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Getting the Most From Your Stomp Boxes

With tons of different brands out there, it can be difficult to decide what pedal to buy these days. You can get the one your favourite guitarist uses because you like his sound and that’s fine. I’ve been playing for over 40 years and tried numerous effects to enhance my sound, some worked great others not so good. Here’s a few tips that might help you decide what to buy and how to get the best bang for your buck.

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Back in the day you had very few choices when it came to pedals. Cry baby, fuzz boxes, phase shifters and built in amp stuff like reverb and tremolo all were cool but had limitations. If you had a decent amp and guitar you could get a pretty good sound. Nowadays amps are capable of producing just about any sound you want with built in effects such as “modeling amps” which are okay but if you decide to upgrade your amp you may lose some or all of these effects. Choosing the right amp based on things like tube, solid state, hybrid amp, size, power, speakers and so on is important if you want to use effects. Not all amps sound the same nor do all amps take effect pedals the same. Start with a good amp and go from there.

Stomp boxes, multi-effect floor pedals or rack mount. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and once you decide which of these will work best for you, you can start to experiment to find the sound you’re looking for.

Vintage rack mount have one advantage over stomp boxes being that the foot control is just one pedal to control everything. Once you set each individual effect you can use them separately or simultaneously to achieve the sound you want. Effects like chorus, delay, phase, distortion, overdrive, flange and so on were available on most older rack mount gear. You were limited to 5 or 6 effects but most had a effects loop to add to your sound. One of the neat features on some of these rack mount systems was the ability to change the path of the signal by simply turning or flipping a switch. When you alter the path of the signal, you alter the sound you get. Like all effects, experimenting with and learning about will help you to decide on what will work best for you.

Modern rack mount systems can do just about everything you can imagine. Some are relatively simple to operate while other can take hours and hours to understand and master. Multi effects pedals are quite similar to rack mount in what they offer and can be on top of your amp or on the floor. They share the one advantage that rack mount provide over stomp boxes. Not a lot of cables to hook them up. The BIG disadvantage is if they break down you lose everything and can be rather costly to repair.

For the upstart player, stomp boxes might be the best way to go. They are compact, easy to use and you can upgrade them as you go. Some are relatively cheap and will be okay at first but the really good one’s come with a hefty price tag. You can always trade up and recoup some of your money down at the local music store. Pedal boards are a great investment since they are easy to transport once you decide how you want to link your pedals together. No need to wire everything up every time you want to plug in and play. Just make sure you buy a good one that’s big enough to add more pedals to down the road. As far as what to buy depends on you. The way you hook them us can be crucial to the sound you end up with. Ask yourself this when you make your first pedal purchase: Do I want to run in true stereo now? You will need two amps to do this. Distortion or overdrive? Try them both out before you buy one. Delay or echo? Pick one and you can add the other later. Flange, phase, compressor and so on could also come later if you have a tight budget. A noise suppressor will be a good investment too especially if you have lots of pedals in your arsenal.

As a player there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years when it come to effects of any kind. As I’ve stated before, the sequence in how you hook them up is vital. The two most important lessons I’ve learned is any noise suppressor should be the last pedal the signal goes through before it reaches your amp. If you are or plan to run in true stereo, make sure the suppressor is stereo. Next would be the stereo chorus simply because the rest of your pedals will probably be mono with a input and output jack. These mono pedals are the ones you can switch around that will alter your overall sound. Experiment to find the sound you like.

Lots of different brands out there. More ways to get the sound you’re looking for than I had when I started out. Some vintage pedals have a particular sound that players want but could cost big bucks when/if you can find them. Know what you are looking for, try before you buy when possible and keep an eye on your wallet. Most of all enjoy every minute you plug in and play no matter what your choice of music is. Put the pedal to the metal!!!


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