Ways to manage your pedal compulsion
A guitarist can never have too many pedals, right? We all love pedals for everything from distortion (who doesn’t have 10 different distortion stompboxes?) to special effects (like that one special, strange flanger we use for that one song we play live once a year) to pedals for tuning, routing and even switching channels on our amps. After all, more is better, right? Who am I to argue against that?
From time to time, though, reality does come into play. If you have so many pedals on stage that there’s no longer any room for you, your vocalist, and your bass player to move around, or if you need a GPS just to find your sparkle-green chorus before the verse of the song kicks in, then it’s time to take action—before they replace you with a keyboard player. Even I will admit (grudgingly) that maybe you can have too many pedals in your life.
Of course, pedals are fun to collect and play through. Compared to guitars and amps, they’re usually a cheap and fun purchase. Plus, they make great gifts for us on birthdays and holidays, so it’s not our fault we’ve collected so many over the years. Having a large selection of pedals to work with while recording is also wonderful for spurring creativity and coming up with new sounds. When you play live, less is usually better for your sound, your performance and your band’s show. Tripping and falling as you try to switch 10 different pedals for every change does not make for a “cool” vibe or even a good show ... well, it might be fun for the audience, but there has to be a better way.
One obvious solution is to use a multi-effect pedalboard when playing live. It might not sound quite as good as 25 of your boutique, handwired pedals, but the multi-effects units that have been coming out over the last few years sound amazing. The benefit of pressing one pedal to change all your effects to the next song can be worth it alone. Plus, you can still bring out a few of your key stompboxes and use them along with a main multi-effect processor.
Rack multi-effects units can be even better for clearing out the foot clutter, but unless you have a personal guitar tech off stage changing presets for you, the best way to control a rack unit is still with floor pedals. Controller foot pedals can vary from compact two-button switching for up-and-down preset selection to larger MIDI-based units such as the Voodoo Lab Ground Control Pro, which has 15 switches and an LED display, and can control up to eight different devices (effects units, pedals, amps, etc.) all via MIDI. One pedal to rule them all!
Some rack and pedal multi-effect units (such as the G-Major 2 and the G-system from TC Electronic) can also control your amp’s channel switching, replacing the need for a separate amp channel-selector pedal in your rig. Even cooler, the G-Major 2 can save the appropriate amp channel along with each preset, so when you change your preset to the next sound your amp is switched to the clean or lead channel as appropriate. How awesome is that?
Finally, organizing your pedals for live use is an important step in making your playing easier. I’m often amazed at the duct-taped plywood (even cardboard sometimes!) contraptions I see guitarist dragging from place to place. Yes, spending money on a pedalboard is not as exciting as buying a new stompbox, but currently there are many affordable solutions from BOSS, Furman, Pedaltrain, and other manufacturers.
Let’s not forget about powering your pedals. A bunch of power supplies with cables running to two power strips is not the best solution, nor is changing the 9V batteries on a dozen pedals each night. Some pedalboards include integrated power distribution, while others do not; BOSS, Voodoo Lab, and Visual Sound all provide great solutions that daisychain from one pedal to the next and can easily power your new pedalboard.
I think everyone will agree that having a variety of pedals is a good thing; which effects each of us choose is part of what makes us each different and unique guitarists. However, by choosing wisely what you bring with you when you play, you can play better— and keep your mind on your playing, not on a pedal tap dance! Play on ...
Jeff Hollman is the married father of two girls, knows his way around the recording studio, and is still involved in live sound on a weekly basis. He has been a Sales Engineer at Sweetwater for eight years, and can be reached at 800- 222-4700 x1285 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.