Think back to when you first started playing the electric guitar. Like most beginners, you probably didn't start with all the equipment you have now. Your student guitar and entry-level practice amp didn't deliver the most inspiring tone. Then you got your first 'goodie box', what the salesmen called a pedal. It was most likely a major event! If one pedal was good, more pedals were better. You started connecting them all, taking them all out every time. The chain of pedals began, adding noise, degrading your tone and increasing the chances of equipment failure. Now you are ready to get serious and clean up your guitar tone. Here we will take a close look at your pedals and determine whether they are adding as much as they are subtract from your tone.
Include Only the Pedals You Really Need
A talented oil painter might have several hundred colors in their supply box. But notice when they begin a new piece they don't automatically dab a dollop of every color on their palette. Instead, they consider the work they want to do and lay out the colors that will best compliment the subject. Similarly, you don't need to hook up every pedal each time you plug in your guitar. The modular design and ease of interfacing guitar equipment gives maximum flexibility and generally excellent sound quality, but no matter how fancy a pedal might be you will be degrading the signal slightly by including it. Cables can introduce noise and capacitance that dulls your tone, and every place you plug in another cable there is a little bit of 'insertion loss' as well. If you add too many pedals without adequate buffering, the result of all of these little losses is that your guitar will lose its presence and clarity. Plan ahead which devices you need to paint your sonic landscape and keep the rest in your gig bag until you need them. Optimize Your Signal Path for Best Results
If you ever experimented with putting your distortion box in front of your wah pedal, you probably got a rather extreme result! Effects like distortion, overdrive and fuzz work by adding extra harmonics to your clean guitar sound. So when you follow them with effects such as wah that boost a certain frequency range you suddenly have a lot more harmonics in that range. This can result in feedback (see Hendrix, Jimi) or amplify noise to the point of being unusable. In general you will get better results with wah type pedals before distortion, or maybe I should say "more predictable results," because apparently the laws of audio physics didn't apply to Jimi and you might be similarly gifted. Spatial effects like delay, chorus and reverb sound 'cleaner' and less cluttered if you keep them towards the end of your signal chain (this might take some creative planning if you use your amplifier's built-in distortion channel - that's what effects loops are for). On the other hand, boost pedals, compressors and equalizers can be more effective up in front of everything else. You can't cause any damage by breaking the rules- all the pedals will work fine in any order, but you might not like the way they sound in every order. Try combining your pedals in different orders and listen carefully: Do you like the way it sounds? Does the pedal affect how up-front your guitar sounds in the mix or did it make it sound muddy? Does the arrangement add undesirable noise? As the late great Mr. Hendrix taught us: there are no rules, only guidelines. Do what works for you. But remember the guidelines were developed by millions of other guitar players based on practical experience; the basics are a good place to start. Don't Over-Do the Effects Mix
Any effect you add to your guitar will tend to push you back in the mix. Obvious examples are reverbs which make you sound far away. That makes a great vibe on an epic ballad, but it might mask what you're doing on those Paganini caprices you spent last summer learning. The most presence you can achieve in live sound is by going 'dry' (no pedals at all) and is often described as "in the listener's face." Adjust your effects accordingly. Be Careful to Match Your Signal Levels if Possible
With most pedals this means putting them in front of your amp input. Rack effects and many multi-effects units sound better in your effects loop. Most effects loops are optimized for line-level units, while pedals are usually optimized for instrument level use (before the preamp). Again, you can break the rules, but it can add noise and make things less predictable. Make Use of Switching Pedals
Be creative, you can often use a switching pedal (A/B box) to loop around or bypass unused effects until you need them. The author uses this technique with all guitar tuners regardless of design, because personal experience with several had them playing havoc running them inline. We want to achieve versatility with our pedals, but it might be better to keep them in the on-deck circle rather than putting multiple 'players' in the batter's box. Be creative and thoughtfully consider the guidelines as you design your system. Less is more until you really do need more. Remember that excess cable (or poor quality cables) can add noise and subtract tone quality. So while you're at it, get pro quality cables
and keep them short.
Well-routed effects and pedalboards can enhance your music when used judiciously. As with most things in life there are trade-offs to different approaches so take some time in advance to experiment and discover the methods that work best for you. Put your goodie boxes to good use by carefully weighing how they interact with the rest of your system and you'll be rewarded with great tone and a broad palette of colors with which to paint your sonic landscapes.
Leave a comment
Comments will be approved before showing up.
Also in Guitar / Bass Amplifier Info & Education
The traditional advice often given to the bride when selecting her wedding attire, was, "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." I have no idea what that could possibly have to do with music. But since you can literally do just about anything to break out of a rut, let's apply the old adage to our current situation and see what happens.
One of the most common frustrations most musicians experience is the dreaded "Stuck in a Rut Syndrome" (I just made that up, but you get the idea). Because of the incomprehensible amount of time one must invest to master a musical instrument, it is easy to work your way into practice habits that can interfere with your advancement. You worked so long at getting it right, that it became a habit. But even though you have mastered it, you continue drilling the exercise. Worse yet, this can even happen with exercises that you haven't yet mastered, locking you into endlessly practicing badly. You know you need something fresh, but it can be hard to know what to change. So, the next time you find yourself stuck in a rut, look to one of these easy techniques to help you get back on track fast.
If I were ever arrested for being a guitar player and they searched my house for evidence, they'd probably come up with a few hundred guitar picks. Years worth of them in gig bags, junk drawers, pocket change and sofa cushions. Chances are most guitar players could say the same. Usually there is at least some variety in most "private collections," but eventually most of us find something we're comfortable with and settle down, seldom making another change unless the style demands it. Yet many players have never really studied picks and the nuances of each type. A new pick can inspire a different way of picking or help the player to get a better feel for a challenging technique, such as alternate or sweep picking. Every once in a while, exploring a handful of new picks can lead to new avenues of playing, for only a few cents... okay, dollars. Forgive me; I've been at this a long time.