Guitar Gear: Pedalboard Pornography

Andy's PedalboardThis is my pedalboard. Go ahead, look at it. Don’t touch it, though.

If you are at a band’s show, you may have noticed that either before or after they play, you will see a bunch of nerdy dudes hovering around the front of the stage where the guitar player’s pedalboard is, trying to sneak a peak at what he has, and trying not to look like we’re doing it. We can’t help it. Before you could see, hear and buy any pedal you wanted on the interwebs, it used to be much more of a mysterious thing. You would hope to catch a glimpse of some unique ‘piece’ that produced some amazing sound, and if you just had it too, you would undoubtedly rule the world of guitar. Or at least have another thing to sell some other poor guy. But even now, with access to all that on tons of websites, it can’t be helped. You just gotta see what he’s using. What a bunch of doofs guitar players are.

I’ve been using pedals since 1985. You heard me. I haven’t tried or heard every single pedal in the world that has ever existed, but people call me and ask me about pedals as if I have. I don’t know why. Do I wish I have tried and heard (and owned) every pedal in the world ever? Of course. And these days, you can see and hear things on the internet in such a thorough way, that I don’t always feel like I have to. But nothing beats the real thing, having that pedal, playing it through your rig, feeling it in your own hands. ‘Gear Talk’ can be helpful, but it can also get disgusting. I have disgusted myself thoroughly, at times. You just need to use stuff that you respond to, that gives you the feeling and experience that answers you. Then you will give that experience to others (via a live show or recording), and what gear you’re using won’t intellectually matter to them, unless they’re a bunch of guitar players, which means you’re probably just playing at NAMM (which is kinda lame). Most importantly, if you are a genuine guitar artist (or, ‘guitartist’, if you will, which is only one letter away from ‘guitardist’, by the way), you should be able to make just about anything work, and spending thousands of dollars on ‘magic’ boxes will never end, because the magic has to be you.

Also, I have a motto: “convenience causes cancer.” It applies to everything in life, including guitar rigs. The more convenience you try to achieve, the more the purity of your signal gets compromised, like a cancer. Sometimes you can live with it. Sometimes it’ll put your light out.

I’ve had 4 major pedalboard setups, this being the latest. It is setup to cover many bases, many situations. I would do things different if it was just for one band, so there are some compromises made. Anyways, your mileage my vary, but this is how I do it and here’s how it goes:

1) The white, elbow-end cable comes from my guitar. Sometimes I put a wah inbetween my guitar and this input. I have the VOX V848 Clyde McCoy.

2) The first pedal plugged into is a Loop-Master ESR. It has two send/receive loops in series, and with a stomp of the switch reverses the order of those two loops (both loops are always on). Sometimes reverb sounds way better (more destructive) when it comes before your fuzz. At least I think so.

LOOP 1:

3) Right away, the signal goes into another switcher, the Loop-Master Clean/Dirty Effects Switcher. This is an ‘either/or’ type of switch. Two send/receive loops, but this time the switch chooses between them. So, one of my loops goes to the Barber Tone Press and Analog Man Sun Face, and the other loop goes to J.Everman Fuzz Drive and the Baja Tech Baja Boost. Most often, I use this setup precisely as advertised: one loop is ‘clean’, the other ‘dirty. However, the Sun Face can come on and make things fuzz-crushed. Amazingly, the Sun Face even works fine with the Tone Press on (a buffered pedal before a fuzz usually makes things tinny and fizzy). The other two pedals in the other loop stack well, too. Having them both on, with the right settings, makes for another type of sound. Side note: I have the original J.Everman Fuzz Drive. It is perhaps my all-time favorite distortion pedal. It is the only pedal I’ve encountered that can make your already overdriven amp sound bigger (and not just more ‘gainy’). I love that thing. I also have the new version (G2), but do not prefer it quite as much, even though it is still great. The tuneable voice of the Baja Boost is great as well. Very versatile and useful. Also, depending on the band/situation, I switch out these pedals for different ones, like, in The Black Lantern I use the ZVEX Fuzz Factory in place of the Tone Press.

4) The output of all this craziness goes into the Radial Switchbone. This is the master buffer. The fuzzes all come before this because, as I mentioned, fuzz after buffers tends to sound crummy (unless you are purposely doing fizzy instead of fuzzy). This is quite a useful pedal. It has a buffer that you can dial back a bit. It has a buffered tuner out (which goes to a TU-12 I’ve had for way too long), which is important, because you don’t want to split out for a tuner if your signal isn’t buffered. It has a tuner mute switch, which can be switched to boost, with switchable boost types (various combos of mid-boost and adjustable gain). The boost with the mid-hump into the Marshall is completely rocking. It is an A/B/Y pedal, that splits the signal and allows you to choose one, the other, or both. And the B channel can be phase inverted (important if you use a Marshall), ground lifted, and has an isolation transformer on it. Ridiculous. My B channel has a line that goes right out the back of the pedalboard, and usually goes to a whole other effects setup (like the M13, or my weird 90’s rack gear). Sometimes I run it to the stereo volume pedal’s B side before it goes out the back. The A channel goes on to the rest of the pedalboard.

