Let’s start by going through a basic procedure for troubleshooting a setup with multiple pedals. Assume you’re at a gig and you suddenly have no sound coming from your amp, or even worse, the sound coming from your amp is a loud buzzing or some equally horrifying sound. You fumble around in sheer panic before deciding to plug directly into your amp, foregoing the aural delight of your effects for the evening. The problem was likely something fairly simple, and if not for the panic attack, you probably would have figured it out eventually. Here’s a quick and simple routine that will allow you to quickly pinpoint and address the problem, which should result in shorter down times.
For “noise” problems, you will want to plug the guitar directly into the input jack of the last pedal in the chain, and then move up one pedal at a time to find the noisy pedal or patch cord. You should hear a normal sound until you locate the pedal or connection that’s making the noise. It’s often just a cable plug that is not fully seated or a little dirty. It could also be a sick pedal—we’ll discuss troubleshooting noisy or malfunctioning pedals in our next segment, but if you’re in the middle of a gig you may just want to put the problem pedal aside and deal with it later.
This little routine we’ve just outlined may seem elementary to some of you, but we’re surprised at how many pro-level players still find themselves in the above situation—lost as to what to do. There’s also the “firing line factor”: problem-solving is often more difficult with the added pressure and excitement of a live performance than practicing in your living room or rehearsal space, when you have time to troubleshoot at your leisure. “Rehearsing” your set up, breakdown and troubleshooting process during your down time is a great way to make sure you’re fool-proof under fire during a gig.
Finally, if you don’t do so already, it’s a good idea to put together an emergency utility kit to bring along to your gigs. Here’s a quick list of items you’ll want to include:
- Extra batteries (even if you use a power supply, in case a power supply dies)
- An extra power supply (Boss-type 9VDC wall wart)
- An extension cord and a power strip
- Extra guitar cables and short patch cords
- Screwdrivers (flat and Phillips head)
- Wire cutters/strippers
- Small handheld volt/ohm meter
- Duct tape (good for broken battery covers, bottom plates shutting)
- Gaffer’s tape (not the same as Duct tape; it is easily removed. Ideal for taping down wires, set lists, and posting notes)
- Electrical tape
- Cable tie wraps
(a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and proprietor of For Musicians Only (formusiciansonly.com) and author of Analog Man’s Guide To Vintage Effects. For Musicians Only is also the home of the FMO Gear Shop. Questions or comments about this article can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
(analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique effects manufacturers and retailers in the business, established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993. Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com