January 25, 2021
Guitar pedals. You have them for your guitar rig, right? Sure, but if you get bored or your calluses hurt – or if you don’t play the guitar – you can still put your pedal collection to work. Here are some wacky alternative ways you can use guitar pedals in the studio and on stage.
Who says guitarists should have all the monster distortion, delays and wah-wah fun? Try running an alternate keyboard through an overdrive pedal or crank up a crazy delay. You can give the keyboardist a change to make some serious noise on stage, or you can use these alternate effects in the studio to find creative new sounds.
You can even try using pedals with live piano. A directional dynamic microphone placed in a sound hole, run through a decent preamp and then output to a series of pedals can take an acoustic piano to a whole new dimension. Run this rig through a guitar amp for an extra crazy recording scenario. Just keep an ear out – this kind of set up is prime for some serious feedback.
In mixing, drums are often processed through distortions, overdrives, pitch shifts, delays, any number of effects to make them sound unique or big. If you prefer getting physical, you can do this same thing in the mix with pedals. You can also run drum feeds through pedals on stage, to give the drummer some switchable options to make drums pop or get mean in select spots. Watch out for feedback in that situation as well.
Of course, if you’re playing an electronic drum kit on stage or in the studio, the addition of some classic guitar pedals can give you a new sound palate without the risk of feedback.
Vocals are always being manipulated in weird ways, and it’s actually pretty common to try running vocal sends through a variety of pedal effects, including distortion. Of course, there are dedicated vocal effects pedal boards, but if you don’t have one, or if you just want to experiment with something unique, try giving a guitar pedal a try.
For example, see what happens if you split a live vocal to a wah-wah pedal. When the vocalist holds out a long note, she can make it extra ethereal with her foot.
Again, pay close attention to the risk of feedback when using pedals like this on stage. And of course, you’ll want to split the feed and send the mic output to a pre-amp first.
Acoustic guitars don’t always have to play nice. If you have a pickup, there’s no reason you can’t try the same pedal tricks you use with your electric. The acoustic will give everything a different timbre, which could be quite satisfying. You may even be able to quickly switch between a nice sweet stripped down acoustic sound to a big mean distortion. Ping pong delays can be super cool with acoustic guitar as well.
In this situation, watch for noise. The pedal set up could make your clean acoustic sound a little rough around the edges.
It may seem strange, but guitar pedals can often double as outboard processing units in the mix. If you’re in the analog domain you can use an insert, or you can simply run a track through an output, to a pedal, and back to a different input.
You can use this to create unique reverb or delays to keys, add just a bit of distortion to a bass, mess with vocals, beef up drums – all the things we’ve already mentioned, only after recording. You can even use pedals with or without amps to “reamp” clean tracks to create new parts or create a sound you didn’t have access to in tracking.
As you probably figured out, this isn’t an article about the right thing to do. It’s all about realizing that sound is sound and audio is audio – if you can run one audio signal through a pedal, you can run another. Just remember to use a preamp for mics. Although impendence is a complex enough issue, the big rule of thumb is if you’re using a mic, it needs a preamp before you can attempt to process it with a pedal. Even then, be careful about feedback in any situation with a mic.
Other than that, use your imagination and have fun. Your pedals have so much more to offer than you might have thought!
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