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My first effects pedal was a Jax Wah Wah. I thought it was about the coolest thing ever. I could get that
wacha, wacha sound—just like on the song “Shaft”— with it. Like most young players, I then proceeded
to put wah on everything— whether it belonged there or not. I also went on to learn all the great wah songs like “Voodoo Child” and the solo on “Play That Funky Music White Boy.” The next pedal I bought was a Maestro Phaser. I got it because, beside the wah, I thought it made the biggest difference in my sound. So naturally from that point on everything had to have Phaser on it. In those days, and even now, it seemed like there was an infinite number of pedals that gave you an unlimited number of sounds. Even if you bought an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phaser it would sound substantially different than an MXR Phase 90. While trying to cop the sounds I heard, it was impossible to know which pedals the guitarists on those LPs were using.
When I was 13 or 14, my brothers and I created a makeshift delay out of an old reel-to-reel recorder. The delay time was dictated by the amount of space between the recording head and the playback head and couldn’t be changed, but we had a delay effect and that’s what mattered most.
I had heard that Jimi Hendrix got his sound with a pedal called a Big Muff. It was made by Electro-Harmonix and became so popular that many competing companies copied the Muff in their own line. The Big Muff was first introduced in the early seventies and was used by artists like David Gilmour and Carlos Santana. Gilmour famously used the Big Muff on the Pink Floyd’s Animals and The Wall albums. I later found out that the Big Muff was not used extensively by Hendrix at all. In fact, it was not available until 1971, a year after Hendrix’s death. Big Muff creator Mike Matthews, however, has claimed that Hendrix used a Big Muff prototype in some sessions prior to his death and he was reportedly impressed enough to
want to use it on his next album. Hendrix did play an integral part in the making of the Big Muff. Matthews has often stated that Hendrix’s guitar sound was the inspiration for its creation. I couldn’t get my hands on an actual Big Muff at the time, but I managed to borrow a pedal that sounded close from a guitarist friend of mine. It was a fOXX Tone Machine; fOXX made a Fuzz Wah, a Foot Phaser, and the infamous Tone Machine. The Tone Machine made my guitar sound exactly like the solo on the Eagles’ “One of These Nights.” I loved it and was able to keep it for a long time, and even had the chance to do a few gigs with it before having to return it to its rightful owner.
After working for many years with stomp pedals, I started seeing more and more players with these refrigerator-sized racks full of effects behind them on stage. Right about the time that I was going to dump a bunch of money on 24 spaces of rack effects, Roland came out with the GP-8, which included eight effects: Dynamic Filter, Compressor, Over Drive, Distortion, Phaser, Equalizer, Digital Delay and Digital Chorus. It seemed like everything that a guitarist needed to copy all the classic sounds in one single space unit, so I bought that and still use it today.
I’m constantly trying new effects as well as revisiting old ones. It’s important to keep an ear to the ground, and stay up on what other players are using now—as well as what players used in the past. I try to keep my old pedals, even if I’m not currently using them. You never know when an old classic guitar tone will come back in style!
Rich Eckhardt is one of the most sought after guitarists in Nashville. His ability to cover multiple styles has put him on stage with singers ranging from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to Shania Twain. Rich is currently playing lead guitar with Toby Keith. His album Soundcheck is available now, with another due this summer.