Over the past many months there have been many articles written as the owner of Austin Hot Mods for Rockstar Magazine. The topics have ranged from getting and keeping a gig; to intonating your instrument and even how to kill the nasty squeal in your speakers. This month we take a moment to tip our hat to you, our readers who give us the strength to carry on the eternal quest for knowledge of epic tone, so that it can be shared with the world at large. So without further adoo, here is the first installment of “Tech Questions Answered” where we answer the questions that you the readers have submitted to us.
In this installment we have a question from Paul who writes
Hi Chris. Enjoyed reading your article and would like to ask you in what may seem to be a basic question on pedal chain setup. I currently have a Fuzz Face, Fulltone Univibe, Wah pedal, fender reverb unit and MXR delay. What is the most common setup using these pedal’s…
Thanks for writing in Paul. Believe it or not, this is probably the most common question that we receive at the shop. The quandary and debate of what order to put your pedals in has raged, well probably since the second effect pedal came on the market. There is however a bit of theory to this controversy. Some pedals do work better with a clean signal running to them such as wahs, auto-wahs and synth pedals. These pedals work by “tracking” the tonal frequencies coming out of the guitar itself and using a specific region of the EQ spectrum that is defined by the player on the pedal the sound is altered. This region is called the “Q”…hence the “Q” in Q-Tron. The cleaner the signal is the easier the pedal can recognize the desired frequencies thus giving you a cleaner effected sound. So in theory you would want these pedals first in chain right? Wait, wait, what about the delay and reverb…they need not only a clean signal on the front end so that the instrument is heard clearly, but also so that each not that is repeated and decayed is clear also. Well then in walks the old distortion and fuzz pedals who give you that monster tone…problem is the cleaner the tone going to them the better the overtones and harmonics. Aaaaaah thus begins the debate.
You see Paul you are not all on your lonesome here my friend, I’ve seen this age old debate devolve into drunken “you’re an idiot” discussions at shows…and while very entertaining, ultimately it boils down to personal taste and desired effect. Do you want to wah your delay…or delay your wah. Do you want to flange your distortion or distort your flanger. As I said before there is “in theory” a right way, but ultimately it comes down to your personal taste and ear for your desired tone. I have a lot of guitarist look at me like I have three heads because my compressor is last in chain on my pedal board and it blows their mind as to why I have it there. Yet when they turn my rig on and play their eyes light up and I have nothing but compliments on my tone. I also have my loop station at the end of my pedal chain, another thing that shocks most players.
My personal pedal board
But that is my tone, this has come to be after years of playing the music I play the way I play it and trying numerous (and I do mean numerous) configurations. So many that I have actually ended up with three separate pedal boards I have assembled to be used depending on what I am playing that day.
I know my friend, it can be hard. You have your bassist telling you to put your wah first. Your fellow guitarist telling you where to place you delay in chain, and then for some reason your drummer is chiming in with his two bits and in your head your thinking “please, just go back to counting to four man”. Well before you pull your hair out and get fully frustrated with your tone there are a few things you can do. My advice is put aside an afternoon of uninterrupted time. I personally find 3-5 hours does the trick, but in this time completely disassemble your pedal board…completely. You want a blank slate work with as you will be partially “redefining” your tone in this process you want to try and free your mind of preconceived notions of tone. Play each pedal individually. Take the time to hear it’s nuances, it’s pluses and minuses, run some of those “signature licks” you play all the time and make sure your ears have a good idea of everything the pedal can do for you before you move on to the next. Once you have gone through each pedal on your board in this fashion then begin trying the pedals in different combinations of two, three and so on. Make sure to take notes as to which pedals you put in what order and give them a ranking system of some sort so you can tie it down to the best combination for your desired sound. I promise you will never, ever regret these hours. Yes it can be tedious, however you will at the end of it intimately know not only your pedals, their ranges and their individual tones but you will also know the input and output chain and every possible connection point that could be an issue live. This is invaluable gig saving information last is unfortunately not commonly known by most players despite the fact that they built their rig. Just like in the military the only way to know it is to drill it, and the hours you spend with your gear will give you a leg up the next time something goes awry live. You will know what every knob does, why it does it and how to get your beloved sound and tone back at a moment’s notice, thus saving the gig and earning the respect of those naysayers who were trying to tell you with what pedal in your rig.
So there you have it Paul. Thanks so much for the question, as I said before it is one of the most common questions we get amongst the emails and article comments on our website, so you are far from alone in your question. I hope this was helpful to clear up some of the mystery regarding how you can get more out of your existing pedals and how to dial them in for your sound.
Remember we love to hear from you the readers, so keep those questions and comments coming, you could bring up the next big question to spawn an article. So until next time keep your strings new and your amps warm and try not to anger the neighbors.