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State of the Stomp: The Beauty of a Loop

My restored ’70s solid-state Echoplex EP-3 tape echo is quite beautiful, isn’t it?

Why not put the stompboxes you use only occasionally in a set on a single effect loop?

One of the greatest things about the luxury of continued existence is that you get to learn new things. New things in areas you may have already spent a lot of time on, new things that you might almost feel something of an expert in, and new things that have been staring you in the face for decades.

So it was for me a few weeks ago. I’m playing in a new band called the Bones. We did a few dates in the later part of 2013, but focus is really starting to kick in now, with dates booked and a potential recording planned for later this year. It’s a three-piece with vox, and an interesting collection of players. The singer is from a soul/R&B background, the drummer and bass player are creatures in possession of the “Monster Groove,” and then there’s me attempting to squash Jimmy Page and Bill Frisell through the same fingers. So it’s eclectic.

Until two weeks ago my rig for this band was comprised of a Telecaster into a Korg Pitchblack (using the custom tuner mute box project from the PG column “How to Build a True-Bypass Tuner/Mute Box,” July 2013), a heavily modified Cry Baby wah, a Red Witch (RW) Fuzz God II, RW Grace compressor, RW Violetta delay, first-version Electro-Harmonix POG, RW Titan Delay with expression pedal control modifications, RW Famulus distortion, and finally a DigiTech Hardwire RV-7 reverb pedal, and from there into a rebuilt Jansen 6/20 (a New Zealand-made 20-watt amp from the 1960s).

This was a good sound that sat very nicely in the band. It was tasteful and sympathetic. But there were no laser beams. It was not a compelling sound, to my ears at least.

What to do?

The ability to “pre-program” a selection of effects earlier in the song, and then bring them all in with one footswitch?
Wow. Double wow.

Revamp time: I changed out the Telecaster for a 1978 Les Paul Standard and decided to get the “foundation” tone right. I arrived at the following signal path: LP, Famulus, restored Echoplex EP-3, Jansen 6/20 amplifier. This was a grand sound—anything from a scream to a whisper. But I needed the POG in a few songs—and the fuzz and the ’verb and the modified Titan, and then of course the Violetta. I needed to use my tuner too (though I opted out of using a compressor on this version of the rig). The logical thing to do was to create a loop for these additional pedals—bring them all in, or bring them all out. Now, this was something I’d never done before! (I have friends who use a loop of pedals and I completely understand the process but I’ve just never given it a go.)

Wow! Über cool. The ability to “pre-program” a selection of effects earlier in the song, and then bring them all in with one footswitch? Wow. Double wow. Stupidly simple, but such a fantastic option. The foundation tone I love so much remains intact and unfettered, but when I want additional colors, click goes my loop switch. Marvelous.

Can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Hish pish to that adage. Twenty-six years of playing guitar and never a loop of pedals to be seen at any stage—till now. Glory.

Stepping back from the specifics of this situation, I’ve realized there’s a bigger lesson to be embraced. It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking we know what’s “right” (or even worse, what’s “correct”). Certainly, many things in life are rather black and white for our own safety: Don’t drive down the freeway on the wrong side of the road. Don’t bathe in sulfuric acid. But in areas less governed by safety and self-preservation, like guitar tone and how we go about getting it, we can all benefit from opening the mind and trying new (and sometimes obvious) things.

To hear the straight-ahead “rock” version of this rig (LP + wah + EP3 + Marshall), have a watch of this clip of me doing my very best “Jimmy Page:”