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Tone Tips from the Road: A Board Introduction

Get the inside scoop on a tour pedalboard.

This compact tour pedalboard contains a Line 6 Echo Park, Line 6 MM4, Z. Vex Box of Rock, Xotic BB Plus, Korg Blackout Tuner, Vox V847A wah, Samson Airline Wireless, and two Keeley True-Bypass Loopers. The board is powered by a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2.

Over the last year, I have made a point of taking different guitars, amplifiers, and pedals to shows. I do this for a couple reasons. The first is that I am always looking for ways to improve my tone, and using a variety of equipment allows me to increase my knowledge of equipment options. Playing live shows is a great way to see how a piece of gear works in the mix with loud drums and booming bass. Some tones that sound great when you are playing solo guitar get buried onstage by all of the other frequencies flying around, so it is important to make sure that a tone works in a band setting. The second reason I change my rig a lot is so that I do not become too dependent on certain pieces of gear. Using a variety of equipment keeps me on my toes and forces me to get the best sound out of whatever I am using.

Recently, I have been taking my small Trailer Trash pedalboard—which I call my tour board—to gigs. I had this board built because I needed one that covers all of the major food groups of effects. It is also built in a fashion that eliminates the constant maintenance caused by Velcro losing its adhesive hold over time. There’s nothing like opening your pedalboard case after it has been knocked around by a commercial airline, only to find a messy heap of unplugged pedals and wires!

Of all the pedals on my tour board, one of the most versatile is the Z. Vex Box of Rock. It performs many roles in shaping my tone throughout a show. The pedal has two buttons—the left button controls the boost side of the pedal and the other button turns the distortion side of the pedal on and off. The boost side comes in handy when you have two guitars with different pickup outputs. For instance, let’s say you have been playing a guitar with humbuckers for the majority of the show and you switch to a guitar with single-coil pickups. When you plug in the single-coil guitar, you will notice an immediate drop in volume. You can compensate for this by matching the instruments’ volumes with the Boost knob on the Box of Rock (or any other clean boost pedal).

To do this, plug in both of your guitars, one at a time, and listen for which one is louder. (Be sure to have all of your effects off when you do this. Sometimes certain effects will change your volume a little bit.) Once you have determined which guitar is louder and which guitar is quieter, plug in the quieter guitar and turn on the boost function. Adjust the Boost knob until you think you have reached the same volume as the louder guitar. Then, turn off the Boost function, plug in the guitar that was originally louder, and see how close the volumes match. You might have to go back and forth between the two guitars a couple times to make the volumes equal. Once you have found the sweet spot, put a small sticker next to the setting of the Boost knob, or use a permanent ink pen to mark your setting, so you can easily see where to set the knob in the future in case it gets moved.

Now that you have your volumes matched on your guitars, simply step on the boost whenever you use the lower-output guitar and you will have the same volume as you did with the louder guitar. The soundman will appreciate you taking the time to do this because he will not have to adjust your volume at the front of house every time you change guitars. The volume in your monitor will remain constant as well, which will save you the trouble of having to get the monitor guy’s attention every time you need a volume adjustment due to varying pickup outputs. There are dozens of clean boost pedals on the market, and any of them will work fine for volume matching. I prefer the Box of Rock because I can also use it for a great Marshall-style distortion sound while playing rhythm, and use the boost to increase my volume for solos.

Another pedal I use very frequently is the Xotic BB Plus. The BB Plus complements the Box of Rock nicely because the two pedals reside in different tonal spectrums. For solos, the BB Plus provides tons of gain and sustain for single-note playing. I usually add a touch of delay from a Line 6 Echo Park for solos as well. This helps add length to bends and sustained notes. On the Echo Park, I typically will have the Mix and Repeats knobs set to 8 o’clock. Having the knobs set this low adds a nice ambience and fullness to the sound. Setting the Mix and Repeats higher can start to obscure the definition of your notes.

Next month, we’ll discuss how to control your tone without any effects at all.