State of the Stomp: A Pedal Builder’s Pet Peeves
Dwarfcraft Devices' Ben Hinz serves up a checklist of how to royally piss him off.
I’ve got to be honest with you, dear readers. It has been a tough few weeks. I don’t have anything to crow about. You already know I love delay pedals and that I’m down with noise. So it looks like there’s only one thing left to do: rant listicle style. I’m doubling down on the anger, in the hopes that you, like my children, find my self-righteous outrage amusing. Feel free to imagine a caveman screaming any capitalized passages, starting with:Five Things That Make Me Irrationally Angry (Number three will shock you!):
1. That useless pedal. Really? Really? We’re still dealing with this in 2016—when Radiohead is selling out arenas gigging with a modular synth that specializes in robot bongo sounds? Can we not recall the Mars Volta’s relentless ring modulator assault? The thing is, not everything is for you. In fact, most things are not. If robot farts are not what you’re after, then jog on, mate; there are people waiting for theirs. One of the wonderful things about our current situation is that we can make effects and instruments for a niche population, and make a living at it. Also, there are controls on YouTube’s pages that allow you to skip videos instead of ragging on them. Seriously, you don’t need to share every crabby thought you’ve ever had.
2. I don’t like this; it’s broken. Or better yet, I don’t know what this does. I will buy it and complain! Here is a translation of a huge swath of customer service emails received by pedal companies: “This pedal works as described, not as I imagined. I think it’s broken.” Folks, take some responsibility. There is a world of written material and video evidence available to you 24/7 on this wonderful thing called the internet. You are not allowed (because I said so!) to get mad at me because you didn’t find out what my fudging pedal does before you bought it. I know things break down. In fact, you can be sure that your stomp switches will eventually fail. Every click on that switch is one step closer to that great pedalboard in the sky. However, a solid two-thirds of our repair returns are actually perfectly good pedals. Check your cables, please! Half the time it’s your damn cable or your output jack or some other variable in the chain. Or worst of all, the eternal reaper of dread: power supply issues. Check ’em all before you email, please!
3. Daisy lames and spitty bricks. “You gotta get a decent power supply.” Newsflash, mother hugger: I do not! I have tried your fancy power brick. It was a nightmare. I did my research and thought I found something I could afford that would also come close to powering the Dwarfcraft demo board. Nope. You might be surprised how many of these bricks have a bunch of shared outputs, making them essentially a daisy chain without the convenient cabling. So I still had noise, pedals that wouldn’t turn on, short power cables, a huge footprint, and only one truly isolated power jack.
Long story short: I’ll take the noise with my daisy chain. In fact, I may use three of them to eliminate noise, coming in at less than half the cost of a power brick. At least I know all my stuff will turn on and function. And for live performance? I’ve found a little trick to get around pedalboard noise: playing the guitar. It’s amazing how well the ringing strings of an effected electric guitar will cover up the hiss from a daisy chain.
And please, please use a power supply made for effects pedals. Your pappy’s old RadioShack universal adaptor is really only useful for non-audio applications, like holding down papers in a breeze, and—maybe—exploratory noise jams. I know there are great power bricks out there, but they are in the minority and we can’t afford to buy three expensive supplies to find the one that doesn’t suck.
4. Distortion quieter than clean?!?! I can’t believe this is still happening. Guitarists who are not playing their first gig still kick on the distortion and drop down below their clean volume level. That is plain unacceptable! Just one more time, let’s review: Solo distorted guitar sounds louder than it is because it excites your brain, but in a band context, only the real-world volume is relevant. Set your dirty level louder than your clean. If you’re recording, there’s a handy little meter that shows you how loud you are. If you’re playing a show, maybe check that level with the band before you perform?
5. Bonus point of anger. It’s called an output jack, not an input jack. Because that’s where the electricity comes out of the guitar. Don’t give me this “yeah, but you plug a cable into it” nonsense.
Okay, folks. There it is. I feel better. I hope you enjoyed the ride. If so, maybe I’ll start a whole listicle website called FuzzFeed.