In a world of widely shared components, don’t just dare to be different. Insist on it. Aesthetics matter.
Regardless of the number of companies swimming in the pedal pond, I often find myself thinking about aesthetic diversity. We builders tend to all use the same components when designing our devices. It’s how we use them that is the subject here. And I’d like to focus primarily on the external components and how they are presented. Finish and graphics play a big part in a company’s branding and identity. However, I’d like to almost solely talk about knobs, footswitches, toggles, and LEDs. These are the most common things that you’ll see on a pedal.
I often ask people, “If you were to remove the labels and branding, could you tell which pedal it is or which company it was from?” As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, the pedal world is a kind and respectful place. Companies like to carve their name into the industry by having something that looks good and doesn’t step on another company’s toes. Builders achieve this by taking all of those same components that I just mentioned and organizing them in a manner that has a distinctive appearance. This leads to a question: If a company creates a knob and switch layout that’s the same for all of their models, is that intellectual property that other companies should avoid using, or is it simply a design of round pieces of plastic and metal on a square box that’s entirely public domain?
Let’s try something. If a new pedal company hit the streets and had an aesthetic like the one in Figure 1, would anyone have an issue with it? I lean heavily towards no. This triangular 3-knob layout has become practically generic. But if the fictional company were to release a product that looked like the picture in Figure 2, would anyone have an issue with it? I’m inclined to say yes. Three dials on a plane evokes a famed boutique pedal maker, rather than a generic look, even though both examples consist simply of a few knobs and a footswitch. Somehow the components simply being angled a little helps the appearance of originality, but ... as a pedal builder, I wouldn’t go there.
Often when a company releases a product with an interface that strays from the traditional path, it stands out. Non-traditional pieces of hardware can help a pedal’s recognition. However, if there’s already an existing company using these pieces of hardware in their designs, we have a problem.
If you were to remove the labels and branding, could you tell which pedal it is or which company it was from?
Going back to our scenario of a fictional new company releasing a product, if this company were to release a product with a blade switch (Figure 3) or telegraph key (Figure 4), there would be folks that would take issue with it. Now, it would be fair to say that a brand new company may not be fully aware of every existing pedal design—even with the internet at their fingertips. But the community of pedal nerds creates a nice monitoring/filtering system. If a new product hit the market with a telegraph key, for example, as found on our Telegraph V2 Autostutter & Killswitch and our Triplegraph Digital Polyphonic Octave pedals, the nerds would bring our attention to it.
There are only so many ways to locate knobs and switches on a rectangular box. So, what’s a new pedal company to do? Well, when it comes to placement, avoid popular and recognizable layouts like those found in Figure 2 and create your own. If traditional stylings are more your bag, consider alterations to the formula. Look at the Canaglia by Lollygagger FX—a 3-knob, 2-footswitch pedal. What helps it stand out? Metal knobs, a hand-stained wooden enclosure, and debossed labels—characterful changes to formula.
Along with being in the golden era of pedals, we’re also in the golden era of parts. I’ve never seen more knob choices in different finishes and styles than right now. Same with hardware finishes, enclosure shapes, and more. So, if you find yourself with a form factor that feels like it’s infringing on another company, make several small changes. Tweak the knob location slightly and swap out the knob type, move the LED location and change the size, put a washer around the footswitch, or add colored dress washers to the toggles. Small changes add up to a big difference.
The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.