5) The Switchbone’s A channel goes into some sort of overdrive here, which is usually something of the ‘tube screamer’ or ‘tube amp’ type. Pictured here is the Boss Blues Driver, which has been modified by me with the Monte Allums BD-H20 kit. I have done two other pedals with his kits (a CS-3 Opto and an SD-1), and I highly recommend them. They’ve made all of these pedals sound stellar. Sometimes I will put the HBE Power Screamer here. With the Blues Driver, I can run a very clean amp, and use the pedal to replicate the slightly overdriven tube amp sound. So, that sound comes before the time-based effects (delay/reverb), and keeps things ‘clean’ and ‘pro’ sounding, or with a flip of the ESR, the delay can be put in front of this pedal to get that bit of grit on the echoes. If I’m running an overdriven amp, then the Power Screamer is usually here, just acting as a boosty thing.

A word about overdrives: one of my favorite things to read on a message board is something like “my search for the perfect overdrive is over!” It’s never over. I think that the overdrive search (along with the delay search) will be endless as long as there are people making new pedals. It’s a bizarre delicacy, this ‘perfect’ overdrive thing, and would be my guess for the most ‘bought it/loved it/wanted something more/sold it’ category of pedals for guitarists. What a bunch of dorks.

6) Next up, we hit the Loop-Master Micro Loop that has the Boss PS-5 Super Shifter in it. I love this pedal. I use it on every song in The Black Lantern. In other situations, like CUSH, I use it most often for an octave-up, 12-string kind of thing. The early versions of this pedal were kinda rough, and didn’t track well. However this was used to a purposefully tweaky effect on “My Iron Long” by Radiohead. This one tracks well, though.

7) After that, it’s the Mod spot. Currently represented by the Analog Man Chorus, which I’ve had for, like, 10 years now. When I started playing in The Violet Burning again in the early 00’s, I was looking for a chorus that had a tweaky depth to it, and was true bypass. I’m quite thankful that Analog Man was around back then, there weren’t a lot of options. I will swap this out for other pedals I have in this category like my BF-2, DC-2, or the PH-1r. I wish I had access to all these pedals at once, and had originally built a bigger board that had space for it, but it was such a big board it was too heavy and unmanageable.

8) Finally, after all that, it goes to the Boss FV-500L volume pedal. I like the volume knob on the side that allows you to make it so the heel position is just quieter, but not all the way off. I use the ‘L’, or, low-impedance model because the signal at this point has been buffered. You would use the high-impedance one if it was coming right after your guitar.

And that concludes the ESR LOOP 1. The signal goes back to the reverser pedal and then on to LOOP 2:

1) First up is the Eventide Timefactor. I’ve had it for awhile now, and I really like it. The functionality and the sound quality are both very high. I can dial in a sound that is very close to my all-time favorite delay pedal (which I used exclusively on the first CUSH album). I did this with my Line6 DL4, too, back in the day. Just copied the sound of this other pedal as best I could.

There’s something magic about the right delay pedal. Right now, the pedal of the moment is the Strymon El Capistan, which a few of my friends have. It’s wonderful. I’d love to have one, as well. The feel of a delay is a very personal thing for guitar players who are so inclined, and is another search that never seems to end.

2) After the Timefactor, LOOP 2 continues into the Empress Tremolo. When I got it, there weren’t as many others out there as there are now. It admittedly isn’t the most lush tremolo I’ve ever heard, but it still sounds great. Most notably, I love the different patterns. I wish the tap was less accurate, and averaged out your stomps a bit better. I have it on the board in a position where the tap button is right next to the tap button of the time factor. I could conceivably stomp on both taps at the same time with a well-placed foot.

3) Last, but not least, my perhaps favorite section of the whole board: reverb! I have the two reverb pedals in another Loop-Master setup. I overdid it by getting the master bypass (I could certainly turn them both on or off at the same time with another well-placed foot), but oh well. I pretty much always use the Boss RV-5, I love the modulated verb setting. In the other spot (which actually comes first in the signal path), I use either the Digitech Digiverb or the Boss RV-3. These pedals uniquely do the thing where the mix knob can go to 100% wet signal, which I use a lot. I don’t know why my RV-3 has white knobs, every other one I’ve seen has the black knobs. It looks more like my RV-2, which I also like a lot. Whatever the case, I love reverb, and it’s fair to say that I quite overuse it. They are often both on. I like having them in the loops, so that a dead stop on the reverb tail can be achieved, if necessary.

That’s it for LOOP 2, back to the ESR, and then out to an amp through the purple jacketed cable, which is most often my 62′ Vox AC30.

I use George L cables for everything, and I build my own power cables out of parts that I get from Mouser. The whole thing is powered by a Pedal Power 2. The Timefactor and Radial use their wall warts, which plug into a mini multiple-outlet extension cord that plugs into the extra AC out let on the Pedal Power.

The actual board itself is something I made myself from Home Depot wood and metal edging from Amazon. I have a nice table saw, and I like to build my own stuff. I have endured plenty of half-mocking comments like, “This looks like Andy’s science experiment” and such, but hey, this is the way I do things.

I definitely think a Jedi should know how to build his own lightsaber ;)

[I have, for the sake of ease, voiced everything from the male perspective, however there are plenty of awesome female guitar players out there, so everything here could be a “she” instead of a “he”. You know what I mean.]