gigging. These are important considerations when setting up such a board. It needs to be gig-able (playable). Also, I like having my phaser pedal before my gain pedals as opposed to afterwards. This makes the phasing sound less affected and more mellow which I like very much, but I know some players put their phaser after their distortion/overdrive pedals.
|4.||Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah: A Wah Wah pedal.|
|5.||Ernie Ball Volume Pedal|
ProCo RAT Distortion Pedal: A stock (no mods) RAT distortion pedal circa 1990. Made in the U.S.A. This one has a RED LED light/indicator.
NOTE: There is never any need to modify this pedal. I should know because I've mod'd a few. It's simply a wonderful dirt box and I can get some really sweet high gain tones out of it. Also, it's better to get a U.S.A. made one versus the newer Chinese versions which tend to sound more brittle somehow.
REMEMBER: Don't mod the American made versions. They sound great as they are.
|7.||AnalogMan "King of Tone" Distortion/Overdrive Pedal - Version 4: The distortion channel is on the right side while the overdrive is on the left. Running both sides at the same time puts you in Gilmour territory very quickly. Sometimes I'll run the RAT and the KOT overdrive side at the same time too, but I'll never run the RAT with the KOT distortion side on as that's just too noisy. If I want a really distorted sound, I'll run the RAT with a high gain setting and adjust the tone using the Cornish ST-2 pedal (pedal #8).|
Pete Cornish ST-2 Tone Boost: This is a wonderful pedal which is sort of the heart of my system. It functions as an EQ pedal as it really helps one dial in the sound they're looking for. The "gain" control is crucial and I use it to really find a good signal strength for all of my guitars. It's essential for guitars equipped with single-coil pickups as it can beef up the sound of say, a Stratocaster. I usually turn the gain down when playing a guitar with humbuckers.
NOTE: The gain on the ST-2 is not your standard gain control as it's not related to distortion or overdrive in any way - it's more of a tone manipulation control - maybe even a mid-boost. As Pete Cornish says: The ST-2 can correct or alter the tonal characteristics of other effects units. It can also correct for deficiencies in tone or signal strength of instruments or amps.
I also use this pedal as a MASTER volume control.
|9.||BOSS CE-3 Chorus Pedal: Made in Japan (MIJ), power plug mod'd by CMAT Mods to use a PS-1 style power cable. This is the pedal I use to split my signal into a stereo signal.|
|10.||BOSS DD-3 Digital Delay Pedal: Made in Japan (MIJ), Mod'd with Hi-cut switch installed by CMAT Mods. This is a great delay pedal and I use it to make all sorts of cool "spaceship" sounds and effects.|
|11.||BOSS RV-5 Reverb: A stock (no mods) BOSS reverb pedal. A great meat and potatoes reverb.|
|12.||Digitech JamMan Stereo Looper/Delay Pedal: A looper and delay built into a single box. It's pretty cool, because I can sync looping times with delay times. It does, however, have a pretty severe limitation, which is, the only way one can set loop/delay tempos is by use of tap-tempo switch. This pedal would be perfect if one could dial in exact tempos (or BPMs) using a knob. This would make it much easier to get two different (adjacent) loops to have the same tempo, for instance.|
|13.||Pete Cornish NB-3: A clean boost for Channel A.|
|14.||Pete Cornish NB-3: A clean boost for Channel B.|
This is a stereo rig and there are two signal paths or channels:
Channel A (Left stereo-channel): 1: LD-3 ==> 2: Comp ==> 3: Phaser ==> 4: WAH ==> 5: VOL ==> 6: RAT ==> 7: KOT ==> 8: ST-2 ==> 9: CE-3 ==> 10: DD-3 (mono delay) ==> 11a: RV-5 ==> 12a: JamMan ==> 13: NB-3 (left channel clean boost) ==> 1st AMP.
Channel B (Right stereo-channel): 1: LD-3 ==> 2: Comp ==> 3: Phaser ==> 4: WAH ==> 5: VOL ==> 6: RAT ==> 7: KOT ==> 8: ST-2 ==> 9: CE-3 ==> 11b: RV-5 ==> 12b: JamMan ==> 14: NB-3 (right channel clean boost) ==> 2nd AMP.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's a diagram attempting to illustrate the pedal connections. NOTE: All patch cables were custom made and hand-built by Gary Mulder of Mulder Audio. His X-Cable is wonderful and I really like it much better than the George-L's I used for many years. His cable makes my board sound more open and natural - more clear/clean sounding. I also use his snuffers and speaker cables too. The snuffers help cleanup the guitar's overall sound. Very subtle stuff, but noticeable too when you're paying attention.
Both channels (A and B) are the same all the way through the first 8 pedals (all the way up to and including the Cornish ST-2 Tone Boost) on the board but then the signal gets split into a stereo signal using the BOSS CE-3 Chorus pedal, pedal #9. From there the two signals vary slightly (as shown above). Path A continues through to the BOSS DD-3 delay pedal and then connects to the BOSS RV-5 reverb pedal. Path B bypasses the DD-3 (as it's just a mono delay) and connects directly into the RV-5 reverb pedal. What this means is that the DD-3 delay is only heard in one amplifier which is actually a pretty cool effect, but the chorus and reverb sounds are heard in both amps (in stereo).
From the reverb pedal both paths A and B connect to the JamMan stereo/looper delay. Then the stereo signal in each channel is passed to its own dedicated Cornish NB-3 Clean Boost. From there, each clean boost feeds a separate amp for a stereo sound. Simply marvelous.
These days I'm running into a Fender Deluxe Reverb (a '65 Reissue that was mod'd by Ben Fargen) and a Carr Rambler. Both amps together sound amazing.
Playing through two amplifiers really does open up your sound. It really gives you a 3-dimensional effect which just sounds so much bigger than if you were only playing through one amp. Both amps in combination really create a lot of sound even at low volumes. In fact, you might even play a little quieter because it's easier to hear yourself with two amps. Of course, the stereo chorusing, reverb and delay effects (from the JamMan) sound amazing and that's how these effects should really be heard - in stereo. After all, we have two ears and were designed/evolved to hear sounds in this way.
Having the Cornish Boost pedals at the end of the chain really does prevent any signal loss from the board as those pedals have really good buffers in them. If you have a chance to play or purchase a Pete Cornish effects pedal, I highly recommend that you do. I have found that his pedals really have taken my sound to the "next level". I couldn't be more happy with them. Be sure to check them out. You won't be disappointed.
Thanks for checking out my rig. I hope it's given you some ideas about what you can do with your guitar setup. Finally, be sure to check out some of my music which can be found on SoundCloud. You can hear the board in action. Take care and be well.