Using pedals when recording
Here we are on the fourth consecutive month
of this topic. For those of you just tuning in for
the first time (perhaps like those who recently
watched the series finale of Lost), I’ll do a tiny
recap. This series has been about recording in
today’s studio world, which has become a completely individualized place. With most professional studios going out of business, we are
left with a few pro operations and any number
of concoctions that people call studios (today,
that means anyone with a laptop and a recording program). When doing any session work,
you never know what you are walking into, so I
have been giving my two cents on what I think
are some safe guidelines and smart ways to
look at these situations. We covered guitars,
accessories, and amps. Now, we can dig into
what has become another massive industry
with too many options: pedals.
Where do we start? All I see these days are ads for pedals in magazines, 50 pedal companies on sites like Pedalgeek.com, and racks and racks of boutique pedals at places like Guitar Center. So, what to bring to sessions? Again, one of my former points in this series is that we must first know what type of session we are going to do. However, considering that pedals are smaller and more transportable than amps and guitars, we have a lot of options.
When I go to a session I try to cover a few areas as my baseline, then work past that. If you have favorite pedals and a board already wired up, you should bring all of that. Personally, I have a few PedalTrain pedalboards because I love the ease of use and that I can swap out pedals on them very easily. However, I am a bit of a tone snob and when recording, I like to use as few pedals in line as possible. This means pre-wired pedalboards are fantastic, but aren’t so fantastic if you can’t unplug and make plug switches. No matter what power supply you are using or how true you think your bypass is, anything in line— to my ear, at least—changes the sound. We could spend hours on this topic but my point is, if you can be flexible with routing and pedal chains, this is your best bet for the purest tone. Nothing sounds better than a guitar straight into an amp, and with that in mind, try to use only the pedals necessary for the part instead of going through your heavy-duty pedalboard.
When I show up to a session, I make sure that I bring a delay, overdrive, fuzz, booster, and some “fun” pedals (whammy, tremolo, etc.). For me, these are the essentials. I also always bring more than one option for over- drive, fuzz, and booster. When recording, the idea is to find the right sound for the right moment. All pedals are not created equal and have their own sound, even booster pedals. For example, I have tested the Z. Vex Super Hard-On, the Keeley Katana, HomeBrew Electronics’ Uno Mos, and Xotic’s RC Booster, and they all bring a different sonic imprint to your sound. So depending on what amp, guitar, song, and part is being played, you should listen and choose what sounds best.
I like to bring a vintage Electro-Harmonix Memory Man and a Keeley-modded Ibanez Analog Delay for delay-type effects—I also like the T-Rex Replica as well (it’s on my SNL pedalboard). For overdrive, I bring an Xotic BB preamp and AC plus, a Keeley-modded Ibanez TS9 and a HomeBrew Electronics Power Screamer. This really covers a lot of terrain. For fuzz, I bring an Analog Man Sun Face and Peppermint Fuzz, a HomeBrew Electronics UFO, and a Cusack Screamer Fuzz. I used to love bringing my SweetSound Pro Bender, but I lent it to my friends in Maroon 5 and they lost it. Dang.
For boosters, I bring the Xotic RC Booster and a Keeley Katana. I also love HomeBrew Electronics’ Uno Mos but that lives on my SNL pedalboard. Then, as far as pedals for flavor and more interesting effects, I bring the HomeBrew Electronics Germania, a DigiTech Whammy, a RMC Wah (I just got a custom- made one that rips), a SweetSound Ultra Vibe, any tremolo, and a volume pedal.
I know this sounds like there’s a lot of the same thing, but these are some of the best effects I have found out there. There are simply too many companies, like Z. Vex and Death by Audio, making great stuff to go through them all. For recording, I have found the above-mentioned pedals to be the most practical, and when you have a good assortment of basic and “fun” pedals, the combinations can be pretty endless. Better yet, when you find yourself getting bored, bring in a new pedal. I just brought this old EH Micro Synthesizer into the studio and have been using it like crazy because it’s the new guy in town. (It also sounds rad).
It’s good to change it up and keep it fresh for yourself, but find some of those pedals you love and work with your ideal sound. The idea is eventually you’ll get hired for that sound. What would the Edge be without his delay? When you think of Jimi, how do you not think of wah, fuzz and Octavia sounds? Certain people have styles and go-to pedals. If you find yours, and also have a versatile arsenal where you can make the producer and artist really happy by being diverse, they will love you.
Good luck out there!