Pro Pedalboards 2021
No one’s really toured for a year, but that hasn’t stopped us from catching up with guitarists of all stripes to find out what board candy has got them excited. Pandemic be damned! Here are some of the coolest stomp stations from the last year of PG Rig Rundowns.
Caspian's Phil Jamieson
Post-rock instrumentalist Phil Jamieson’s most recent live board features four main food groups—dirts, loopers, delays, and reverbs—plus Electro-Harmonix Voice Box and MEL9 pedals for a snack. A Boss GE-7 graphic EQ—used for a clean boost with low-mid punch—is always on, while a Strymon Sunset and an Empress Heavy provide three layers of beef.
Next is an Ernie Ball VP Jr. volume pedal, then a TC Electronic Ditto X4, which Jamieson favors for its hold and tape-stop modes. Four more Strymons follow—a TimeLine, an El Capistan (“The pedal I can’t live without”), a blueSky Reverberator, and a Flint. At the end of the signal chain are a Boss RC-3 Loop Station loaded with samples for use as interludes, a mini black box for dramatic signal cuts, and a TC Electronic PolyTune Mini.
Nick Perri — Photo by Justin Higuchi
The Underground Thieves frontman (and former hired gun with Shinedown and Perry Farrell) has a fairly modest and old-school board.
His guitar signal first hits a vintage Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, then proceeds to a Texadelphia Germanium Booster, a Sir Henry Uni-Vibe clone, a Metropoulos Supa-Boost, a Peterson StroboStomp HD, a Maxon AD999 Analog Delay, and a Hamstead Soundworks Signature Analogue Tremolo.
Don’t Shy Away from “Hard Mode”
Plug-and-play pedals are fun, but mastering a complex effects box can open the door to brave new worlds of sound. Try it!
How long should it take to get comfortable with a new pedal?
This is something I’ve been asking myself a lot recently, as I dream up ideas and concepts. How intuitive does a pedal have to be? Can it be hard?
Effects have a really unique role in music. They go in between other things. They don’t make the sounds, nor do they amplify or record them. They are the most optional part of music and, as a consequence, they generally receive the least attention. Learning to play the guitar takes time, and that’s fine because everybody knows this and expects it. Same goes for working a mixing board. But the same patience is not usually extended to pedals, and I wonder if this is a missed opportunity?
The versatility of pedals has greatly expanded over the years, but our expectations haven’t quite caught up. Pedals aren’t just variations on a common theme, like they were in the ’60s and ’70s. Some now have entirely distinct workflows and controls. They defy classification. Look at the 856 by Montreal Assembly. It’s ostensibly a looper, sampler, and sequencer, but essentially it’s a system. It offers something entirely new, and you don’t get something entirely new without investing some time.
I think it’s okay for pedals to have a “hard mode.” It’s okay for pedals to demand time and patience and force you to learn something new. This is the path to discovery, reward through challenge.
Something special can happen when you have to struggle with a device. You form a bond, and you discover techniques and applications on the path to comfort. You make it your own. My favorite experience with this was the Octatrack by Elektron—a sampler that allows you to entirely reinvent the sound you’ve sampled. It kicked my ass for months, and then suddenly it was my favorite thing. I felt connected to it.
There’s something powerful about applying this idea to pedals. Suddenly, this passive element between your guitar and amp can become something more than just a change in texture—an active tool … a second pseudo-instrument for you to engage with and manipulate.
But I’m debating with myself even as I write this. Is it unrealistic to expect that level of commitment? Is it inaccessible? One piece of the puzzle is that the level of difficulty is seldom discussed when it comes to pedals. If you’re taking up the trumpet, you already know damn well you’re going to have a time. It will be hard, and then it will be great. You’re prepared.
The purpose of pedals is increasingly open-ended. It’s best to think of them as a format rather than any specific thing. Electro-Harmonix has been building drums, sequencers, and samplers inside pedals for years, and this is becoming more common. A pedal is just a convenient, portable home for a musical idea. And you can kick it to make it go. That’s it. Where things get hazy is how focused and self-contained that idea has to be. Does too much flexibility spoil the fun? My gut says that it does, and the key is to find that line.
The important thing is that there’s room for both, and I believe we’ll be seeing a lot more “hard mode” pedals as time goes on. Sometimes you just want a chorus that sounds like a chorus, and you don’t want to fight to get there. That’s good. But there’s also room for pedals that bewilder and challenge. Pedals can be fast, efficient, and simple, but they can also be deep, versatile, and interactive, and unfold over time. Both are extremely useful.
Consider exploring the deep end and trying your hand at hard mode. You might find something in the struggle.
Can This Elf Sit on a Shelf?
Yes—and it'll also rattle windows with surprisingly full-sounding low end! The PG Trace Elliot Elf Combo review.
Very lightweight and portable. Simple but effective EQ. Size defying sound.
Light in hand, but not so much in price. No onboard effects.
Trace Elliot Elf Combo
Recorded direct into Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 interface into GarageBand.
Clip 1: Schecter Banshee, picked. EQ flat with slight bass boost
Clip 2: Ashdown Saint, fingerstyle. Bass at 2 o'clock, mid at 11 o'clock, treble at 1 o'clock
Like it's standalone-amp cousin, this 200-watt combo houses controls for gain (with signal-level LED), a 3-band EQ, tone, and volume—all located topside along with 1/4" jacks for the input and headphone/line out. Around back lives an XLR out (with ground lift) and an additional speaker output. When I powered up the Elf with the EQ set flat, the mid-leaning amp filled up my high-ceiling room with an articulate and rich modern bass sound that made the old windows shake. After I bumped up both the bass and treble to 1 o'clock-ish and took a pinch from the mids, I got to a warmer, yet still punchy, tone I called home. The Elf has a deceiving amount of headroom for its featherweight build and can get loud. It also pushed an external 2x12 cabinet with ease and makes for a convenient silent practice and recording tool. (I appreciate the speaker on/off switch.) If you're after onboard effects, look elsewhere, but if a straight-ahead amp you can easily carry with one hand from bedroom practice to gigs to studio work and in between appeals, this combo may have some Elfin magic for you.
Test Gear: Schecter Banshee, Ashdown Saint, Orange OBC212, Focusrite Scarlett 2i4