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Maybe because they can significantly improve your sound on the cheap, pedals have become perhaps the single hottest commodity among gearheads. And here at Premier Guitar, the last couple of months have illustrated that more conclusively than ever before: We gave away a pedal every day during our Stompboxtober contest, and you all wanted more. So, we extended the giveaway for another month. Our November 2010 “Pedal Issue” included reviews of 30 pedals in five of the most common categories, profiles of five boutique stompbox builders, and a feature on Electro-Harmonix. Still, we were inundated with requests for more pedal action. So we decided to set up online galleries of pedalboards from both readers and pros. The latter gallery quickly went on to become our most popular ever.
In a nutshell, it’s clear we’re all pedal junkies. But though trying out and collecting stompboxes is the fun part of this addiction, there’s one area in which many of us could probably use a primer/refresher course: what exactly is the best way to patch them all together?
Although a few cynics might question the need for a pedalboard—after all, you could just carry all your pedals in a knapsack or your gig bag pouch—most of us agree they’re good for a lot more than just transporting pedals. First and foremost, they keep your pedals wired up and plugged in so you can plug in and play instead of having to connect and power each pedal one at a time. This makes a huge difference when you’re sandwiched between other acts on a gig and you have to set up and unpack as quickly as possible, or when you’re at a recording studio and are continually fighting the clock.
If you’re not sure which pedals to start with when you’re planning out a board that’ll meet your needs, guitar tech Scott Appleton (who has worked with guitar gods like Alex Lifeson, Neal Schon, and Slash) has a few suggestions regarding gear that facilitates a versatile tonal palette. “Typically, I’ll see a wah-wah, a distortion or overdrive (or two), a chorus, a delay, and sometimes a volume pedal.” As for gear that’s roadworthy and tone-worthy enough to satisfy a lot of big names, Appleton says, “I see a lot of Tube Screamer-type variations, Dunlop wahs, and delays like the Line 6 DL4, Boss DD-20, and the Eventide TimeFactor. Also the TC Electronic chorus is very common.”
That said, there are innumerable worthy options on the market. Appleton says one of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re choosing new pedals is that some pedals may sound great on one amp, and poor on the next—it can be a matter of trial and error to find which ones work best.
Order of Effects
Once you’ve got a bunch of pedals, the next step is to decide what goes where. A typical order of effects is shown above. But there are no hard-and-fast rules: If you like the way a particular “unusual” configuration sounds, then—by all means—go for it.
Analogman Mike Piera (aka AnalogMike), who is considered by many to be a leading authority on effects pedals, offers the following example. “The order of a clean boost and a distortion pedal determines what the clean boost will do. A clean boost into a distortion pedal will add more distortion, because the distortion pedal is already clipping and will clip more when you hit it harder. That’s also why a small amp cranked up does not get louder when you hit it with a louder signal—it’s already out of headroom, so it can only distort more. A clean boost after a dirt pedal will increase the volume, without adding more distortion.”
Planning and Layout
Physically positioning your pedals requires some logistical planning that can be pretty aggravating, depending on the shape of your pedals and the amount of real estate on your pedalboard. But, naturally, where you place things depends on a lot more than where you’re able to fit everything on your board. There are practical considerations to be made, too. For instance, if you have two distortions or overdrives (say, for lead and rhythm), you’re probably going to have to turn one on and the other off simultaneously with one big stomp across both pedals—unless you have them both plugged into an A/B box. For this reason, it’s practical to place the two pedals right next to each other.